Read about the winner of this year’s CEO of the Year award

Winner: Alex Vaughan, Costain

The past 12 months have been a period of success for Alex Vaughan – the chief executive of Costain. He has cleared two big problem jobs off the books, returned the firm to profit for the half year and is committed to operating a secure business by getting margins to 5% to 6%. On top of all this, Vaughan has recognised the importance of the environmental, social and corporate governance agenda.

Vaughan, who was appointed chief executive in May 2019, has overseen the firm, which had been solidly in the red for several years, bolster both its profits and turnover in the first half. Pre-tax profit was up 23% to £11.2m on turnover up 20% to £666m. He has also helped return the contractor to a solid footing – drawing a line under two problem contracts in Wales and Cambridgeshire in the past 12 months.

Commenting on his firm’s solid trading performance, Vaughan has said: “We have chosen to focus on those markets where strategic investment has to be made and is not discretionary, and that gives me confidence [about the future]. We are seeing investment continuing to flow and in the amount of work we are bidding. These [jobs] are critical needs for the UK to grow and prosper. I don’t think there will be a recession in infrastructure, but London developers and housebuilders could be affected.” The firm’s main markets are water, energy and transport, such as road and rail, with business from all three up in the first half. The firm has also increased its focus on defence.

Given his confidence in the direction of travel for the business, it is unsurprising Vaughan has remained committed to his five-year plan secure its financial position. This plan aims to have the company achieving profit margins of between 6% and 7% in the near future.

BA2022 winner CEO - Alex_Vaughan

He has also overseen a revamp of the business’s leadership team, with Vaughan himself describing the Costain leadership team as being “more diverse in its expertise and gender than ever before”, while confirming there is more progress yet to be made. The additions include Louise Bryant joining from Aggreko as group communications and investor relations director, Matthew Higham joining as chief digital officer from Microsoft UK, and Sam White as managing director of the natural resources division, joining from Babcock.

Vaughan has also recognised the importance of the ESG agenda – with the firm making significant strides in several areas. The firm has remained committed to supporting its staff through the cost-of-living crisis, with the boss keen to support his employees through improved pay, financial management training and staff discount schemes.

He is also dedicated to tackling the climate change challenge, with Costain’s Climate Change Action Plan committing the business to being net zero carbon by 2035. The firm continues to work in collaboration with its suppliers to reduce emissions and has been adopting the latest plant technology. Vaughan has overseen a continued focus on telematics to drive behavioural improvement to reduce plant idling, achieving a 20% reduction in 2021. Costain has also introduced absolute greenhouse gas emissions, including Scope 3, as one of its key performance indicators, as, in Vaughan’s words, “it is fundamental that however much this business grows, we still reduce the carbon dioxide we are releasing into the atmosphere”.

Prior to taking the top job, Vaughan was managing director of the natural resources division of the company, with responsibility for Costain’s services to water, oil and gas and power clients as well as the development of client facing technology solutions across the group. He held this position from 2013.

He is qualified as a chartered quantity surveyor and has worked on infrastructure projects in the UK and internationally, as well as having held a number of corporate roles including group human resources director and corporate development director.

In 2009, Vaughan completed the Harvard Business School Advanced Management Program, while he was also chair of the Confederation of British Industry regional council from 2019 to 2021.

BA2022 Building Awards 2022 banner