From the ground up – JPCS features in the UK Excellence magazine

awards

As featured in the May 2012 – Innovation issue – of the UK Excellence Magazine, by the British Quality Foundation 

A focus on quality and a willingness to adapt have driven impressive growth in highways maintenance business JPCS. Managing Director Peter Shone shares their story

JPCS has expanded to become a £10m turnover highways maintenance and renewable energy company as a direct result of using accreditation programmes as building blocks for growth.

Despite the economic downturn, we have recorded year-on-year revenue growth of 15% for the last three years, and are forecast to generate a similar increase in the next financial year.

We deliver innovative products and services to maintain Britain’s roads and pavements, as well as ground-mounted solar photovoltaic technology to generate low carbon energy. A third operating division delivers civil engineering projects, including work on railway infrastructure.

Receiving our British Quality Foundation Excellence Award was especially fulfilling because it is testament to our ethos of developing our business through a culture of continuous improvement.

I believe our ongoing success is due, in large part, to the processes and practices implemented to achieve our EFQM Excellence accolade. The model is recognised internationally as a rigorous test of a company’s capability and this is one of the most widely respected accolades any organisation can receive.

Practical tool

I founded the business back in 1993 and realised from the outset that we needed to win local authority work in order to thrive, because councils require demonstrable evidence of contractors’ credentials. This meant success hinged on accreditation, which quickly became integral to our operational activities.

Our accreditations include Quality Assurance, which we first achieved in 1994, followed by Investors in People two years later. Environmental Management came in 2000 and Health & Safety Management in 2002, before we embarked on our EFQM journey at the end of 2006.

These accreditation programmes have always been used to develop the business in a practical, value-adding way – not as fashionable add-ons – which means we have a highly progressive and deeply embedded continuous improvement ethos.

JPCS is now a substantial private business with a workforce of 120, and a blue-chip client base that includes the Highways Agency, Balfour Beatty, British Gas and a host of local authorities across the country. Based in Malpas, Cheshire, we have satellite offices and depots in Gloucestershire, Nottinghamshire, Oxfordshire and East Sussex.

Paving the way

It wasn’t always like this. The original business was a scruffy footway slurry sealing operation and my initial ambition was to turn it into a company that did the work to really high standards.

I was only 18 and went out to work on pavements with a gang. It was by actually doing this that I saw on the ground how the process worked – or, more to the point, didn’t work. I got the end-user’s view of the product’s limitations and, just as importantly, I got a perspective of the potential opportunities that could flow from these limitations. This was one of my first lessons in business – and it’s just as relevant to the way we run our business in 2012.

In those early days we used an outmoded kind of footway slurry that would only set when the sun evaporated the water in it, so your operations were limited by the weather. However, new cationic slurries were becoming increasingly available and I soon recognised the opportunities of using these new products.

Cationic slurries are set by a chemical reaction and can be used in almost any weather. They seal, protect and water-proof pavements. I could see that this was an ideal product for repairing really damaged areas and started using it to rejuvenate pavements, while also carrying out value-adding enhancement work such as kerb repairs, weed-killing and lifting stop taps and BT covers, to tie into the thicker new slurry surface. This quality-focused process was effectively a miniature regeneration of a footpath – and it quickly set us apart from our competitors.

Their prices were much cheaper, but our work would last five times longer. This was when it became clear to me that clients will pay a premium for genuine quality because, ultimately, it’s the more cost-effective solution.

We continued to build and develop the business throughout the nineties and had significant success when the cable TV companies and local authorities required pavements to be dug up and resurfaced. Again, we prospered by concentrating on quality – resurfacing the entire pavement, not just the trench area.

Seamless growth

A strong example of how business improvement programmes translate into tangible growth was our Environmental Management accreditation in 2000. This acted as a catalyst for our involvement in sustainable energy and led directly to the development of our ground mounted solar PV business, which now represents about a third of our revenue.

We first engaged with the EFQM model in 2006, and immediately recognised the benefits it can bring. The Excellence model allows me to see the whole business through the five enablers (see panel) working together and the whole team can be totally involved in prioritising these enablers. The model also helps people inside and outside the business to gain a clearer understanding of what we do. This isn’t to say they need to know about the model itself, but rather the effect it has on the way the business operates, through seamless growth.

When describing this, I often use the analogy of ants moving a pile of dung from one place to another. The ants aren’t aware of any great changes in their working patterns, but suddenly they realise they have achieved a significant goal. The EFQM model works in much the same way – it doesn’t strangle your business with complex processes, but keeps everyone on track in a way that doesn’t intrude on your operational activities.

The accolade means a great deal for the business in terms of enhanced reputation and as a driver for growth and development. It is clear recognition of how far we have come. Everyone working every day to continually improve has made us a winner, without striving for a trophy, and this also links into the ant analogy.

Among the winners of the top award were Siemens, a multinational ‘household-name’ corporate, and a school and college. I think this says a lot about the inclusivity and comprehensiveness of EFQM. There are no airs and graces and you are judged solely on your performance, no matter who you are. It’s totally transparent and totally credible and this fits very well with our business culture.

It has come at a time when we are expanding our sustainable energy activities, with solar PV farms, and I believe it will continue to drive fresh business opportunities.

Fleet of foot

The final – and most important – outcome of our receiving the Excellence Award is that it adds value for our clients and represents a foundation for further success, creating another building block in our programme of continuous improvement.

This means developing our products and services, while keeping in touch with our roots as a dynamic and flexible SME. We regularly compete for highways maintenance contracts with large corporates and can do this because we have the wherewithal to deliver to clients’ requirements as a result of agility in the marketplace. This sets us apart from many of our larger competitors which aren’t structured to take initiative and make fast entrepreneurial decisions.

In the last 10 years the government has totally outsourced highways maintenance across the UK and this has resulted in unwieldy organisations and businesses competing for work. JPCS, on the other hand, has the fleetness of foot and the ability to spot an opportunity and successfully deliver it – if necessary, diversifying in order to do so.

We are determined to preserve and build on the family-run company feel and owner-managed business style that our customers value.

Real opportunity

Looking ahead, there is no shortage of challenges in any of the sectors in which we operate, but the flipside of challenge is opportunity and we are confident that we can continue to develop our activities on a number of levels.

In the sustainable energy industry, the main challenge is the volatility in the solar PV market, which always seems to be waiting for judicial reviews and decisions on feed-in-tariffs. I certainly hope that we will soon be able to focus on delivering projects driven by the government’s Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC), rather than being distracted by regulatory obstacles and burdens.

On the highways maintenance side, we would like public sector term maintenance procurement to be more accessible to SMEs so that genuine expertise and real knowledge isn’t compromised by tendering procedures or barriers to entry.

There is a real opportunity for SMEs to add value to their operations. Over the last 18 years, we have passed hundreds of thousands of homes and this has given us a good idea of what peoples’ needs are. This goes right back to my earliest experiences of going out with a gang to work on pavements. If you stand on the road wearing a yellow jacket, people will come out of their homes and give you the sort of end-user feedback that money can’t buy.

In a sector where innovation, diversification and flexibility are crucial, this sort of market intelligence is like gold dust. One of our great successes was when we first started on the pavements and put pre-paid post cards through doors for people to send back to us with their comments.

Creating sustainable energy and infrastructure is about engaging with the people we come into contact with it, and developing new products and services accordingly.

Our plans and hopes going forward are fairly straightforward. We want to be a great business and we’d like to have a bit of luck. We will develop and learn with our people, while recognising the importance of generating cash in order to keep the business profitable.

Our Excellence journey

We started our EFQM journey at the end of 2006 and it’s fair to say that we were a little bit daunted by what lay ahead – even though we had experience of a number of other accreditation schemes. As it happened, our concerns could not have been more unfounded: the EFQM process is very accessible and immediately makes things easier and simpler on all sorts of levels.

We were instantly able to structure our teams around the model’s five enablers – leadership; policy and strategy; people; partnerships and resources; and processes, products and services.

These were aligned to the four results – customer; people; society; and key results – in a way that helped us to develop and structure our business improvement plans.

For me as an individual business manager, the model has been instrumental as a personal growth and developmental tool because it always has the answer when things aren’t going as well as they should.

About JPCS

JPCS is a nationwide construction and engineering services contractor with clients across the energy and infrastructure industries in both the public and private sectors.

Formed in 1993 to design and install proprietary surfacing materials to footways and carriageways, the contractor was quick to innovate, developing specialist microasphalts designed to treat all surface conditions. This innovation has fuelled the company’s growth, and it now provides services in highway maintenance, sign installation, winter maintenance, civil engineering, solar photovoltaic installation, data collection and facilities and property maintenance.

JPCS has a strong focus on delivering value engineering and value for money in consultancy, design, construction, maintenance and refurbishment. The business is built around four key values: we listen, we encourage initiative, we have pride, respect and courtesy, we enjoy working together to create success.

With thanks to the UK Excellence magazine and the British Quality Foundation (BQF). To find out more about the BQF, please visit their website or the BQF’s Excellence Model pages.