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Building A Family Of Firms For Future Generations

Paul Andrews met the team behind Robertson to understand more about the family business, its values and their plans for the future.

Robertson is one of the UK’s largest independently owned construction, infrastructure and support services groups. It’s products and services span the entire built environment lifecycle and sees the Group operate throughout the UK with offices across Scotland, the North of England and the Midlands.

Bill Robertson who left school at 15 to become an apprentice joiner, was one of 9 children. His father had previously employed him and his brother in his own joinery business but sadly died at the age of 57.

The remarkable history of Robertson began in 1966 when Bill founded his own modest joinery firm at the age of 21 in Elgin in the North of Scotland. ‘Robertsons of Elgin’ was born. Bill employed his brother Bobby as his one employee and set about growing the business. Bill was entrepreneurial and through innovation, productivity and sustainable growth strategies transformed the business into what today is one of the UK’s largest privately-owned construction, infrastructure and support services groups that comprises 22 businesses and employs over 3,000 staff.

Robertson is a diversified group of businesses with expertise in construction, facilities management, house building for the private and affordable markets, investment, property development, civil engineering, energy services, building services, regeneration and asset management serving both the public and private sectors.

As Bill explains, “More than 50 years ago, I started a small joinery business in Elgin. As the years moved on I wanted to create a multi-trades business that would service the area around my home town. Now, with a comprehensive range of business units, over 3,000 employees and offices from Inverness to Sheffield, you can safely say that we have exceeded this…and then some.”

“The geography we cover is much wider than I could ever have imagined when I set up the business at the age of 21. This is a fantastic achievement that wouldn’t have been possible without our loyal employees, new and old, and our excellent relationships with clients and partners.”

As an entrepreneur and business owner, Bill remains Executive Chairman and today, at the age of 73 remains actively involved too. Bill’s strategy of creating a broad range of businesses that are run as separate, fully resourced entities has ensured strong growth, value creation and career opportunities, and has led to the comprehensive group of well-run companies that exists today. With management teams and a professional structure, defined roles and responsibilities and an underlying set of clearly communicated values and a vision for the future, it is easy to understand how the business has grown and become the success that it is today.

In terms of family, the business is currently transitioning to the second generation in order to fulfil one of Bill’s key objectives, to focus on succession and the longevity of the business for future generations of the broader Robertson ‘family.’ Elliot Robertson is now Chief Operating Officer of Robertson Group and as a former MD of Robertson Homes, his role as COO is to lead strategic development. Elliot has over 23 years of experience in real estate development and regeneration and his goal is success as a business under family ownership for the next 50 years. This is a family business built on solid foundations.

As well as looking to the next generation to lead the business the family retains ownership and is setting the strategic direction based on the strong, underlying family values that have been present since the business started.

This is a business where people matter. Many firms make this claim but at Robertson it can be felt from the top down. Bill is immensely proud of his business and reaching 3,000 employees is a major achievement. For Bill, creating the environment for people to flourish and reach their potential is key, something that he is incredibly passionate about.

As part of their success Robertson has been instrumental in delivering outstanding projects such as the award-winning Macallan Distillery & Visitor Experience in Aberlour, Spanish City in Whitley Bay, and many other high-profile projects across the UK.

Robertson’s place on a number of major construction procurement frameworks has put the business in a good position to help clients deliver essential, cost effective and high-quality social infrastructure. In the private sector they have developed key strengths in the food and drink, commercial, tourism and leisure, and retail sectors, enjoying high levels of repeat business from world-renowned brands and family businesses alike.

Additionally, Robertson has a strong history of working with the public sector, with particular expertise in healthcare, education, regeneration and affordable housing.

So what are the keys to the success of Robertson?

Robertson has, from day one under the direction of Bill, employed a straight forward approach – effective costing, pricing and risk management in a sector where there are often lots of unknowns, this policy has stood the test of time. As Bill reiterates, “We need to understand what it will cost to do the work and what are we going to be paid for doing it.”

The business is meticulous in the diligence undertaken before each and every project identifying and determining budgets and making sure that it always delivers the best possible result. This is backed up by empowered individuals with responsibility and pride in what they do, underpinned by a strong entrepreneurial culture that is built on the foundations of innovation, productivity and sustainability.

Family firms are special and have unique characteristics that can provide the right environment for employees to flourish. At Robertson these traits include the speed of decision making, the values of the family within the business and shared goals supported by a framework that encourages open and honest communication based around the pillars of people, process, productivity and profitability.

This family firm has come a long way since it was founded in 1966 and is a truly transformational business, something that is of immense importance to the team.

As Bill explains, “Clients trust us, partly because as a family they have direct access to the management team and clients crave certainty. We deliver, and we demonstrate trust in all that we do. We bring lasting value to the communities we serve and work tirelessly within these communities to engage with local schools, community groups and occupiers to create real benefits in the long term. In the last year alone, we have engaged with more than 12,000 young people in a range of specially designed activities and events aimed at inspiring the next generation of construction professionals. Our commitment in this area emphasises our awareness of the need for the private sector to help re-energise local communities.”

Robertson is an exceptional family business, delivering solid financial performance, providing excellent career opportunities within all aspects of the construction industry, driving growth through innovation and continually demonstrating a determination to succeed. The business is and will remain family owned, focused on long term growth to create a successful business for its employees and clients for the next 50 years and beyond.

The final word has to go to Bill who above all is passionate about the next generation of people driving Robertson on the next leg of their remarkable journey. “Our apprentices and the youth in the business are amazing. When I started Robertson, I wanted to create opportunities for people to work. I began life ‘on the tools’ and know what it is like to work hard and strive to provide for a family and the people within Robertson reflect that desire too. I am proud of the business that has grown from Elgin to become what it is today with our team. I cannot guarantee that I’ll be here in 50 years, but I do know that Robertson will be.”

Family Business United visited Robertson as part of the 2019 Family Business Road Trip.

Find out more about Roberston by visiting their website


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