Greysteel man Stephen Morrow left home in 2003 and five years later set up his construction company in London, recently named in The Sunday Times ‘top 100 Private Growing Companies in the UK’.
As the construction industry was taking a nose dive with thousands in the sector being laid off, and companies going bust, the now 37-year-old was starting up.
“It probably was not the best time to start any business, let alone a construction business, as it was in the middle of the so-called ‘world financial crisis’, but then some of the best businesses through history were started in recessionary times,” says Stephen.
A risky move, some might say, but not to Stephen.
“Yes, I left a secure job and put whatever savings I had into starting the company but, at the end of the day, most people are four weeks away from no pay check if companies fail, so whether you work for yourself or are employed by someone else I don’t think it really matters,” he says.
The company - Northvale Construction - was recently included in ‘The Sunday Times Virgin Fast Track 100 – top 100 Private Growing Companies in the UK’.
If we fail on that, then the red mist descends. I never set out to seek this achievement, but by being good at what we do has made the company successful and whatever rewards we get on the back of it is testament to this.Stephen Morrow
“Based upon our current sales for this financial year ending March 2016 (£12 million), we will be very highly placed next year also, so should make the top 100 for two years running,” says Stephen.
The company employs 90 people including tradesmen, project managers, quantity surveyors and site managers.
“We have worked in some of London’s most prestigious buildings through our sub-contract division – Bank of England, The Shard, Canary Wharf. We currently have 14 projects on site, including high-end residential projects in London worth more than £1 million, and two £2m school projects.
“The Sunday Times Award is a great achievement for the company. One of the things I am extremely proud of is that I have achieved this with no bank borrowings and no external funding, all profits have been re-invested into the company as part of the growth plans,” says Stephen.
The company has grown steadily since its inception.
A chartered qualified Quantity Surveyor, Stephen worked for a construction company, “so I was not doing any physical labour,” he says.
“I had been in London for five years, had built up relationships with people and companies and approached those people/companies about pricing sub-contract builders-work packages for them.
“When I started Northvale I had to put the boots on and start doing the manual labour.
“My first job was £2,300 and I went and did the job myself, started to win work, employed people and it grew from there over time. I have two very good people who are now Directors in the Company - David Brett who runs the operations for our Main Contract Division and Kennedy Beaton who runs the operations for our Sub-Contract Division, so between the three of us it has contributed to the success along with the people we employ.
“For us, it has been through structured growth from 2012 to 2015, growing the business from £2m to £7 turnover whilst keeping to the core principles of our ‘in-house’ labour model.
“It has been about taking on the right projects and analysing the risk making sure we have the skilled people to deliver.
“We could have taken on more work, but there is no point in us taking on more work if we are not going to deliver and tarnish our reputation that we have worked hard to build up,” says Stephen.
“In terms of growth, we aim to have a sustainable £25m turnover business within five years.”
Based in Ruislip, North West London, “our client list includes Legal & General, Foxtons, London’s biggest estate agent - we are one of the approved contractors undertaking the fit out of the new offices that they open,” said Stephen.
In the midst of starting his business, Stephen and his wife Aine started a family. They have a six-year-old son, Shane, and a daughter, Orla, aged three.
Stephen says his wife Aine has been “a massive part” as to the success of the business.
““My office was at home up until two and a half years ago. She did all the invoicing, wages and administration work etc, plus looked after our two young children full-time, thus allowing me to do what I needed to do - that might have been working seven days a week up to 16 hours a day when needed.“I honestly don’t think any other woman would have put up me over the last six years so, without her support, I would not have been able to put the time and effort into building up the company.”
Stephen says he learned a lot from his father, Patrick, who owns and runs PM Plumbing & Heating Ltd., a mechanical and plumbing company employing approximately 20 people form the local community and Derry area, and sponsor of Faughanvale GAC.
“Growing up with my father running his own business in the construction industry gave me an insight into business life.
“It was him who steered me towards the Quantity Surveying profession and a career in construction.
“The work ethic I would say comes from him also, so definitely a big influence,” says Stephen.
Looking to the future, Stephen says: “We are not resting on our success but planning for future growth. We are dealing with lots of money and our reputation.
“At times I get really annoyed when we fail to do that, so people who work for the company know the expectations I have.
“If we fail on that, then the red mist descends. I never set out to seek this achievement, but by being good at what we do has made the company successful and whatever rewards we get on the back of it is testament to this.”