Can you tell us about your path into construction and to your current position…
My introduction into the metal and manufacturing industry, started back in 1996 with British Steel in an automotive role, before moving into the Head Office for International (by this point British Steel was Corus) where my role became focused on sales for international niche products and projects.
In 2009, I was appointed Commercial Manager for International Construction Projects, buying and selling steel construction products to various markets, and it was here, while on secondment to the Middle East, (Corus was by then Tata Steel), I became involved with the Kalzip business. When I came back to the UK, I became General Manager, UK&I for Kalzip in 2018. After the sale of Kalzip to Donges Steeltech, I became CEO for Kalzip in December 2021.
Tell us a bit about Kalzip, the types of projects your products get utilised on and markets you operate in…
We are mostly known and recognised for large, bespoke projects such as stadia, airports, or the cladding of the containment arch over Chernobyl. However, we are present in a lot of different vertical sectors and across many countries around the world. On a larger scale in the UK&I, we sell into the nuclear and defence sectors and also leisure, retail and education.
I understand the company is celebrating its 55th anniversary this year, that’s quite an achievement, especially considering the turbulent period construction and the wider economy has endured over the last few years – what do you put the company’s longevity and success down to?
This is predominantly down to two things: product quality and our staff. Ultimately, the product quality has withstood the test of time. Although we have gone through several iterations of various components, our product has remained high quality and therefore, we remain the product of choice for architects, contractors and our customers.
Meanwhile, we’re very privileged to have passionate and experienced colleagues who pride themselves on the service they provide to our customers and in the design and application of products.
The supply chain has had to deal with the pandemic, volatility in pricing and supply of raw materials etc. How has Kalzip navigated this tricky period and supported customers?
It has certainly been a tricky and challenging time for everyone. Back in 2020, we implemented the necessary precautions and endeavoured to keep working throughout the pandemic and various lockdowns in different countries, to support the supply chain and our customers as much as possible.
Cost inflation has been an issue for all product suppliers and manufacturers. We mitigated where possible and managed our availability and lead times well, in support of the projects we were committed to.
You offer a wide range of products and systems, how important is Research and Development to Kalzip?
It is of course important to any manufacturer and one we would always like to commit more resources to where possible. We have made several iterations to our products over the years, which are not always visible to our customers or specifiers but reflect the ongoing optimising and performance of our systems available. Now, as we plan our way through the Green Economy to Net Zero, we are focusing our efforts on our solar and green roof product offerings, which we believe will become a larger part of our portfolio moving forward.
With this in mind, is there still room for innovation in roof and façade systems? If so, what sort of issues will it address for installers and building owners?
I think there will always be innovation as the regulatory environment and ESG drive us forward, whether it be tighter U-Values and acoustic values, or coverage and output from renewables. We are always looking at enhancing and extending our solar and green roof offerings accordingly. We are always looking at how can we help our customers construct and operate buildings more efficiently and safely using our modular system.
It feels like a time of big change for construction with regards to building safety and the establishment of Building Safety Regulator. How has this impacted your role as a manufacturer and supplier with regards to the support you offer and how you interact with contractors?
We have always offered strong support to the project chain from specification through to supply and installation, with a strong portfolio of tested and certified systems. We expect it will lead to a more robust defence of what is specified in the construction remaining or any proposed changes fulfilling readily comparable criteria. Our responsibility is to continue to make our certification as robust as possible, ensure we keep on top of marking and improving our digital offering for the golden thread.
Do you feel the Building Safety Regulator will have a positive impact when it comes to improving competency and working practices on projects, and perhaps pushing those who are willing to cut corners to the sidelines?
Any effort to focus on these areas must have a beneficial impact, the balance will be in enforcing regulations without becoming too onerous a burden to the entire project chain. Construction by its very nature, means working within a time constrained environment, making decisions and changes to mitigate issues as they arise. I believe this has lead in the past to specification breaking by accident or without realising the differences between different offerings. Improving competences is therefore a key element of the Building Safety Regulator’s functions.
What about sustainability within construction – whether it’s from a company’s carbon footprint and commitment to recycling etc., or the products that are being specified on projects – do you feel it’s being taken more seriously throughout the supply chain?
Absolutely, requests for information or commitments by the contractors to their overall footprint and that of their supply chain, are gradually working through to the extent that it must be a consideration for all suppliers into construction projects.
Are homeowner and building owner buying habits changing to take sustainability and green credentials into account, or is price still the main driver on projects?
I would say habits are changing to make sustainability and green credentials a key part of the building specification and approval process – and more importantly, early on in the process. These elements will always then come under scrutiny as the project progresses from contractor bidding, material sourcing, subcontractor procurement and so on. Whether the focus is on absolute price or value for money varies depending on the project chain, and as above, building competences within the industry are key to driving this to make sure value for the specified performance is achieved.
Speak to most contractors and they’ll point to a lack of skilled labour for projects as a key concern. Is this something Kalzip recognises, and if so, what more do you feel roofing needs to do to not only attract more contractors and installers, but skilled labour to the sector?
We recognise the comments from our customers and the industry in general. I think there is disparity from the image of working in construction in UK&I, to the reality and apart from roles at architects and engineers’ level, people don’t necessarily see it as an option for a career. Again, increasing competences, awareness and guidance at a younger age is one part of this.
What’s the most satisfying thing about your job?
Definitely seeing the projects we’ve been involved in around the world come to life. Especially when you get to point them out to (less interested) family members!
And the most frustrating?
The level of significant change over the last few years as already referenced. Forecasting and predictions need to flex or change as soon as they are set.
Can you tell me about some of the more interesting projects that you and Kalzip have been involved with? Do you have a favourite?
The Chernobyl arch is one that is regularly mentioned by customers internationally, although I think not that well known as a Kalzip project in the UK. I am immensely proud for Kalzip to have been involved in the Sandwell Aquatics Centre and Alexander Stadium for the recent Commonwealth games in the UK.
After a challenging, stop-start few years, are there reasons to be hopeful for the roofing sector and wider construction industry as we progress through 2023?
We are certainly positive in Kalzip about the rest of 2023 and moving forward into 2024 and beyond, with a strong pipeline. As always business adapts to shocks and the construction sector is particularly adept at problem solving, so I don’t expect to see any significant stop-starts on the horizon, but as availability continues to improve and costs become more stable, I am sure we will start to see a more constant environment emerge.
What can we expect from Kalzip over the next decade? How do you see the company developing?
We will continue to build on and enhance our main product and system portfolio looking for sustainable growth in our core markets, as well as increasing our presence in the façade segment. Our commitment to sustainability and the renewable arena remains and internationally, we will always look to be involved in the major flagship projects.