An interview with Esh Group's Chief Financial Officer

Mark Sowerby discusses the changes to Esh Group and what the future holds.

Mark Sowerby, Esh Group’s Chief Financial Officer, began his career training with KMPG before spending more than 21 years at engineering consultancy WS Atkins plc, most recently as Finance Director for Faithful+Gould working across four continents. Returning to his roots in County Durham, Mark took up his current position at one of the region’s largest privately-owned businesses. Here, Mark shares his vision for the company as he helps to prepare Esh for its next phase of growth.

Why Esh Group?

I joined in October 2017 when construction and the UK economy both were going through a difficult period of uncertainty. Andy [Radcliffe] had recently been appointed as CEO following seven years as CFO. I was attracted to Esh as it is a business with real potential, built on good people, loyal shareholders, a solid track record of delivering great construction projects and a firm financial footing. In addition, the business has a real social conscience, and that was important for me. We are, and want to continue to be, a business that is easy to do business with and one people are proud to do business with.

How is Esh evolving?

Led by Andy, the senior team undertook a wholesale strategic review; we recognised that we had grown very quickly over a short period, and we were experiencing some growing pains. We had to step back and reflect on the direction we were going and the markets we were working in.

We put a plan in place to ensure we optimised cost and capital efficiency. This involved reducing the number of divisions and our geographical footprint, focusing on our core businesses strengths in the North East and Yorkshire. We withdrew from Scotland, rationalised our development arm, and reduced the amount of speculative land we were sitting on.

We have invested £8 million in the last three years on our core back office system, a wholesale system upgrade which will give us greater control of our business and better inform decision making — this will be fully implemented by the end of 2019.

We have already rolled out some aspects, such as our HR, payroll, estimating, programme management and CRM systems, and are finalising our commercial, procurement, finance and fleet management modules.

All the above have not come without a tremendous amount of hard work by the wider team at Esh.

What challenges has Esh faced?

Brexit uncertainty has unsurprisingly seen some organisations defer capital investments, and our commercial build division still feels the impact of this. There is an honest recognition that this sector is not going to grow for the next 18-24 months. There has been a knock-on effect of Carillion’s demise with several other national players experiencing financial difficulty; credit insurers, bankers, bonding providers and suppliers are all naturally taking a more cautious view when dealing in the sector.

A big part of my role is communicating Esh Group’s and our main trading division Esh Construction’s position so that these stakeholders are all aware of the strength of our business. Following two years of change we are leaner, fitter, financially robust and as dependable as ever.

What does the future hold for Esh Group?

We pride ourselves on having a strong balance sheet and a broad client base operating across sectors that are both cyclical and non-cyclical. Our pipeline is healthy, particularly in the civils and social housing sectors, and our private housing business is well established across the North East.

The UK, the region and Esh Group needs to be optimistic about the future, while recognising that we must plot a careful course through the current turbulence. Yes, there are challenges, but the economy is not broken, and we are confident that it will get better. Working collaboratively with our supply chain and stakeholders, we believe we are in a strong position to meet the needs of our clients and the wider region in the years ahead.

I believe we are well placed in the market and are well-equipped to take the business forward. Esh has a well-informed group of shareholders who have supported every part of our change programme."

Mark Sowerby, Chief Financial Officer at Esh Group