Tributes have been paid to the chief executive of Esh Group, Brian Manning, who died last week following a short battle with cancer.
Brian, who led the steady growth of Esh Group since the early 1990s, earned a significant reputation as one of the North East’s most astute businessmen with a vision to serve the community.
He had recently celebrated his 60th birthday.
Speaking on behalf of Esh Group chairman Michael Hogan said: “All of our thoughts are with Brian’s family at this very sad time.
“The success of Esh Group is a massive testament to Brian as a person and a businessman, and all staff are united in continuing his remarkable legacy, in his memory.”
Brian started his career in 1973, having joined Monk Construction as a trainee site engineer from school, Hylton Red House Comprehensive.
Soon he’d worked his way up to contracts manager with the firm and in 1990 left to join Lumsden and Carroll - a founding company of Esh Group - before becoming managing director in 1991. At the time the company turnover was around £3m and the workforce totalled 62.
He was instrumental in the formation of Esh Holdings in 1999, the precursor to the Esh Group. The intervening 26 years has seen turnover grow to more than £270m - part of a remarkable growth story of which Brian was a key protagonist.
After becoming chief executive of Esh Group in 2000, Brian led its growth into the multidisciplinary business it is today.
In 2003, when the business outgrew its Esh Winning base and moved to neighbouring Bowburn, Brian was determined to build the life chances of young people growing up in the Region.
He developed a programme of work experience for GCSE students at a local school, which led to 20 full-time apprenticeships and eventually full employment.
The programme had a transformative impact on the school - eradicating truancy and improving A*-C achievement from 35% to 55%. It earned recognition from Business in the Community, the Confederation of British Industry and HRH Prince Charles.
It was the forerunner to Esh Group’s “Building My Skills” programme - a year-long scheme that provides school children with an introduction to the world of work and will this year reach 11,000 students.
In 2002 Esh Group was approached to build an extension on the property of Tyneside charity The Cyrenians.
With his eye on creating social value, Brian challenged the charity to build it themselves, with support from the company.
Sixteen people who sought help through the charity were involved in the build - gaining life-changing experience and qualifications beyond their expectations. The process was the subject of a BBC documentary.
In addition to his busy role at Esh Group, Brian also held a number of voluntary and non-executive roles through which his influence was felt.
He was vice president, board and Council member of the North East Chamber of Commerce; chairman of Durham Committee North East Chamber of Commerce; board member Changing Lives; board member Northumberland Arch; advisory board member Business Durham; board member Castle View Enterprise Academy; and member of the Regional Leadership team for BITC and Regional Council of CBI.
Tributes to Brian have come from across the North East business community.
Mike Matthews, president North East England Chamber of Commerce and managing director of NIFCO UK, said: “Members of the North East England Chamber of Commerce will be devastated to learn of the death of Brian Manning from cancer. He has done so much for the wider North East business community for so many years, especially as Chair of the County Durham Committee for the last six years and as Vice President for the last three years.
“During that time he has dedicated a huge amount of time to making the North East a better place, especially for young people entering the world of work. We shall greatly miss his outstanding business sense, his focus on creating a brighter future and his sense of fun. Everyone who knew him well appreciated his strength of character and his positive impact across the Region. We all owe him a huge debt of gratitude and send every best wish to Sue, his wife, and all his family at this sad time.”
James Ramsbotham, chief executive, North East England Chamber of Commerce, said: “I have been privileged to have worked with Brian Manning in several guises over the last 25 years, first as his Bank Manager, then as a colleague within Esh Group and latterly with him as Vice President of the Chamber of Commerce.
“During all of that time I have held him in the highest regard as a businessman and a friend, always dependable and usually right. He never shirked a challenge and imparted strength and determination to all those around him.
“The transformation from Lumsden and Carroll to the success of the Esh Group is the most phenomenal North East business success story and he has been at the heart of it throughout. But that alone does not begin to do justice to the colossus that was Brian Manning.
“His personal, commercial and charitable work with young people, with the homeless, with ex-offenders, with so many people from every part of the Region has been both inspirational and life changing. If the definition of a civilised society is the way it takes care of its weakest citizens, Brian is without doubt one of the most civilised people I have ever met.
“He leaves an incredible legacy and so many people, many of whom never even knew him, owe him more than they will ever know.
“We will all miss his wisdom and his encouragement but not as much as Sue and his beloved family to whom we send our deepest condolences and support. This is a tragedy for us all.”
Paul Blake, managing director of Newcastle Eagles, said: “Brian was a hugely enthusiastic supporter and mentor of the club and foundation, but more importantly was a great friend to us all and very much part of the Eagles family.
“He was very proud of the North East and will be sorely missed by all of us.”
Andrew Moffat CBI regional chair, said: "I was deeply saddened to hear the news about Brian Manning.
“Brian has been a long-standing, committed and insightful member of the CBI Council for many years. He has been a key figure in the North East business community, building a highly successful business with strong values and giving back to the community in so many ways.
“Our thoughts are with Sue and the family at this difficult time."
Sarah Glendinning, CBI regional director, added: "When I joined the CBI, Brian was so welcoming and encouraging which I hugely appreciated. He leaves a powerful legacy, but it is incredibly sad that we will no longer experience his wisdom and kindness first hand. He will be sorely missed by many."
Brian leaves behind his wife Sue, daughters Clair and Sarah, sons in law Wes and Kurt, and grandchildren Joseph, Archie and Ava.
*A funeral service will be held in Sunderland Crematorium on Tuesday, May 9 at 12:30pm. Family flowers only, a collection will be provided at the crematorium for a charity of the family’s choice. Family and friends are welcome to attend in celebration of Brian’s life after the service at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Durham, DH1 5TA. All enquiries to Peter Dodd Funeral Directors, Grindon. Tel 5200666.