A building boss from Huddersfield has given an intriguing insight into why giant firm Carillion collapsed.
James Wimpenny grew up steeped in the building trade – starting as a teenager helping his father John with the family business Eric Wimpenny & Son Ltd in Linthwaite.
Now the former Kayes College and Greenhead College student leads a business with 2,800 employees and offices across the country as the newly-appointed chief executive of BAM Construct UK – the firm that built Huddersfield Leisure Centre, new facilities at Royds Hall Community School and several eye-catching university buildings among its many local projects.
He takes up the reins at a sombre time as the industry assesses the impact of the collapse of sector giant Carillion – hitting thousands of workers and suppliers.
James said Carillion’s demise reflected a major issue facing the industry.
“Construction is very high risk and margins are low,” he said. “Traditionally, people look for the cheapest price, not best value. When people are going to tender they are always looking at the bottom line. That’s unsustainable and it creates a situation where the Carillion thing can happen. We try to win work on our performance, consistency and ability to be there for the future – and building a relationship where price is not the main factor.”
James joined BAM in 1985 on a graduate trainee with a degree in construction from Leeds Polytechnic. He became a general foreman before climbing the career ladder to head BAM’s north east region for the past nine years.
James, who lives at Scapegoat Hill, says he has the building industry “in my genes” and traces his family’s involvement in the industry to his great great-grandfather.
“We had the builder’s yard at the back of the family home and as a teenager I was always helping out,” he said.
“I got a job with BAM as a trainee 33 years ago and spent six months working in different parts of the business. From there I became a general foreman. My first project was the refurbishment of the Alhambra Theatre in Bradford 30 years ago.”
His new role covers more than construction.
He said: “We have our own design team and we cover the whole life cycle of projects from buying the land to designing and developing the building, constructing it and maintaining it.”
The man who signed the deal on the Huddersfield Leisure Centre scheme is proud of the firm’s record in the town.
“We have probably done about £100m of work in the local area in the past 15 to 20 years,” he said. “Having seen a lot of work going on around Yorkshire and the country it’s nice to ‘do business’ in my hometown. I’m pretty pleased about that.”
James said Huddersfield was ideally placed geographically to attract more investment, but said better rail and road links would help boost its credentials.
The Huddersfield Town season ticket holder added: “We have a Premier League football team which helps to give the town a bit of profile and the university is a significant factor in the town.”
In his new role, James aims to help make BAM become more productive and efficient by adopting new technology, new building techniques such as off-site manufacture and building materials.
He also wants to encourage more apprentices and graduates from all backgrounds to join the industry.
“We find that if we bring people in at 16 and develop them they tend to stick with the industry,” said James.
“There are not enough women in our industry and we are trying to encourage a more diverse workforce. In the past, construction has not been that attractive, but today it’s more high-tech and there are lots more careers – something that has not been well-publicised. It’s an industry that’s always going to be here and provides lots of opportunities.”
Now a sixth generation Wimpenny has entered the industry.
James and wife Kerry have three sons, Matthew, 26, Samuel, 23 and Thomas, 20. While Matthew has joined accountancy firm PwC and Samuel is studying for a PhD in geosciences at Cambridge, Thomas has joined BAM as a trainee – just like his father.
“We didn’t push him into it!” says James.