Meet the MD: John Dickson of Owen Pugh

Meet the MD: John Dickson of Owen Pugh

After returning to the region in 2005 to lead a management buy-out of Owen Pugh, John Dickson has helped the company grow into one of the region's leading civil engineering companies boasting a £40m turnover and 400 employees. BQ caught up with him to find out what makes a great business leader.

What is it you do?

Complete entrepreneurial responsibility for the leadership and management of the Owen Pugh Group of companies. 

As the ownermanager of the business, the buck really does stop with me…  …for everything; and with £40m turnover and over 400 employees, that covers a lot!


What is it the company does?

The Owen Pugh Group is a group of companies engaged in the Civil Engineering supply chain in the North East of England. 

The work undertaken includes civil engineering main contracting, earthmoving, demolition, drainage and groundworks, plant hire, haulage, aggregates, drain cleaning, materials testing and training. 


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

After university I did five years with BICC plc and two with Reyrolle in Hebburn before a three year break in Venezuela. 

I returned to a job in Derby for Rolls-Royce which through merger and acquisition turned into a global role as Engineering Director of the Boiler division of Alstom Power Inc. 

I returned to the North-East in 2005 to lead a management buyout of Owen Pugh.


What do you believe makes a great leader?

Energy, optimism, vision and the ability to make mistakes (and learn from them).


What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?

There are so many it is difficult to pick the biggest. This year, it has been dealing with the fall-out of a bad debt caused by the collapse into liquidation of a significant customer.

We will emerge from this, but there is no doubt that losses like these slow the pace of growth, reducing our ability to invest and create sustainable jobs.


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

Whisky helps!  But seriously, I retreat to the small quiet space deep within me where I can rebuild.  I suppose you might call it a form of meditation.


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

An entrepreneur, and before that a civil engineer.


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

Telephones going unanswered: I try to train people to cover each other’s phones, as well as encouraging the IT department to set up pick-up groups.

Employees who wait for someone else to call back: I get cross with them, that sort of passivity is just an excuse for dodging the issue.


Where do you see the company in five years’ time?

I’d like to think we can double our turnover to £70-80m while remaining anchored to the North-East of England and true to our principles of quality, value and a sustainable, well-trained, employed workforce.


What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?

Go for it!  Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. Meanwhile, if you can find one, go and talk to an existing business leader about the stresses and strains.