Turnover at the privately owned building group rose 12% to £255.8m. Chief executive Colin Enticknap said: “Our maintenance and management operations have been steady, but we have seen strong growth in construction, particularly in the leisure and industrial markets, and a sustained commercial market in London and the South-east.” In a year that saw the retirement of chairman Sir Ian Dixon and his replacement by Sir Michael Latham, the London-based company achieved a 32.6% return on shareholders’ funds. Staff numbers rose 55 to 1141. These were mainly trainees, of which half are graduates. Notable completions included Europe’s largest social housing project at Blackbird Leys in Oxford, a £30m scheme built over two years, and a swimming pool and leisure centre in Cambridge.
General contracting contributed £135m to group turnover, with housing adding £85m, maintenance £20m and management £15m. Enticknapp said the firm had experienced an increase in competition in the final quarter of 1998, but had been encouraged by the market so far this year.
The strong growth was, he added, “because of the strength of our existing client base rather than the tendered market, and we see increasingly good prospects for partnering and negotiated work”.
Long-standing Willmott Dixon clients include David Lloyd Leisure, Ealing Family Housing Association, Circle 33 housing association and Hilton Hotels.
Willmott Dixon has recently invested heavily in its innovations team, which is investigating standardisation and prefabrication for the social housing market. “We realise this is not a new idea, but think a lot more can be done in this field in the UK which seems to have been undermined by earlier bad experiences,” said Enticknapp.