As the government moved last week to outlaw ageism in the workplace it seems fitting that Ridley has now entered his seventh decade with renewed vigour. Building spoke to him about starting again, his ambitious plans for NBA and sorting out his filing systems.
How did you come to join NBA
Bob Jervis, the company chairman, rang me six weeks before I left Atkins in April 2001. He used to be a client – he was chief QS at the North East Thames Regional Rail Authority – and we played cricket together. He came to see me and I told him he'd come just in time, as I was about to leave Atkins. We started talking from there – after protracted negotiations we came to a broad agreement on what we wanted to do with the firm. Six weeks in, things are moving already.
Were you planning to retire permanently after leaving Atkins?
I figured I hadn't had a heart attack or my first stroke so I wasn't finished yet. I was still quite active and felt it was bit early to put my feet up – it would be silly to stop doing something I enjoy. I always was going to do something but I didn't want to start from scratch.
What was the attraction of NBA?
When I was discussing joining the business with Bob and Peter (Elliott-Hughes, NBA managing director) it was on the basis that we really started expanding the business. It was a serious decision for them to make. The firm has been doing very well and has a reputation second to none as a claims consultant but has a low profile. You can't announce you've been appointed by a contractor to handle a major cock-up. It would be counter-productive.
What sort of potential does NBA have?
Lots. It's now using software to resolve disputes that is usually used in the film industry. When you see visually how a project has progressed you can often defuse disputes – it turns the project into a movie. It all becomes a narrative and you can get things in proportion. The firm has got into the PFI market, using its IT systems to present bids to lay people. Both these can be expanded. I also think we can expand the business into other areas. We are looking at the strategy at the moment. I am thinking in terms of quantity and building surveying, and planning and scheduling. Basically we want to offer commercial support services in the construction industry.
How are you going to achieve this growth?
Right now I am concentrating on organic growth. I have got one new client in and have four or five other good leads. You have got to have organic growth, it's the most important thing of any expansion.
I figured I hadn’t had a heart attack or my first stroke so I wasn’t finished just yet. I felt it was bit early to put my feet up
As far as acquisitions are concerned, I am looking for ones like Silk & Frazier (the QS that Atkins bought in 1998). It was an excellent buy – it was in a different sector and region and the partners fitted into the culture. It was a smaller Faithful & Gould. We are looking for smaller businesses who want to expand a bit, to get involved in a bigger pot. They will not necessarily be QSs – I am speaking to people I know are good, which is the most important thing. As far as growth goes I have seen it all before; I have seen what works and what doesn't work.
How do you look back at your time at Faithful & Gould?
It was extraordinary. When I started in 1970 the firm consisted of 25 people, most of whom were in Bristol. By 1980, we had a London presence and 250 people, and by the time we were bought by Atkins we had 850 people and blue-chip clients. It was great fun. The group of people we had running it all brought something different to the table, but everyone had enthusiasm and tenacity. Those are the qualities I see at NBA.
What made you leave Faithful & Gould?
I started to back out of Faithful & Gould in 2000 when I became sales and marketing director at Atkins. It got to the point when I thought "I can't do anything more here". At that age I thought it was time to do something else. Both myself and Atkins agreed it was the best way forward.
What did you do in your year off?
I kept in touch with all my old friends and clients, which are often one and the same thing. My wife might disagree but I spent more time in Yorkshire [he lives in Great Smeaton, near Richmond]. I watched the entire five days of a test match – I don't remember which one but I enjoyed it enormously. And my files at home got sorted out – they are now a quarter of the size.
How long do you plan to stay at NBA?
We will look and see where we are in five years and see what we have achieved. It's a bit like going back to the past – NBA is a larger business than when I joined Faithful & Gould in 1970 but there is a similar opportunity for me to get it rolling forward.