Stepping down as a regional director of Bovis to take the helm of a family-run firm is a brave move. But it is one that has left Cliff Bryant feeling "supercharged".
Eight-year-old Tobias Bryant wants to be a stuntman when he grows up. Bravery appears to run in the family. His father, Cliff Bryant, has just taken on one of the industry’s toughest jobs – running a family-owned firm.

Bryant gave up his job as director of Bovis’ northern region to become managing director of Simons Construction, part of Simons Group. He will take control of the £108m-turnover construction division on 1 April, after only three months of meeting clients and familiarising himself with the business.

The Lincoln-based firm is owned by the Hodgkinson brothers, whose father founded it in 1944. But Philip and Paul have decided to step back from the day-to-day running of the construction business, leaving Bryant as the first non-family member to take charge.

Moving into a family firm may seem like a potential minefield, but if he is nervous, Bryant is not showing it. Like any good politician, he makes what might be perceived as a disadvantage sound like a plus. “I think it’s easy to negotiate and work with one master – the family – rather than working with the City and having to appease many masters,” he says.

Bryant may talk like a practised spin doctor but he can’t help sounding eager about moving into Paul Hodgkinson’s office: “I’m going to put up my own pictures of projects I’ve worked on and give it a lick of paint.” The brothers want Bryant, a silver medallist in the Chartered Institute of Building’s building manager of the year award, to be more than a caretaker, so you would expect the new man to have ambitious plans. But he plays his cards close to his chest, insisting he does not want to change anything, but intends to “grow the business” and do more of what the firm is good at: “I’m keen to keep up our high proportion of partnering, yes, but not to chase turnover.” Ultimately, though, he wants to help double workload to £200m, and says he is more than capable of doing so.

Following the December takeover of Nottingham contractor Wright Construction, Bryant also wants to strengthen the company’s regional base. The 40-year-old north Londoner is obviously looking forward to making an impact. Since taking the job, he says he has woken up every morning feeling “supercharged”.

All this is a long way from his early years in the industry. He started, in 1974, as a trainee on £6.50 a week at the Hertfordshire College of Building in St Albans. Then came an apprentice carpenter’s job at Laing, where he progressed to general foreman, then project manager. In 1988, he joined Bovis as project director on developments including the City of London’s £80m 55 Bishopsgate and the £120m Harlequin Centre in Watford. He moved on to become regional director of Bovis Midlands, then Bovis North – where he was in charge of Glasgow’s £150m-plus Braehead project – before he caught the Hodgkinsons’ eye.

Bryant spent six years studying part-time for a building qualification, but doesn’t regret taking the longer route into management, insisting: “I enjoyed every minute of it.

“Working on site teaches you respect for everyone in the industry. You learn from everyone and you treat everyone equally. You learn there’s always a better way to do things.” He says working for Bovis is a good pedigree to have, but likes the idea of running a smaller outfit: “There are things you can only do when you are in the driving seat and you don’t have to seek someone else’s authority.

“They [the Hodgkinsons] offered me a lot of things I wanted in my career, not least of which was to prove to myself that, as well as running a business successfully within a group, I could run a business successfully on its own. That was very much how it came about.” Bryant’s long-term ambition is to see Simons win a bigger share of the construction market: “The company has the capability to box above its weight. It’s more than capable of doing more than it does today.” As for young Tobias’ ambition, Bryant smiles: “I’ve advised him that being a stuntman is probably not the safest thing to be involved in. He’ll do what he wants to. But I’ll tell him what I think of construction: it’s a great career.”

Personal effects

How do you relax? I have a holiday cottage in Abersoch, Wales, where I go with the family. When I’m there, I spend a lot of time on my speedboat. What music do you listen to? Genesis and Steely Dan. Or, if I’m stuck on the M25 in a traffic jam, a bit of Beethoven or the William Tell overture. What car do you drive? A Range Rover. What’s your favourite television programme? I like documentaries such as Horizon. I’m definitely not a fan of food or building programmes. What building would you most like to have worked on? Braehead. That was one thing I was disappointed at in leaving Bovis. I didn’t get to see the project completed.