It’s not every company that will refund a customer the difference on a contract that comes in on time and under budget. But then adi Group isn’t every company. James Sopwith, MD of adi Mechanical explains the ethos and strategy behind recent growth.
At 22 years old, adi group is growing fast, despite the stubbornly stagnant economic climate and the shock contraction for manufacturing in early 2013 Purchasing Managers Index figures.
“It would be stupid to say that achieving growth is easy. It is a very difficult marketplace out there,” says James Sopwith. “But we have brought tools into our company kit box that allow us to be successful where perhaps others are not.”
Running through those growth tools, Mr Sopwith talks about the inspiring leadership of the company founder and CEO Alan Lusty, of open networking between colleagues in the open plan office facilities, of a one team ethos in delivering value to customers and of Targeting Success, adi Group’s answer to employee development, internal communications and client satisfaction.
adi Group offers total engineering solutions, almost exclusively to UK manufacturing blue-chips. As an overview, the Group’s services to the manufacturing sector include: process and office climate control systems and building intelligence, interior and office fit-out work, mechanical and electrical installation and maintenance, engineering design, fabrication and pipework, software development and panel design and build, compressor installation and maintenance as well as full facilities engineering or management contracts. Environmentally, the Group also delivers energy saving advice and systems, legionella control and management as well as water pollution containment services.
Customer sectors span food, beverage, automotive, aerospace, pharmaceutical and defence and the company undertakes an average of 2000 engineering projects a year, varying in size and value. Service prices range from as little as £100 up to around £5m.
It was on one such large scale project that adi recently distinguished itself by refunding its customer the difference on a contract which had been completed on time and under budget. “It was an eighteen month defence contract combining the services of adi Automation, adi Electrical, adi Mechanical and adi Projects to manufacture and install an entire process line including mechanical handling equipment, electrical infrastructure and control systems for a huge new facility,” says Sopwith. “We won the project competitively, but have then ended up giving money back to the customer.”
This defence project is a good demonstrator in defining adi’s unusually customer-centric delivery of multi-disciplined engineering services says Sopwith. “It required a multidisciplined engineering approach. Utilising the capabilities from several of our business units delivered via one point of contact for project management and through one contract – that is quite unusual in our sector.”
Creating simplicity for customers executing complex engineering projects is critical to adi and has been the driver behind the group’s latest phase of rapid expansion since 2008. It has grown from five limited companies to fifteen in that time, adding capability to increase the scope of the projects it can tender for as a single unified entity.
Given the rate of growth the breadth of capability brought on board, it would be reasonable to assume that adi has been following an aggressive acquisition road. But not so, says Sopwith. “Our roots are in electrical engineering and we have expanded by following opportunity and referral. We grow by importing talent. The majority of the group’s fifteen businesses began as start ups, invested in using our own funds, and developed from a standing start.”
Such commitment to growing its own talent and capability is backed by a formalised employee development and communications approach dubbed Targeting Success. This scheme follows the ethos of Formula 1™ teams, “not just because a few of us in the business are keen on motorsport,” explains Sopwith. “It is the ultimate engineering sector and we are constantly striving to mirror its high tech, fast paced and professional culture.”
The Targeting Success ethos which drives business improvement at adi extends beyond the company boundaries but is focused by a belief in local jobs for local people and in giving back to the community around it – it does this through nationwide initiative BITC (Business in the Community).
A particular passion for the company is its work on local homelessness. “We take someone from a deprived or homeless background and give them a business placement,” explains Ms Dullea. This improves their confidence and employability generally and, says Dullea, some individuals have gone on to gain permanent positions with the company.
Following success with apprenticeships and interns placed at adi, the next step is to start working with local schools, providing mentoring and opening the company’s doors to young people. The aim is to inspire and educate young people about the varied opportunities available in engineering. the year’s we have paid great attention to detail in managing costs – it is fundamental to our competitiveness and our ability to invest without reliance on banks,” Sopwith concludes.
Sarah Dullea, group communications manager, gives more detail. “Targeting success is our template for business improvement. It ensures that we have regular team and company briefings, both at headquarters and for teams and individuals out on customer sites,” it is normal for engineers to be placed on site for long periods Ms Dullea explains. “We capture news from all areas of the business during these briefings and disperse it in weekly company emails and in the more formal ‘adi Mail’ communication which goes out three or four times a year.”
Everybody’s input into briefings is important says Dullea. “The company has an inclusive approach to management from the open plan, hotdesking, paperless office to our corporate workwear which everybody wears from shop floor to CEO. It is very important in such a diverse business which relies so heavily on offering integrated solutions, that we have no communication boundaries.”
Commitment to this principle of free communication is evident in more than just words. adi has invested significant sums in IT hardware to make sure employees in disparate project locations have access to laptops and mobile technology as and when they need it.
“This kind of investment is essential in improving right first time performance. Every project is different– so planning software and MRP or ERP technology doesn’t really suit. What is critical is that we support the ability of our project managers to have visibility,” comments Sopwith.
Of course this includes having visibility of cost. “There is no point in managing a project really well if the costs are not under tight control,” Sopwith continues. To support cost management the company’s extended communications network feed into an open source financial system. “Over the year’s we have paid great attention to detail in managing costs – it is fundamental to our competitiveness and our ability to invest without reliance on banks,” Sopwith concludes.