FTSE 100 materials group aims to lay bricks as well as supplying them

Building materials company Hanson has this week bought Irvine-Whitlock, one of the UK’s largest bricklaying firms.

Irvine-Whitlock will now become a wholly owned subsidiary, although it will act as a separate company under its present name.

Geoff Irvine (pictured), the founder and managing director of Irving-Whitlock, will become chairman and Steve Harrison, Hanson’s general manager, will become managing director. The other directors will remain in position.

Hanson has not revealed how much it paid for the contractor.

Geoff Irvine

Irvine-Whitlock is the first bricklaying contractor to be acquired by a large materials company. The firm, which was co-founded by Irvine in the early sixties, has provided specialist contracting services for schemes such as Somerset House and Paternoster Square in London. Last year the firm had a turnover of about £60m, and a pre-tax profit of £3m.

Irvine said joining Hanson would offer a “superstructure package” for clients: “You buy the bricks from us, and we can fix them for you as well.”

However, he denied that Irvine-Whitlock would only use Hanson products. He said: “If we’ve got a job, they will have to compete. If they don’t get the price right, we won’t use them.”

Hanson’s acquisition of the bricklayer is indicative of a general shift in the building products industry towards integrated supply chains.

David Szymanski, Hanson’s general manager, said the aim was to provide services as well as products. He said: “This is the next step to moving towards an all-inclusive building package. It will broaden the offering to our customer base.”

Irvine-Whitlock started out in 1963 with the construction of an underwear factory in Biggleswade, Bedfordforshire, which was carried out by Irvine and his then-business partner, Ron Whitlock. The pair laid 15,000 bricks in five days.

Irvine said the key to the firm’s success had been good treatment of employees. He said: “Any contracting firm is only as good at the people at the sharp end. If you pay properly and give people safe places to work, then you get back what you invest.”

Last month Hanson posted a record full-year pre-tax profit of £481m, well ahead of market expectations.