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Quality not quantity is the priority for electrical outfit

IN this week's SME Focus we hear from an entrepreneurial quantity surveyor who runs an electrical business that landed a contract from a giant – the kind of deal that can make the fortunes of a small business.

switcheD ON: Gerry Kennedy started as a quantity surveyor before transforming the fortunes of an electrical business founded by his father, Tom, in 1953. Picture: James Galloway
switcheD ON: Gerry Kennedy started as a quantity surveyor before transforming the fortunes of an electrical business founded by his father, Tom, in 1953. Picture: James Galloway

Name: Gerry Kennedy

Age: 58

What is your business called?

Campbell & Kennedy Ltd.

Where is it based?

Our head office is in Clydebank, Glasgow, but we also have an office based in Bracknell in the south.

What does it produce, what services does it offer?

The business was originally set up to instal TV Aerials. A business opportunity became available in 1990 with the advent of satellite TV and then the introduction of digital TV in 1998, and so the business expanded. We became a strategic contractor with BSkyB as a retailer and installation partner, designing and installing Sky communal TV solutions to blocks of flats and commercial properties.

The business has recently expanded further, with divisions in fire protection, technology solutions, energy installations and electrical contracting.

To whom does it sell?

Our TV installation side focuses on domestic consumers. Our commercial side serves public and private-sector customers. We tend to work a lot with housing associations, local authorities, property managers and major contractors.

What is its turnover?

£7.5 million.

How many employees?

We have a staff of 121, but it continues to grow as we expand in new market sectors.

When was it formed?

The company was formed by my father, Tom Kennedy, and his friend Robert Campbell back in 1953. I became involved part-time in the early-1990s when the business was turning over just £200,000 per annum to effectively rebuild the business [which was re-incorporated in 1996]. I joined full-time in 1999, taking on the role of MD, and embarked on a period of sustained growth.

Why did you take the plunge?

After some great years in surveying it became clear that a career change was needed. I believed fee competition meant often the cheapest service won instead of a quality service. I saw a bleak future for professional quantity surveyors and wanted to use my professional skills to help Campbell & Kennedy grow. At that time C&K clearly needed a new direction, so it seemed a natural path to take. I had a brief overlap period part-time at C&K while setting up the sale of the surveying practice. Once I made the move full-time to C&K, the company and I never looked back. Right choice, right time, the rest is history, as they say.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

Running a quantity surveying practice, before which I had worked as a QS in both the professional and the construction sectors. I spent some time in Saudi Arabia in the 1980s working as a QS. I did some DJ work in a past life too.

What was your biggest break?

I had moved into a sector that I felt had been crying out for a professional business approach, and it was not long before I got my biggest break by gaining the deal with Sky to become an approved home installer – but the national delivery of the launch of Sky+ HD in 2006 really put us on the map. We really worked on the legs of that business and we're now the largest Sky installer in Scotland, and instal in homes throughout the UK.

What was your worst moment?

The initial period taking over the business. It was a tough time to get through from being in a reasonably comfortable job to everything being in the melting pot again. Getting support from our bankers (whom I would rather not name) in the early growth years was a bit of a nightmare – a growing business needs cash and lots of it to survive.

My worst moment was when I had to borrow £100,000 on my house because I was the only one who believed in what I was doing. The bank manager wanted to support me but that old chestnut "you don't fit the funding criteria" was thrown to us as a polite "no" to our growth funding application.

It really put a strain on my personal life, committing to the job, but from where we are now, it was more than worth it.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

The freedom it allows and the challenge of growth. I like to compete with myself to make the business better and stronger from the previous year. It's not just a job; it's a personal project and a passion.

What do you least enjoy?

We all have bad days when things don't go a certain way you'd hope. I put in long hours, the alarm rings at 5am; it can be stressful at times but the outcome is always rewarding.

What are your ambitions for the firm?

To grow even further, increase employment and establish ourselves as industry leaders in what we do. Some of our divisions are still young, but we've put in respectable and successful work, and hope that will increase tenfold.

What are your top priorities?

Providing a top-class and transparent service for our clients; the C&K team – happy and productive employees are crucial to the business (we take pride in the work they do); ethical business practices; being environmentally friendly; expanding our team with the right people. It is a difficult time financially and many people are without work. We want to bring more opportunities to areas throughout the UK.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish Government do that would help?

For a start they could put much more pressure on the banks to provide easier access to funding to help growing businesses and even struggling businesses. It's a very tough market place out there. I am fed up hearing what the Government is doing to help business in this respect, but it always seems to be a different story at the sharp end.

What was the most valuable lesson you learned?

Customer is king. I visited many large businesses in America, with the likes of Google, EA Games, Ritz Carlton, Gap and DPR Construction back in 2008 on a business education trip funded in part by Scottish Enterprise. It was exceptional value for money.

The single most important thing I learned was that world-class customer service is absolutely vital.

They really had a dedicated attitude at those companies; it left an impression on me to ensure we have the same attitude.

How do you relax?

I'm really into fitness and exercise. I go for a run just about every evening after work and whenever I get the chance. I love running in the Kilpatrick Hills, it really clears your head but also keeps you sharp.

My son and daughter both have children, so we also have grandchildren in our lives now, and it's just amazing getting to spend time with them (looking after them is a workout in itself).

C&K is my family at work, but my family at home and my family's future is the most important thing in my life.

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