Malcolm Durham became chairman of Gordon Durham & Co. in 1989 on the sudden death of his father. He guided it to its eventual disposal some 19 years later.
When he assumed its leadership the business was heavily indebted and defending a claim for loss of profit by a developer. Its directors were happy to continue managing the business as they always had done, until their retirement in 5 or so years’ time. Malcolm maintained his wellbeing by realising that building a valuable business would take time, although even he didn’t realise quite how long!
Sometimes in business you just have to keep going. This was one of those times. Some astute land buying kept the company profitable, just, and Malcolm maintained the confidence of the bank and made the appropriate payment into court to minimise the damages that may be payable for loss of profit.
Once the case was concluded the existing directors arranged their retirements and Malcolm replaced them with an outsider who had run a contractor many times bigger than Gordon Durhams. His skill set wasn’t suited to the business and he was replaced by a site foreman within the company whom Malcolm had identified as leadership material: he completed his contracts profitably and on time and was widely respected. Malcolm mentored him, ensuring that he could learn what went on in the office and discussing tenders that were submitted for work. On one occasion he suggested rounding down a tender for £3m, by £900 which was won by £500!
In 1999, when the construction market improved, there was an opportunity for the company to maximise the value of its client focussed culture to establish partnerships with several local authorities and housing associations in its region. One of these partnerships was judged more innovative than Autonomy plc whom it beat into second place in a competition judged by Cranfield School of Management.
The business was no longer dependent on one-off jobs and could plan. So Malcolm helped the new team to design its strategy, and ensure that it had enough people to support its expansion in income and profitability. This document was set out on four pages and so was easily referenced when opportunities poured in and the company became time poor. By 2006 it had strong reserves and an excellent reputation for building schools and refurbishing homes. It caught the eye of Vinci plc, the largest building contractor outside of Japan, which needed a presence in the region. The offer was substantial and fair, but no-one had discussed how it might affect staff, management and family shareholders. So negotiations were long (10 months) and challenging. By listening to all parties Malcolm ensured that the sale of the business was concluded satisfactorily in February 2008.