IT WAS started in 1975 by his father, with a week’s dole money, after he was laid off from a sheet metalwork factory in Glasgow, and “it was literally hand to mouth”.

Now, J&D Pierce Contracts has gone from making railings and gates back then to putting out 1,000 tonnes of steelwork from the family firm’s own factory in Ayrshire each week.

Derek Pierce joined his father, Jim, in 1982 straight from school and the pair, joint managing directors, have created a business that has a turnover of £60 million and responsible for constructing an array of future landmarks across the UK, such as the acclaimed Haymarket railway station in Edinburgh, Boeing’s new European base at Gatwick and the £150 million re-imagination of Queen Street station in Glasgow, now nearing completion.

Next up is a 13-storey student block in Glasgow, which will be visible from the motorway, a London City Airport extension, and a footbridge over the Formula 1 race track at Silverstone.

WATCH: Video shows progress in £150m Queen Street station revamp

He said: “I got into it when I left school. Dad was working himself, doing blacksmith work, and the two of us worked away merrily together for about five years doing gates, railings, fire escapes.

“Then we started an apprentice, moved into a small industrial unit and the jobs got slightly bigger, and I would say by 1992 we had about 10 men, still doing pretty much light fabrication work, small sheds, that sort of thing.”

Two years later they moved into a 6,000 sq ft unit and Mr Pierce moved into the office.

“I started tendering, basically. I would get the site guys away and price some jobs and then got out to the sites in the afternoon and then come back and by that time, the pricing would be back for the jobs that I had done the take-offs for, so you know, just a merry cycle for doing stuff like that, you price work, you win work, or lose it, just the usual.”

Mr Pierce and his father built up the business from a two-man operation with one apprentice to become a significant player in the design, fabrication, painting and site erection of structural steelwork across the country from its base in Glengarnock.

READ MORE: Hunt for top entrepreneurs in Scotland nears finish

“Life was not easy in those days, and, like with every small business, you are pretty much hand to mouth, but, we persevered, and basically from 1994 onwards we had just somebody pricing all of the time, and getting our name about.

"We got more opportunities, we would price more, we got a bit bigger and just ‘head down and keep going’ to be quite honest. Today, we have about 350 directly employed, with another 50 in the cladding division.”

He said: “When dad started it in 1975, the place he was working had closed down, and he couldn’t find a job and decided to start himself. Fair play to him. It was a week’s dole money and the motivation to say right let’s get on with it.

"So, yeah, it was a struggle. Still is a struggle. You’re in in the mornings, it’s just different numbers nowadays, it’s just different problems. But I wouldn’t change a thing.”

READ MORE: Work to begin on George Square hotel

Timely action and a twist of fortune saw the firm through the financial crisis. “By 2007, we had about 120 men. I remember we were incredibly busy all the way through 2007 and we picked up a job in Edinburgh just before the crash, which took us all through.”

He said: “We took the decision to basically tighten our belts because we could see this coming and made about 20 people redundant - we thought it would have been irresponsible of ourselves going through and then finding there was no work - and got ready for it dropping off the end, which, as predicted, it did. It was quite incredible. We ended up swimming about the same pool with everybody else looking for work.

“We weathered the storm, picked up a couple of good jobs in the early part of 2010, and then by the end of the year, everybody we made redundant, we more or less had taken back on again. That was the year of the big snow, there was a lot buildings that the roofs had collapsed up north, with the whisky bonds, and we won a lot of that work.

“If it was judgment, skill or whatever, we made the right decisions and we worked through it and then we invested quite heavily again. So from then on, the business expanded and we bought the offices next door and built another 300,000 sq ft onto the factory in 2015, primarily to make our own plate girders and heavy bridge beams. We can make anything in-house now.”

The 2018 Summit Entrepreneurship Awards Entrepreneur of the Year also last year opened a new office employing 17 in Yorkshire.

READ MORE: Entrepreneur of the Year award clinched by boss of steelwork success story

“They price the work, design the work, and look after the work, as far as the contracts managing goes, and it is fabricated here and sent back down the road. They’re doing buildings of a million square feet.

"So from going from light fabrication doing gates and railings in 1975 to now, we’re doing 900 to 1,000 tonnes per week from the factory. These are some of the biggest developments in the country.

"Queen Street was challenging and complex because railway work is always quite challenging as far as time constraints and working outwith railway times.

“The next big interesting one is the expansion of London City Airport, which is nearly 7,000 tonnes; new baggage hold, new terminal, new pier, to cater for an additional 12 aircraft. That’s the next big challenging job.

“Sometimes you have to kind of pinch yourself a wee bit because, just with the volume that you put through, it can just become another building, but sometimes you look at it and think it is going to be quite an iconic structure by the time it’s finished.”


What countries have you most enjoyed travelling to, for business or leisure, and why?

I have to say Switzerland because of the amazing scenery and the culture.

When you were a child, what was your ideal job? Why did it appeal?

The plan was always to leave school and work with my father. For five years after I left school, it was only the two of us. It was always what I wanted to do.

What was your biggest break in business?

There hasn’t been one single thing to pick out, throughout the years it has just been great progression, hard work and determination.

Who do you most admire and why?

Not one person in particular. In general, people who start with so little and through hard work and determination, achieve great things.

What book are you reading?

I don’t really have the time to get into reading books. I actually prefer articles in magazines to books.

What music are you listening to?

I like all music really. I listen to anything that comes on the radio.

What was the last film you saw?

I can’t remember the last film I sat down and watched, but I like any in the genres of Action or Thriller.