New chief operating officer sets out ambitious business targets in first interview since being promoted

White Young Green, the quoted building services group, has ambitious expansion plans. Although it has a modest market capitalisation of £110m there is a push to increase its clout in the City.

And leading this drive will be Richard McCaffrey, its managing director, who was last week promoted to the board in the role of chief operating officer.

McCaffrey’s roots in construction are deep. He was first exposed to the industry when he took work placements at RG McCaffrey & Partners, the quantity surveying firm owned by his father Ronald. But unlike his father he turned his attention to the business of engineering, and graduated with a degree in civil and structural engineering in 1974.

His rise at WYG has been rapid – after five years he has been promoted to the position often seen as that of chief executive in waiting.

In his first interview since the changes McCaffrey shrugs off succession talk. “We need to stay focused on today and tomorrow,” he says.

He does not take on his fresh role until 1 July but the company is looking forward to the expansion that will follow. It already has 1950 staff in 31 offices. The aim is to meet the needs of multinational clients by expanding its international reach. It will also combine its northern and southern UK businesses into one national unit.

WYG is in the first year of a three-year business plan, and with organic growth and a series of acquisitions under its belt McCaffrey says that WYG is well on its way to meeting its targets. And the City agrees: analysts at stockbrokers KBC Peel Hunt and Brewin Dolphin have backed the company because they believe its acquisition skills and broad service offering will lead to long-term growth.

Along with chief executive John Purvis, McCaffrey will be responsible for expanding businesses in Russia, Poland, Turkey, Romania and South Africa.

He has also been charged with expanding its presence in other markets including China. After three years WYG hopes that its international business will make up 25% of sales, compared with 17% of its present turnover of £135m.

We have a very dynamic business with a good chemistry, but we need to keep that momentum going

Richard McCaffrey

The key to WYG’s growth has been last year’s purchase of social and economic regeneration specialist IMC Consulting. McCaffrey says: “Our management is in another phase of evolution, and we wanted to add strength to the board in order to provide a strong operational focus for IMC.”

To help this along WYG has also promoted Michael Whitwell to the post of group corporate development director, reporting to the board. This appointment also becomes effective on 1 July.

McCaffrey says that the main challenge for the company is to attract talented staff. “We have a dynamic business with a good chemistry, but we need to keep that momentum going.”

He insists that margins are not the greatest concern for the business and that good growth has been achieved. However, he adds: “We are tantalisingly close to double-digit margins,” he says.

Other changes are planned, including the appointment of a human resources director, a group board director with responsibility for engineering, and the creation of a management services business.

WYG is also attempting to centralise its engineering business by creating a single national unit. Four directors (Paul Ellyatt, Richard Hare, John Deasy and John Jenkins) have been promoted to regional managing director to facilitate work and resource sharing, and to generate a more co-ordinated approach to the business.

All four will report to McCaffrey, until a group board director is appointed in the new financial year which starts at the beginning of July.

Richard McCaffrey’s CV

  • 1974 Graduated in civil and structural engineering from University of Bradford. His first job was as a senior site engineer at Tarmac

  • 1976 Became a chartered civil engineer after wastewater projects with Yorkshire Water

  • 1986 Joined Yorkshire Electricity as head of building and civil engineering

  • 1993 Joined Bullen Consultants to establish a specialist environmental group

  • 1999 Promoted to Bullen’s main board

  • 2000 Joined White Young Green as director in charge of the head office in Leeds

  • 2002 Promoted to managing director of WYG

  • 2005 Appointed chief operating officer on WYG’s board with effect from 1 July