Construction Leader: Gordon Clyne on the diversity driving turnover at Morris & Spottiswood
With Morris & Spottiswood set to celebrate its centenary year in 2025, managing director Gordon Clyne speaks to Margaret Taylor about the firm’s evolution from a joinery business to a multi-service operation which turns over more than £100 million each year.
It is nearing a century since George Morris wrote to his brother in America telling him he had a new business plan in mind. “I was telling John Spottiswood one night when he was up at the house that I was thinking of starting for myself,” Morris wrote. “He asked if I would take a partner and, after thinking it over, I thought I couldn’t do better.”
Joinery business Morris & Spottiswood was duly born in 1925, with the construction of a Post Office in Arrochar being its first-ever job.
Fast-forward to 2023 and the company they founded is still going strong. The second generation of the Morris family expanded its scope to include fit-out and construction in the 1960s, and, with the business due to celebrate its centenary in just two years, it is generating a turnover of over £100m each year.
The Spottiswood family is no longer involved in the business but the Morris family is, with George’s grandson - also George - taking over as chair in 1996. Gordon Clyne, managing director, says that with the third generation at the helm, the business has matured into the diversified organisation it is today.
“Since George took over we’ve evolved into more specialist fit-out and construction but also building services (M&E) and housing,” Clyne says. “In 2022 we delivered turnover of £102m - that was an increase from £93m in 2021 - and this year it will be in excess of £102m.
“Whilst things have started to stabilise after Covid, we continue to monitor market fluctuations and impacts on materials and labour, and are in a strong position to manage these uncertainties over the next year. Our 2022 accounts highlight the robust financial health of the business, with a strong balance sheet, low debt, a high percentage of secured workload and good pipeline visibility for 2024.”
Within the Morris & Spottiswood Group, which has bases in the Central Belt and the north of England, is M&E arm Livingston Building Services, Carlisle-based reactive maintenance and small works service provider LLED construction, and McLennan Partnership - the Group Architectural support practise.
“This diversity of service offering means we can provide an end-to-end service delivery across both small and large-scale projects,” Clyne says. “If clients are looking for reactive or planned maintenance or small works, LLED can support; if it’s services, Livingston can; if it’s fit-out, Morris & Spottiswood can. We have that ability to flex and deliver to whatever the client needs are.”
To complement that, and to try to insulate against fluctuations in the cost of materials, the business has also started its own supply arm, Builders Station Limited, which buys as much as it can directly from suppliers.
“A lot of products we still need to buy via merchants but we’re trying to focus more on security of price and material procurement,” Clyne says. “The materials we use all the time, like plasterboard, we’ll buy direct from the supplier if we can. For more specialist materials we’ll go to the supply chain. It’s about gaining surety over prices more than anything else.”
Total headcount across the organisation comes in at just under 450 although, like most businesses in the construction sector, Morris & Spottiswood relies on having strong relationships with sub-contractors as well as its own dedicated workforce. Given the nature of some of the work it does it is vital to maintain that split, Clyne says.
“There’s a certain need for that balance,” he adds. “Some of the contracts we do necessitate or support the need for sub-contractors, but we have certain clients where security
clearance is crucial so we have to be clear on employees’ employment records. It’s easier to maintain that if you know the long-term nature of people’s employment, although the supply chain of contractors is really important to us. We wouldn’t be able to do what we do if we didn’t have the split between the supply chain and our own employees.”
Clyne’s own background is in civil engineering and he joined Morris & Spottiswood in 2004. He has worked in most areas of the business since then, going on to run the fit-out and housing side before becoming managing director three years ago. Looking ahead as the firm approaches its 100th birthday, Clyne says the focus will be on maintaining its presence in key sectors such as finance and health while also looking for further opportunities to diversify.
“The big change will be on decarbonisation,” he says. “There’s a huge move towards decarbonisation at the moment and a big focus on what that means: do we upgrade the efficiency of services in a building first and then worry about the fabric or do we do it the opposite way? We can do both and that is going to be a huge focus for us. Our new company, crbn solutions, is perfectly placed to support us in this journey.”