Shield was set up in 1979 by Phillip House, which means that this year is the company’s 40th anniversary. This year’s Annual Celebration commemorated the date, and the founder has given an interview reflecting on the 40 years; Phillip gives us some insight into how it all began…
What began the journey?
My initial thought of starting a company was in 1978, a year before I registered Shield as a company.
1978 was a wonderful year for me as I had been married for two years and my daughter Rebecca was born.
At that time I was 21 years old and working for a local Bristol company named “Cabot Thermal Insulations”. I enjoyed the work, however there was no ladder to climb in regards to promotion, the other problem was that I was earning £28 per week, and had a mortgage to pay.
By 1979, I had a rise in salary to £32 per week, but that year Sue my wife was due to give birth to my son Luke.
With already having one baby and another on the way I felt a huge sense of responsibility, it was like someone slapping me across the back of the head and saying wake up, do something you need to provide for your family!
I told Sue my plan, I intended to start an insulation company. Sue was worried about it, as she thought I was throwing away a good secure job, however I thought I’d get some reassuring support from my father as he ran his own business, I could not have been more wrong, “ You’ve got no education, no money, no contacts, no vehicle and we are in the middle of a recession!” Of course, he was absolutely right on all counts, except that I had saved up £50.
My older brother Jon worked as an aircraft fitter at BAC then, and also had £50, we put our money together and decided we would go 50%/50 % in our new company. I then resigned from Cabot and Jon resigned from his job a year later to join me.
Why did you call the Company Shield?
The new company would primarily service the thermal insulation sector so needed to come up with a name to suit, I considered that “Cape” had the best name in our industry as a “cape like” insulation protects whatever it covers, so I thought what else protects? “ Shield” so the name “Shield Thermal Insulation” was born.
What was the ambition for Shield back then?
The ambition initially was to make enough money to live on, and hopefully survive for twelve months so I could at least hold my head up to my wife and father. However, the overriding ambition was to deliver an outstanding quality service to our clients.
After surviving the first twelve months, my brother Jon came to work in the company full-time, our head office was my two up two down house in Kingswood, Bristol, and Jon’s garage was our store room.
Sue, between looking after the babies, answered our one phone, typed tenders and invoices, kept the books, and moaned at me for working seven days a week.
The next step was to employ a lagger (Thermal Insulation Engineer) to help us fulfil our work load, we took on a chap I knew from my Cabot days called “Jeff Bishop”. At that time, I thought if I can get five operatives on the company, then I could come off the tools and run the business properly.
How has the business grown ?
The business grew organically over the years, great care was taken not to grow beyond our financial means, by this I mean we kept out of the claws of the bank, always ran our account in the black and if we could not afford something we never bought it.
There is an argument to say you should borrow your working capital from the bank, then you have the possibility to expand faster, but I always wanted to minimise the risk level and sleep at night.
The only way to grow a quality business is to recognise, and surround yourself with good people, and I believe we have this in abundance! Great examples of this are Rob Miotla and Dave Pearce who all started on the tools and are now Directors and Shareholders of the Company.
It is, however, equally important to recognise unsuitable people, who don’t share a passion for the business and their peers, and remove them asap.
How do you think you would have felt back then if you knew the extent of the growth today ?
If someone had told me back in 1979 that Shield would have a £35 million turnover, employed team of over 400, and have multiple branches throughout the country, I would have suggested that they make an appointment with their doctor!
I back this up just by looking at our first year’s accounts, they state the following :-
1. Turnover for the year 79/80 = £5,938.33
2. Materials = £1,990.49
3. Motor expenses = £593.00
4. Accountancy fees = £87.00
5. Telephone = £122.62
6. Public Liability Insurance = £105.00
7. Tools = £9.76
8. Travelling Expenses = £110.00
9. Clerical wages = £260.00
10. Depreciation = £51.89
Net profit for the year = £2,608.57
The amazing thing is, if you look at the turnover against profit, it turns out to be our best percentage year ever, just goes to show, inevitably, the bigger you become, the harder it is to be efficient!
Do you have anything to say about the highs and lows of the past 40 years?
There have been many highs and lows over the past 40 years, but the highs far outweigh the lows I’m glad to say.
Highs come in all shapes and sizes, but the best for me have been opening new branches, seeing the high standard in which the company is run from H&S, to the quality of our operations, employing great people, seeing them settle down, in some cases marry, and them being able to provide for their children.
Lows, I have learnt from but don’t dwell on.
What is Shield looking forward to next?
We have, in recent years, under the guidance of my son Luke, whom I am extremely proud of, diversified into other fields – Scaffolding, Mechanical and Electrical, Demolition and Fire & Security – these divisions have a long way to go, they are in their infancy but all of them are showing great promise and again it’s all down to the people who work in those divisions.
The company will go on growing organically for as long as we all continue working to the high standards we have set, but our aim is not to be the biggest company in our sectors, only to be the best!
I strongly believe that as long as we all work as a team, look after and respect one another, and keep our standards high, we all have an extremely bright future.
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