Interview | Billy Hodgson

Staying Power

Issue 28

Longevity in business is something to be admired. In a new series of features, we are celebrating some of the most accomplished professionals from across the North East business community. Aimed at major players with 20+ years' experience in their respective sectors, we provide a fascinating insight into what makes them tick and what we can learn from them.

Did you always envisage a career in the roofing industry? Not at all, like all my pals I dreamt of playing football for a living but reality got in the way! Leaving school at 15, I completed an engineering apprenticeship with Rose Forgrove on the Team Valley before joining the Merchant Navy as a junior engineer. Just in time for technical innovation to reduce the need for naval engineers! Football did get me started in roofing though, as it was the manager of the local team who took me on as a labourer. Seven years later I left to start my own business in the trade.

What is your favourite aspect of the job? I think of myself as a people person and it has always given me great pleasure to lead a successful team, whether that has been Whickham FC, which I managed between 1986-96, or Hodgson Sayers. I enjoy encouraging people to seek new challenges, finding new ways of doing things and hopefully inspiring them to recognise their potential and achieve their goals.

What has been your career defining moment? My focus has always been to continuously build a team, without your team you are a blank page waiting to be written. In October 2015, members of Hodgson Sayers travelled to London where we won the SME of the Year award at the National Constructing Excellence awards. Being recognised by your peers as being the best nationally in your industry has reflected our achievements. To then travel back to the capital a month later with the North East England Chamber of Commerce to attend the British Chamber of Commerce Awards and to win the People Development and UK Business of the Year titles was truly humbling. It showcased the performance of every member of the company that year and also the efforts of everybody through the preceding years as well. There is no secret to these successes, it was the result of hard work, learning from failures and applying lessons learned.

The most difficult of times examines the strength, resilience and foundations of a company and provides the necessary confidence and assurance to clients, suppliers and employees that we can still deliver the services they need whatever the business climate.

Billy Hodgson, Hodgson Sayers

How do you measure success? I measure success not when everything is rosy in the garden, but when things are not going to plan, eg. during a recession, of which I have survived a few since 1979! The most difficult of times examines the strength, resilience and foundations of a company and provides the necessary confidence and assurance to clients, suppliers and employees that we can still deliver the services they need whatever the

What have been the biggest changes in the roofing industry since you started? In our most recent annual report I mentioned that the only constant is change. Changes in client requirements, technology, health and safety and environmental management have all contributed to a new way of delivering our services. Looking back to the 80s I remember a salesman called in at our new premises selling fax machines and we wondered why we would ever need one of those! Tendering has now become an integral element of the industry with some of the larger players employing specialist teams with Bid Managers to control and evaluate the whole process. This has improved certain areas and impacted the quality and measurement of delivery. However, if not thought out carefully, it can become a cause for concern and has made it harder for an aspiring small company to make the transition to a larger one.

How has your skillset developed accordingly? Over the last 38 years in business I have had to acquire and develop many new skills. Digital technology requires a certain degree of expertise. The senior management team have worked tremendously hard to gain the necessary qualifications and have delivered them to the rest of the team. I am pleased that I have their support as I continue to develop these skills myself!

Are you a risk taker by nature or more conservative? Moving the business and staff to the current location, doubling the size of the premises to 20,000 square feet at the height of the longest and deepest recession in modern times probably defines me as a risk taker.

I use the Pareto Analysis, work is 80% routine and 20% creativity, plus accepting the occasional lucky break when it comes along, even if I don’t always admit it!

To what would you attribute your success? I know from experience that you can’t learn anything about life until you have had experience of death at close quarters. The loss of my Dad to a mining accident when I was 12 was not the way I wanted to learn about life. The strength and influence of my mother, together with starting work at 15 and sharing the responsibilities at home ensured I made the most of every day in life as well as in business. The apprenticeship as well as serving time in the Merchant Marines helped me to learn discipline and gave me the strength to accept all the pleasure and the pain that life has, and will continue to deliver.

What’s your biggest weakness and how have you managed this? There is no greater gift that you can give than time. This can be a weakness as I do tend to overdo things. I still think that this can be a positive, as training and teaching a team to have the confidence to be bold and to step outside of the box by exploring new ways of working, and not be scared of failure is very important to me.

How do you remain motivated? I have built my business on customer service excellence, which we continue to strive for on a continual basis. This provides me with drive and energy and keeps me motivated. Hopefully this inspires the rest of the team to have the same desire as this old guy!

Would you prefer to be liked or respected? I am not sure that these are mutually exclusive, I have built up very good relationships with clients, suppliers and colleagues using old fashioned good manners and would like to think that I am respected in business, and liked when socialising. I’ll retire when… If you want to make God laugh just tell him that you have a plan! I’ll retire on Friday… but I’m not sure which one!

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