Stephen Byram, manging director of Yorkshire housebuilder SB Homes, tells BQ about learning from mistakes and the importance of basing property designs on the local environment.
What is it the company does?
We have been building bespoke, new houses throughout the Huddersfield area for the past 21 years.
As an SME house builder, we like to keep control over our projects by managing everything in-house. For example, we acquire the land, create the plans, construct the properties and provide sales and after-care help.
We’re a little different to most house developers because we don’t have a house type – we design properties that suit their surroundings, considering everything from the land layout and the local people, to the area and the environment.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words
As the managing director, my role is very varied, and I wouldn’t say there’s really a typical day. Sometimes I can be found working on site, especially when there’s a property nearing completion and we need all hands on deck. Other days, I am based at the office dealing with issues surrounding planning or managing cash flow.
I also keep an eye out for new opportunities and handle the purchase of all our developments.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
I started working with my dad when I was 14, helping him with building jobs on weekends. But when I left sixth form, I decided that I didn’t enjoy construction and wanted to do something different, so I went down the engineering route.
It didn’t last too long because I soon fell back into building and by the age of 21, I had my own business – Byram Construction – undertaking contracting work. I built this up and two of my brothers came to work for me.
Then in 1997, I set up SB Homes. It started doing well, and I began to concentrate my efforts on growing this business. My brother then took over the construction firm, and still owns/runs it to this day.
SB Homes has continued to go from strength-to-strength, despite the ups and downs in the economy along the way.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
I think that truly great, natural leaders are often born with the skill. But there are instances where I’ve seen people — who didn’t already possess an instinctive ability — learn to be good leaders over time.
The main values are being honest, hardworking, treating employees as equals and valuing the people around you. Your staff have families that they need to look after, so if you look after them, it will breed loyalty.
Having strong values like these is really important, and even when times are tough, they need to shine through to provide people with a vision.
What has been the biggest challenge in your current position?
The main challenge that comes as part and parcel of my job is buying land and obtaining planning permission which is financially viable — housebuilding is a difficult industry to be in.
Some people tend to have a perception that house builders have it easy and are just in it to make lots of money quickly, but that’s really not the case.
There are huge risks involved every time we buy a new development, and we have to weigh these up in order to continue pushing forward. We employ great tradespeople, and we pay them good wages — it’s about much more than profits.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
If I have a stressful day, the one thing that can refresh my mind is going fell running on the moors with my dogs. Skiing is also good for blowing away the cobwebs.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A footballer — I had plenty of passion but not enough talent, unfortunately!
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
I don’t like it when someone commits to something and they don’t follow it through. But I think that discussing it with them and trying to re-motivate them is the best way to handle it.
Everyone is different, and you need to talk to them to understand why they might be struggling or to find ways that you can help them.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
I’d love for my three daughters to be more involved. My eldest, Sophie, is already a director of the business, while my second daughter Amy looks after our marketing as an external consultant. I’m yet to convince my youngest, Hannah!
I see them very much in the future of SB Homes.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Work hard, and when things get tough, work even harder. And if you know you’re right about something, make sure you stick to your guns and see it through, even if other people can’t see it yet.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
Nothing. I think you always learn the best lessons from your own experiences, and the mistakes you make are all part and parcel of running a business.
Plus, the only person I’d have listened to would’ve been my dad, but he was usually more interested in looking after his chickens!
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