Spotlight interview: Adam Gosnold
Very few people work for the same company for over 35 years, fewer still work their way up from school leaver to Managing Director! With the third of his children finishing Sixth Form this year, we spoke to RGS parent, Adam Gosnold, about his career in the water, energy, transport and telecommunication sectors.
You have worked for Morrison Utility Services for over 35 years, working your way up to Managing Director. What was your first job and to what do you attribute your meteoric rise?
I originally started with Morrison when it was a different brand, Biggs Wall & Co Ltd, back in 1980 and following a short six-month spell with one of our competitors to see if the grass was actually greener… I returned to the business in December 1987. It was a modest family-owned civils and utility contracting company that worked predominantly in the northern home counties and Anglia.
Unfortunately, I left Colchester Royal Grammar School during my Lower Sixth year (under a bit of a cloud), applied for two jobs – a lab technician with the Essex Area Health Authority and Office Administrator with Biggs Wall. I took the first offer that arrived on the doormat and the rest as they say, is history.
I had no idea what a Civils Contractor did when I started but, eager to learn, I threw myself into the role, which was largely the hiring and buying of plant and materials for sites on the contract I worked on (with British Gas) in Anglia at the time. As it became clear to the Contract Manager that I could read, write and above all, add up, I soon took on the weekly and monthly cost and value reporting using carbon paper (look it up kids!) for copies, and after a few months I was involved in calculating production bonuses and payments to our people.
My tasks soon became quite varied. Most weeks I would be asked to drive the length and breadth of Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex dropping pay packets (small envelopes with a payslip and cash in – yes, actual cash!) to our teams, and random urgent tasks such as loading up 48-inch road signs, timbers and steel sheets into transit vans and taking them to various sites. So, my first job was almost anything but just administration, but was a great learning experience.
In 1981, I was given the opportunity to help our site supervision and work closely with some very experienced construction agents, supervisors and pipe fitters. This was a great insight into what we did in the industry and with my initial understanding of cost and value, I realised what we needed to do operationally to be a profitable contract. I was never on a formal development programme, however, being a relatively small business meant that attitude and effort did get noticed and I was soon climbing the ladder.
In terms of personal success, I guess there are three things that have stood me in good stead:
- One is having a real understanding of the fundamentals that lead to a successful business in our sector. The first rule of business is to survive, and that means being profitable and getting paid. However, long-term success requires balancing profit with statutory obligations such as financial governance, health and safety, etc… as well as excellent customer/client satisfaction. Like it or not we have to do it all to keep a business sustainable and the recent formalisation of ESG ratings (measuring a company’s resilience to long-term environmental, social and governance risks) will underpin these attributes.
- Secondly, valuing our people. Very few businesses achieve anything great without employing great people, so making sure that we are competent, well trained and well led – an aspect that we hear a lot more about these days – is hugely important. As a young manager I learnt so much from my leaders, my peers and from those who reported to me. Treating them all with respect, and working with integrity, was key to maintaining their support throughout my career.
- Thirdly, work ethic. Not everyone wishes to lead a business, however, working hard and smart has its rewards. Knowing you have done your best for your employer creates an element of job satisfaction and sets an example for others to follow.
People rarely spend their working career at one company these days – what are the advantages and disadvantages?
I often speak to graduates and apprentices when they join the company, and I say to them, “I’m sure the thought of spending 40 years working for the same employer fills you with dread?”
The world is much different these days, we’re more transient as a workforce and with the technologies in place now, we can carry out a full-time job from our kitchens and living rooms.
Having worked for what I would consider to be a family business for most of my 40 years, I do believe that retaining long-term employees has a significant positive impact on the culture of a business. Building long-term relationships within a company can be very supportive at an individual and team level and valued long-term employees become great ambassadors for a business, creating and maintaining effective relationships with clients, customers and suppliers.
Of course, long-term employees need to stay agile, keep abreast of changes in technologies, methodologies, etc. to keep the business fresh and competitive in a competitive environment. So, I’d say for a smaller business it is hugely important to have at least a good percentage of long-term staff.
In a larger group, however, where staff churn within teams and departments tends to be higher, it is harder for business leaders to maintain a personal touch. Employee engagement tends to be more systemised, so maintaining good communications and focusing on helping employees to feel part of that business is more important. Personally, I value long-term permanent employees.
I’m very honest with our graduates, I anticipate that many will leave the business at some point within four to six years. As long as they do good work for us in the meantime, then we would love to see them back once they’ve had the opportunity to continue developing themselves and gaining broader experiences elsewhere. I was delighted to hear that a young lady, a graduate Mechanical Engineer, Sascha, who I first met 10 years ago, recently rejoined the company as a Senior Project Manager. This is a good result for both parties in my view.
So, regardless of the length of employment, I think it’s always important as an employer to maintain high levels of people engagement; keeping colleagues well informed and making sure that new recruits feel part of a successful business and understand the part they play in that success.
What is the greatest challenge you have had to overcome thus far?
Rather topically, I would say maintaining a robust service for our clients during the pandemic. I believe that providing essential infrastructure services to our communities in the form of gas, water and electricity is a privilege, but with that privilege comes responsibility, and during the last two years we have had to work hard to make sure that the bulk of our people engaged in essential works, connecting and maintaining this infrastructure, were able to work safely. I was appointed Managing Director of our Utilities Division in February 2020, a month before the first lockdown, so coming to terms with my new role as well as dealing with the pandemic was pretty tough.
What is your greatest achievement to date?
There are several achievements that come to mind, however, being asked to lead the business as Managing Director for the last two years is probably up there as something I feel most proud of. It was not a role I had particularly aspired to, however, once given the opportunity, I was delighted with the support I received from my former peers on the board. A good reminder to treat all our colleagues with integrity and respect.
On a personal level, and a point I make to my younger colleagues, I believe it is hugely important to focus on our own wellbeing, especially when working long hours, travelling, staying away, etc… To me, there is little value in caring for a career if we don’t care for ourselves in tandem. I’d like to think that I’ve maintained a reasonable level of discipline to do both, certainly since my early 30s!
Given the current energy crisis, what do you think the UK government, and indeed householders, should do to protect against future price rises?
Well, that’s an interesting question, particularly as Russia is a major energy supplier to Europe and the UK.
Notwithstanding current events, I think the short-to-medium term is going to be very demanding on energy providers (through regulation) to balance investment needs with customer bills. Indeed, water utility companies will be equally stressed as a significant cost element of water and sewage treatment comes from energy.
Certainly, as a country, and globally, we need to embrace renewable energy solutions whilst reducing our own energy consumption demands where we can.
The UK will have to invest billions of pounds in order to meet our net zero commitments. Unfortunately, and ultimately, all of this investment will come from us through energy bills or as tax payers; so my view is that prices in the short-to-medium term will remain high and possibly higher given our current inflationary pressures.
The approach we can take as individuals and households, is well documented of course, even saving water saves energy. Having spent the last five years living in a 400-year-old grade II-listed property, I do see the value of investing in an extra fleece or two and maybe turning the thermostat down a couple of degrees!
With apprenticeship schemes on the increase, how might the M Group further develop its already successful programme?
I think the introduction of the apprenticeship levy scheme by government has brought a bit more focus and clarity to apprenticeship programmes. We have run several Civils, Electrical and Mechanical programmes for several years, however, now we are able to offer apprenticeships across a wider spectrum, such as Commercial Management, HR and Finance, as the approved programmes are now quite varied.
As a business we are now offering apprenticeships and degree apprenticeships to existing employees – mature students if you like. Several staff have taken the opportunity to develop skills and knowledge, to enhance their existing job role capability, or to target roles in other business functions.
For any organisation to keep pace with technology advances, net zero commitments and the suite of environmental, social and governance (ESG) attributes I mentioned earlier, I think organisations such as ours will further broaden schemes to help address these obligations in a sustainable way.
Your three children have enjoyed an RGS education (with the youngest finishing this summer) – what are your aspirations for them and how much does your own journey influence the advice you give them?
Indeed, I would say all three have enjoyed and valued their time at RGS. One aspect that has impressed me during the last 15 years is the two-way respect and rapport that students can have with their peers, their elders and RGS staff. This has been a great foundation for business life.
I believe any parent would want their children to lead a happy and fulfilling adulthood. For some, that may be success in a chosen field, for others it may be something more modest. More than anything I want our children to enjoy what they do and to feel they’re adding value in whatever that chosen vocation may be. If it is something worth doing it is worth doing well.
In terms of influence, clearly academia was not my strong suit, however, my commitment to my employer, my boss, the people I work with and even my clients, has underpinned my success along with a strong work ethic. I have already seen the commitment that my eldest two have made in their new careers, so thus far I’m a proud dad!
What are you most looking forward to doing when you retire this year?
Well, in the absence of a well-defined plan, I have a long list! Currently, I’m still working part-time, however, this does give Pauleen and I plenty of opportunity to travel more (during term time for a change!) and see a bit more of the world. Sport, fitness and doing work around our new house will all figure highly, I’m sure.