Chief executive Dennis Brant outlines ambitious agenda for improving housebuilder's performance.
New Wimpey chief Dennis Brant has set out a tough agenda for improvement at the UK's biggest housebuilder this week.

Group chief executive Brant, who has taken over the day-to-day running of the company from chairman Joe Dwyer, set out his wishlist of improvements when he announced a pre-tax profit rise of 35% to £81.1m. Turnover is up 15% to £1.4bn in the year to 31 December 1998.

Top of Brant's list is an improved performance from the company's Wimpey Homes division in the UK. He wants to see turnover increase 50% by 2004 and operating margins rise to 10% by 2001.

He plans to achieve these targets by cutting overheads to 10.25% and further rationalising the company's supply chain. He also wants to cut £1000 from the build cost of a Wimpey home.

For McLean Homes, the aim is to become more flexible and to increase turnover by 50%, and between McLean and Wimpey, Brant wants to see another £500m added to group turnover.

He said: "The improvements mean a 1% increase in UK market share for the combined businesses, from 8% to 9%. I don't think that is too ambitious a goal." Wimpey's US housebuilding business, Morrison Homes, has been set a target of doubling its turnover in five years, which would add another £266m to Wimpey's group balance sheet.

Wimpey is planning a massive push in the USA, adding another three businesses to Morrison's nine operations.

"The company's historical performance has left a bit to be desired, but it has pulled off an impressive turnaround in recent years," said Brant. "The market is massive, and we have a very small market share. We have it all to go for in the USA." Dwyer, who steps down in the summer, gave his approval to Brant's plan. He said: "We haven't been performing as we might so we are focusing on a specific set of performance aims." Commenting on the market as a whole, Brant played down fears that last year's housing slump had carried through to 1999. He said the number of people visiting sites was level with last year, and sales in January stood at 2995, 5% up on January 1998.

Problems on three developments meant Wimpey's social housing arm lost £300 000 last year, but Brant said the group would stay in this market.

Wimpey had slowed down its land purchasing programme after the market's loss of confidence, but ended the year 7% up, with £289m spent on land.

Wimpey Homes and McLean Homes' landbanks stand at about two years, and George Wimpey Strategic Land Management, Wimpey's land purchasing business, has 3723 ha on its books.

Across the group, completions rose 14% to 15 335 last year, and group operating margin rose 1% to 7.6%.

Brant grumbled about planning delays in the UK. He said: "Planning is a pig and continues to be a pig, but talking about it isn't going to improve it."