Meet the MD: Steve Bell of Gus Robinson Developments

Meet the MD: Steve Bell of Gus Robinson Developments

As managing director, or 'chief plate spinner', no two days are the same for Steve Bell at Gus Robinson Developments. He gives BQ an insight into his career so far and what he believes makes a great leader.

Describe your role in no more than 100 words.

Chief Plate Spinner. On a day to day basis, I tend to get involved in every aspect of the business.

Despite the significant growth we have experienced over the last few years, we still have a very tightly run ship which can often lead to me getting involved in a little bit of everything. 

I guess that beyond looking at current business performance, a lot of what I do revolves around seeking out new opportunities. 

Our aim is to continue to grow the business year on year and to enable that, we will need to increase our land supply for building new homes and open up new client leads for our traditional building contracting division.

 

What is it the company does?

Gus Robinson Developments Ltd is a national building contractor that provides a wide portfolio of building, mechanical & electrical and civil engineering services. We cover all aspects of commercial build, urban regeneration and new housing.

Regardless of our expansive growth in recent years, we pride ourselves on the fact that the community in which we operate is always at the heart of everything we do.

 

Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?

I have more than 20 years’ experience as a site and construction manager for many of the country’s leading housing developers including Taylor Wimpey, Barratt and Bryant Homes. I also worked as development manager for Vela Homes (now Thirteen), the Teesside based social housing provider.  

I joined Gus Robinson Developments Ltd in January 2014 as Land & Development Director and then took over the day-to-day running of the firm in May this year to allow our Chairman, Dan Robinson, to concentrate on other business interests.

 

What do you believe makes a great leader?

Somebody who is approachable, is a good listener and doesn’t over-react.  A person with a calm and measured approach to all aspects of business and personal life.

In general, I believe that leading people requires a blend of task, people and process management; having all 3 of these in perfect balance and in harmony with each other is an ideal but is rarely achieved.

Therefore somebody who knows which of the three plates requires an extra spin at the right time, but quickly gets back to the other two is the kind of leader I aspire to be.

 

What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?

Firstly, the people plate! Most of what I have done to date in my working life has been very task and process orientated; I have found in particular managing working relationships takes up a lot of my time.

It is important to understand that each individual’s motivations and needs are different to others and your own.

Secondly, having to look at the business in a much broader sense. As a business, Gus Robinson Developments has changed considerably over the last few years, becoming a leaner organisation more suited to the demands of the modern construction industry. 

This has required new members of the team to be introduced and marked changes to some of our working practices. 

The integration of the new practices, whilst still keeping the ethos of the family business and our aims of giving back to the local community and being a force for good, has also been a challenge - but one we have successfully achieved.

 

How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?

Golf, golf, a round of golf followed by a bit more golf. I am a member of Castle Eden golf club in County Durham and can be found there most weekends and the odd evening in the summer. 

I have a good circle of friends who meet and play together. We also enjoy going on trips to play courses elsewhere. 

I have recently returned from the K club in Ireland, host of the Ryder Cup in 2006 which I can only describe  as outstanding.

Other than that, a holiday with my wife and eating out generally takes care of any stresses I may feel. 

To be honest, I think I am a fairly level headed and relaxed person so don’t tend to become overly stressed.

 

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

First it was a footballer. I’ve followed Newcastle United all my life and wanted nothing more than to play for them.

Once I realised that I was never going to be the next Kevin Keegan, I then set my heart on joining the RAF as a pilot.

It’s interesting that without knowing or realising it, that’s how I first met my current boss, our chairman Daniel Robinson.

Albeit we didn’t connect this together until I started working at Gus Robinson Developments, both Dan and myself were in Blackhall air cadets at the same time, and played on the same football team there.

I was a much better footballer I recall, but only one of us ended up flying fast jets in the Air Force.

So whilst one ended up a Top Gun, the other started work at Easington Council as a trainee Building Control Officer.

 

Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about then?

Lateness, in particular for meetings. I generally find that architects are the worst culprits so I have a word at the outset with whoever the scheme architect is.

The other one is dress down days. Being honest, I just don’t get it. Unsurprisingly we don’t have a dress down Friday at Gus Robinson. This is not likely to change any time soon.

 

Where do you see the company in five years time?

We are at an interesting point in terms of the growth of Gus Robinson Developments having come through a period of strategic repositioning within the industry. 

Government targets for the construction of more new homes will undoubtedly remain in place, but with further government cuts and austerity measures likely over the next five years, it’s likely that there will be fewer publicly funded construction schemes, the type of which Gus Robinson Developments have traditionally focussed on. 

We have though broadened both our geographic spread and attempted to reach out to new clients and new areas of operation over the last 2 years in particular and our projections for the next 5 years, based on a strong order-book and pipeline of work for the next 2 years, should see the business grow towards a turnover in excess of £30m operating throughout the North East of England and hopefully beyond. 

Gus Robinson Developments at various stages throughout the 40 years we have been around have operated throughout the UK, from Aberdeen to London, and even in Spain at one stage. 

Whilst I might leave the Costa Del Sol for golfing holidays, I would like to think we can once again operate beyond the North East!

 

What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?

Develop a strong management team to work with you.  One you can trust and who are excellent within their field of operation. Glad to say, we have that here!