Kevin Bull and Tony Schatten
Role and company:
Blueflame Services, established in 1987 by British Gas engineers Kevin Bull and Tony Schatten, is a Mechanical and Electrical Contracting company. Their head office is based in Colchester, and there is a satellite office in Chelmsford. The team at Blueflame provides gas, oil, electrical and heating engineering services, plus renewable energy and energy saving solutions, across Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk.
Company turnover (and most recent ebitda/most relevant profitability metric):
Growth forecast for the next three years:
In this climate we are taking a conservative view, but still consider 20 per cent per annum achievable.
In under 50 words, what makes your business distinctive in its marketplace:
We don’t cut corners or use sub-standard materials; we install intelligently and keep our finger on the pulse of new developments, as do all our engineers. We’re highly skilled, and our size means we can take on complex contracts and keep our prices sensible.
What’s the big vision for your business?
As a country we’re all over a utilities barrel, so it’s hard to keep energy bills down, no matter how often we switch. We want to spearhead the development of more energy saving products to help our commercial and domestic customers reduce their energy bills on a long term basis. First we need to clear the fog on what systems will really deliver those results; sometimes it’s as easy as using a draught excluder or changing all the light bulbs to LEDs.
Current level of international business, and future aspirations:
We have no plans to work internationally, but are now concentrating on developing more national commercial projects. We’ve just completed work on the new 12,000 sq ft Colchester United Football Club’s training facility, Florence Park, where we’ve been responsible for the design and installation of all the mechanical and electrical services; we’ve even created a solar thermal system to heat the water for 80 showers.
Biggest career setback and what you learned from it:
We were both employed by British Gas and thought we had a career for life. Leaving was a real culture shock; going it alone had never been in the plan. What we have achieved since demonstrates that if you work hard, are determined to succeed and think outside of the box for your customers, you can shape your future. We now believe every setback represents an opportunity.
What makes you mad in business today?
Cowboy installers and dodgy double glazing salesmen parading as experts. They shouldn’t be allowed to operate in such a skilled industry; their poor practices reflect badly on all of us.
What will be the biggest change in your market in the next three years?
It’s already in train. More and more sophisticated products are being designed to save energy, save money and save the planet. The change that we really need is not about cutting down or cutting out, but about dealing with the reality of increasing emissions. This is more of a challenge than a change, but we need to find a way to recycle CO2, because none of us are going back to walking any time soon.
Can businesses in your sector/industry access the finance they need to grow? If not, what can be done to improve things?
We have an excellent relationship with our bank but make very little demand on it. We have always ploughed money back into the business and financed expansion in this way. A good, properly managed business obviously has an advantage and this is the key to accessing what finance is available. The government needs to make the banks lend to businesses that are viable. It seems at the moment even solid, established businesses find it really difficult to get the funding they need to progress. However, safeguards need to be put in place because the availability of easy credit has effectively caused the problems we are all now facing.
How would others describe your leadership style?
We have an open door policy and encourage frank discussion about issues. We like to be straight with our staff and expect to get that back. Our style is more ‘inspirational coach’ than ‘dictatorial manager’. Everyone knows that we can do what they can do; they also know we want them to do it better.
Your biggest personal extravagance?
Kevin: I don’t do extravagance.
Tony: I have a classic car that costs me more than I like to admit.
You’ve got two minutes with the prime minister. Tell him how best to set the UK’s independent, entrepreneurial businesses free to prosper:
We don’t feel shackled by bureaucracy; most of it’s there for a good reason. However, it should be easier to release poor performers rather than go through the whole redundancy process or, worse still, keep bad people in a good system.
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