Despite the best efforts of the pandemic, M&J Evans, the Walsall-based groundworks & civil engineering specialist, successfully completed the acquisition of Flynn Group nearly 18 months after first commencing discussions with the business. Construction Industry News recently caught up with Chris Southgate, Chief Executive, to find out how this perseverance paid off and discover the ways in which it will shape the company’s plans moving forward.
So what was it about the Flynn Group that caught M&J Evans’ attention and made it so keen to see the deal through? “They occupy a strong position in the marketplace, while they also have a good geographical location, which particularly appealed to us in relation to our own expansion plans,” explains Mr Southgate. “Their Managing Director, Alf Hambidge, has over 35 years of experience within the industry, which will be another fantastic asset to the senior leadership team within the group. We have got to know the management team really well over the past few months and are looking forward to working with them to grow an already strong business.
“In terms of the actual acquisition itself, it was a long and challenging for a number of reasons, not least because the emergence of Covid brought discussions to a halt until late last year. Thankfully we were well advised by KPMG and Grant Thornton, as well as by our lawyers, Pinsent Mason, all of which proved invaluable in helping us through the process.”
With the acquisition now done and dusted, M&J Evans has been quick to demonstrate its long-term commitment to the Flynn Group by outlining its plans for the company. “We are in a position to invest further in the business to enable them to grow at a quicker rate and serve their customers better,” adds Mr Southgate. “We’re aiming to give the group the opportunity to expand its geographical presence into a much wider area. There’s real potential within the business that we’re keen to make the most of.”
With its armoury having been bolstered by the acquisition of the Flynn Group, M&J Evans is better placed to continue adding to its own history, a story that began back in 2003 when it was founded by Mel and John Evans (hence the M&J Evans name). Over the years it has built a strong reputation for its work specialising in residential groundwork and civil engineering. Essentially its activities cover a wide area including infrastructure-related projects related to roads, sewers and drainage, as well as external works for all the major house builders.
Having originally been established in Walsall, M&J Evan’s sphere of influence tended to stretch across the length and breadth of the Midlands. However, 2018 saw the company broadening its horizons further south following the opening of an office in Banbury, Oxfordshire, while the recent opening of an office in Warrington has helped it expand into the north-west. With the Flynn Group having sites in both Swindon and Bristol, the company has now strengthened its presence in the south-west too, giving it much wider reach across the country.
Aside from the disruption to the Flynn Group acquisition, M&J Evans wasn’t immune to the other headaches that Covid presented. “It was a real challenge, particularly when the house building sector shut down towards the end of March 2020,” says Mr Southgate. “It became apparent fairly quickly that unlike other sectors, the construction industry was being encouraged to continue pretty much as usual. We began getting back onsite around June, although the impact on the business was still being felt until about November due to slower build programmes.
“There was also an obvious effect on our office space teams, not all of which were able to work from home. We have been very proactive in implementing all the necessary measures to promote safer working and these are now fully embedded into our systems and procedures. As an industry we’re well versed in the use of PPE, so we were well prepared to undertake the investment needed to make our business Covid-safe in order to better protect our employees and the public. We also invested in extra cleaning within our offices and adapted the layout of our desks to make sure our people were safely distanced from each other, while we increased the number of online meetings that we conducted, both internally and with clients.
“As a consequence of the measures we’ve implemented, we have been able to reduce the impact that Covid has had on our own operation, although it has certainly affected our supply chain and increased the costs involved. Thankfully we have extremely good relationships with our suppliers, which has definitely helped the situation. It has allowed us to roll with the punches, although they have understandably looked to pass some of the costs they’ve been unable to absorb themselves.”
To give an indication of how far M&J Evans has bounced back, it is currently involved in approximately 120 jobs across the country, ranging from the development of 20-30 houses lasting 12-18 months, through to major schemes involving the creation of 1,000-plus properties over a five or six-year period. It has significantly sized jobs with most of the major house builders especially Taylor Wimpey, Bellway, Barratt and Countryside, the calibre of which underlines the level of quality that M&J Evans is able to provide and the reputation it has built within the marketplace.
In terms of how it has been able to maintain the levels of consistency required to develop such an impressive client base, Mr Southgate believes that building relationships has been key. “We have always sought to develop close working relationships with our clients, while also ensuring that we look after own people, as they’re integral to delivering what our customers require. The result is that we enjoy long lasting links with many of the biggest names in the house building sector.”
As it looks to build further on the relationships it has developed within the marketplace and move further forward following the acquisition of the Flynn Group, the aim now is to continue the upward progression that M&J Evans has seen recently and improve across the board. As befits such a forward-thinking organisation, it has also been working hard over the past six months to develop a sustainability strategy, as it aims to become carbon neutral: a noble objective for a company operating in a sector that has traditionally consumed a large amount of fossil fuels.
“Our sustainability strategy will be published in due course as we want to play our part in reducing the construction industry’s carbon footprint, while our other main focus will be to continue the growth of the business based on maintaining the quality of the work that we produce,” outlines Mr Southgate. “The integration of Flynn into the overall group is another ongoing objective, as we continue to support them with further investment into plant and equipment.
“What’s more, we have additional plans for further expansion, so we currently have a new managing director, commercial director and contractor director to establish a new region in Yorkshire. This will be based in Sheffield. We are already receiving tenders from interested house builders and expect to start trading at the end of this year or the start of 2022 at the latest.”
Having come through the Covid pandemic relatively unscathed and with nearly two decades of experience under its belt, M&J Evans looks well set to continue writing the next chapter in its story.