As Metnor Group continues on its growth trajectory, Steven Hugill speaks to chief executive Chris Cant about the business’ successes and finds out how a strong ethos of collaboration and continuous improvement is providing the Newcastle-headquartered operator with great momentum
If fresh challenge feeds the mind, then Chris Cant’s appetite for new thinking is insatiable.
Be it an office meeting, a conference call or a chat over a cup of tea, his taste for collaborative and innovative change, capable of driving continuous improvement, is unquenchable.
It defines Metnor Group and weaves like a golden thread through its very fabric.
Founded in the 1960s as a supplier of corrosion protection to the North East’s docks and shipyards, the Killingworth- headquartered business is today recognised nationally.
With its Metnor Construction and Norstead Mechanical and Electrical Engineering divisions working across sectors such as leisure, commercial, retail, healthcare and education, its presence is further strengthened by Metnor Great Yarmouth, which provides pressure testing equipment and services to international offshore energy clients.
At the heart of its success is constant self-assessment, which is fuelled by chief executive Chris’ unrelenting desire for collaboration and novel thought.
Set alongside its traditional cornerstones of trust, value, skill and experience, this spirit spurs fresh agile thinking that, in turn, results in operational pliability so crucial to market growth.
It is, says Chris, all about nurturing a culture of ambition.
“We aren’t scared of change here because you cannot grow by standing still,” he says.
“I want people to present me with curve-balls that make both the company and I think about new processes and ways in which we can further succeed.
“Our strapline is excellence through collaboration, and our staff are crucial to that – they are very quick to adapt and work together to deliver positive outcomes.”
Integral to such endeavours are four core values that seek to catalyse new ways of working.
Urging staff to challenge themselves by stepping outside their respective comfort zones to deliver better outcomes for clients, the tenets also focus on building stronger relationships – both internally and externally – embracing change to deliver fresh thinking and taking greater ownership of projects.
Using an example where its Metnor Construction business – of which Chris was previously managing director – and Balliol Business Park-based sister operator Norstead work together, he says success is achieved through a fluid structure that connects innovation with talent and experience.
“It’s all about sharing ideas and input,” he says.
“A great example is our pre-construction departments in Metnor Construction and Norstead – the conversations between those two are brilliant.
“We have people in both businesses who are able to pass on their knowledge and experiences of previous projects to benefit the other.
“Having such a co-operative ethos is a real point of difference for us,” continues Chris, who joined Metnor Construction in 2004 as a commercial manager, before later taking on the role of commercial director.
“Regardless of age and experience, if you are learning and collaborating every day with those around you, you can bring different skills to the table.
“Having this spirit extends to the market too – by working closely with clients, we better understand their needs and deliver increased value.”
Such traits, says Chris, will be integral to Metnor Group’s future progress in a marketplace that remains ripe with opportunity, despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Previous projects across its construction and mechanical and electrical engineering divisions include support for the creation of a Hampshire sports centre and the renovation of Chelsea and Westminster Hospital’s adult and neonatal intensive care facility, respectively.
Closer to home, Metnor Construction built a meet-and- greet car parking hub at Newcastle International Airport and was responsible for a new walled garden visitor attraction at Kirkleatham, near Redcar.
Presently, it is principal contractor on a project to build the 40-bedroom Seaburn Inn, a crucial component in Sunderland City Council’s vision to inject fresh economic impetus to the area.
“We are on an upward trajectory,” says Chris.
“It speaks volumes for our progress when we are now talking about our average contracts being worth between £20 million and £50 million when, not too long ago, they were between
£5 million and £10 million.
“We are proud to come from the North East and honoured to support the region’s supply chain and export the area’s creative and trusted spirit across the country.
“But we are equally delighted to deliver projects in the place we call home,” continues Chris, who, in another nod to his collaborative philosophy, oversees both Metnor Construction and Norstead in his chief executive role – the firms were previously run by respective managing directors.
“There is a lot of work in the North East and to be supporting something like the Seaburn Inn is great.
“That is a beautiful site and it is fantastic for us to be part of a wider development plan that is regenerating Sunderland.”
While being a landmark chapter in Metnor Construction’s order book, it is also, says Chris, a symbol of the wider business’ durability in the face of COVID-19, as is work that began in the summer to deliver a new Leicestershire-based leisure centre.
“For us, it is very much business as usual,” he says.
“I’m proud of the way we responded to COVID-19 and how we restarted operations following the ending of the national lockdown.
“Since our agile business model means we can flag and act upon issues immediately, we were able to take the decision to close our sites before official COVID-19 guidance was
announced, which was absolutely the correct thing to do for staff and clients.
Chris continues: “Similarly, when the first lockdown ended, we moved quickly to ensure correct signage was in place on sites, so staff and the general public were kept safe and fully informed.
“We continue to follow Government guidelines on social distancing on sites and in our offices, and the monitoring of employees’ temperatures across all operations is part of our daily routine now.
“It all comes back to our flexibility and adaptability, and our capacity to collaborate between our different divisions, which means we can constantly ensure they are developing.
“No two days are the same here because we are in such a perpetual state of review,” he adds.
“It is what sets us apart.”