Three years after being asked to buy Lotus Construction, Steven Withy is finally in charge

Chance favours the prepared mind. And as running a contractor is one of the more chancy jobs available, Steven Withy’s brief tenure in charge of Lotus Construction presents an object lesson on how to do it successfully.

Withy is coming up to the end of his first six months in charge of Lotus, the firm he bought out in September last year after spending three years working out his business plan. That is, three years of meticulous, painstaking preparation.

“Taking over a company is like nothing I’ve experienced before,” he says. “But now I have, I want Lotus to become a household name.”

The construction manager was set up in March 1993. Withy joined it in 1998 as a senior QS, when it had a turnover of £2.5m and dealt with projects worth between £50,000 and £500,000.

Now its turnover stands at £19.6m for the year ending March 2006, and it works on larger projects, such as the Bradford schools reorganisation programme, which it won in 2000 thanks to its involvement with Bovis Lend Lease.

“Bovis was Bradford council’s managing partner and we ended up doing about 20 schools projects worth more than £200m,” says Withy. “It was a turning point and we continue to work with Bovis now.”

The programme, which started in 2000, has been a springboard for Lotus, allowing it to branch out to other local authorities in West and North Yorkshire.

But despite its rapid growth, one of Lotus’ selling points is its dedication to smaller projects – something Withy wants to stick to. “We realised that as we got more successful, we were missing out by abandoning our clients on smaller projects,” he says. A team of 20 has been set up to deal with projects valued at under £150,000. “We want to move on to bigger projects,” explains Withy. “But not at the expense of the smaller ones.”

As well as keeping faith with this tried and tested approach, Withy is putting a business plan into place. The big picture is that Lotus will take on more challenging projects, work with big clients and contractors, expand and become more recognised throughout the UK.

One of the ways he hopes to catapult Lotus into the limelight is through combining the work it does with M&E services. The group is presently looking to form a joint venture that will provide a complete service.

We want people to come to us because they trust us and know we’re good

Steven Withy

“It is still in its early stages and could take up to five years but we aim to provide a service where clients can come to a contractor and have a building with all their criteria, including the M&E, from the off.”

Withy’s broader plan for the future involves focusing on the firm’s weaknesses, including internal communication.

“There needs to be a more proactive approach. We’re making sure that staff are aware of how to deal with the rest of the workforce,” says Withy.

“Staff training and projected workload are other things we’re looking at.”

Withy says that although increased turnover would be fantastic, it’s not everything. Rather than chasing work, Lotus intends to wait to be approached by clients.

“We want people to come to us because they trust us and know we’re good,” he says.

Withy is also looking to expand the business, mainly through organic growth in the north-east of England. But he says there are other things to be done before this. “There is potential to expand but it’s early days yet. I want to focus on our initial tasks first. Then we can look at further developments.”

Withy, would eventually like the company to marry its focus on small projects with a portfolio of larger contracts. “It would be ideal to be able to take on risky developments, but there’s no rush. It’s about taking it one step at a time.”

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