The Willmott family has played a key role in the development of Willmott Dixon since it was founded in 1852. Today, Rick Willmott has his sights on expansion after eight years of profit growth
Rick Willmott is the fifth generation of his family to work at contractor Willmott Dixon. Founded in 1852 as John Willmott & Sons, the chairman of the company is hopeful that a sixth generation will enter the family business: "I've got three boys so there is a pretty good chance. About 70% of the company is still owned by the family," he says.

The firm is in good hands. This week Willmott announced that profit had grown for the eighth year in a row. The profit figure for the year ending 31 December 2003 was £6.4m, an increase of 33.7%.

For the past few years, Willmott has focused heavily on increasing profitability. He thinks it is now time to expand the business. He aims to take turnover past the £400m barrier from £332m last year, largely through organic growth of its construction division.

Willmott argues that the concentration on profit provided the business with a platform for growth. He also believes that continuing to push for an average margin of 2-2.5% across the company is a sustainable, realistic goal.

Willmott Dixon's recent success is also partly down to a restructuring last year that left it with a construction arm, a social housing business and a support services group, called Inspace.

But construction remains the primary business. The division had a turnover of £155m last year and Willmott hopes to push this up to £200m this year, when it will benefit from a framework agreement with supermarket Morrisons, which recently acquired the Safeway chain. Willmott Dixon started to refurbish its first Safeway store last week and expects to obtain more of this work.

The fact that the Willmotts have stayed at the helm of the company for more than 150 years shows loyalty on the part of the family. Willmott seeks similar commitment from his staff, and offers a range of incentives to keep them on board. The firm last year paid £2.6m to staff in incentives, an increase in line with profit growth.

Staff retention is impressive – 250 of its 1500 employees have been at the firm 10 or more years, as have 28 of its 45 directors.

Willmott says the company is equally loyal to its staff: "We tend to promote from within – it is better to take someone not quite tried and tested than someone who you have no knowledge of other than a CV."

Asked how long he intends to stay, Willmott laughs: "I have no idea." But at 41 it seems that he may still be at the helm when one of his boys is old enough to join the group.

Up the ladder

Age 41
Education Hertfordshire College of Building; chartered builder
Career history
1982 Trainee site manager, Willmott Dixon
1988 Project manager, Willmott Dixon
1993 Secondment to Department of Environment – project leader of construction division
1994 Main board director of Willmott Dixon in charge of construction division
2001 Group chairman