Simon Jehu speaks with Douglas Friedli of Wales Business Insider

Times are tough in the building trade, but Simon Jehu is cautiously cheerful. Jehu Group, which he runs with his brother and father, is making a profit and picking up some tasty niche opportunities.

In the company’s sleek modern offices where Bridgend peters out into the Vale of Glamorgan, he reflects on changing fashions: “It makes sense to be in a group. A few years ago the banks didn’t like our construction business but wanted to help our development side. Now they love the construction side but don’t want the development. The world changes.”

Jehu changes, too. The family-owned company’s structure has been simplified into a holding company with four divisions – Jehu Projects, Jehu West, Waterstone Homes and Waterstone Estates.

On the residential side, Jehu has just bought the former Electricity Social and Welfare Club site in Cardiff’s chic Pontcanna to be turned into 18 houses. Three have been sold off-plan so far. The family homes will be different to the apartments that went up before the credit crunch. “We walked away from certain flatted schemes before we got in too deep,” says Jehu. “We could have ended up with 60 apartments on our books. We stopped building when we couldn’t sell. But others kept building and then discounted.”

The company kept some housebuilding through the toughest times by building social homes for Gwalia and Coastal Housing Group. It was already involved, which helped: “We didn’t go to the public sector saying “Hello boys, I know we haven’t talked to you for a while, but …”

The commercial business is also ticking over nicely. Jehu is building a 132-bed Premier Inn hotel and Tesco convenience store and fitting out a Beefeater restaurant as part of the SA1 development in Swansea. “It’s a great site. If you have the right product in the right location, it’s easy. When the market turns, the rubbish goes.”

Jehu’s turnover dipped 28.5 per cent to £28m last year. But profits increased, and the company is trading ahead of budget. “We are through the worst,” he smiles. “But we’re not thinking: “Thank God that’s over” just yet.”

Out of work, the gruffly friendly Jehu loves outdoor activities – tennis, ski-ing and mountain biking.

He and his brother Marc were discouraged from joining the business, which their grandfather had started in the early 1930s as a carpenter in Ogmore Vale. So Jehu started training as a chef in Antwerp, until he discovered the hours were antisocial. He moved into quantity surveying and accountancy, and ended up back in the company. The relationship with Marc works because they have different skills: “I am about finance and people – bringing in the work. Marc is engineering and project management.”

Keeping it in the family is fine: “We might disagree about work very much head-to-head on a Friday, sit down for Sunday lunch and don’t mention it, then pick it up again on the Monday.”

And there are advantages: “You can be open and honest, and say things that might not be politically correct.”

If he could change one thing, it would be the planning system. “The process is up in the air. Some councils take two or three months, some take six to nine. It could be speeded up, and it could be more transparent. There is a pot of money for schemes. The costs factored in for planning could go to better places.” Bridgend could do with a bit of love, he says: “It has a big population but a disappointing town centre. They are trying to do something but the efforts are not having an effect. There is not enough to stay in Bridgend for. The road links out are good.”

Jehu has already branched out west, with an office in Haverfordwest. The next stop is likely to be along the M4 or M5. “At the danger of sounding without a plan, opportunities will arise, but I am not sure where they will be. I don’t want to open an office in Bristol if the opportunity is in Swindon.”


Madeleine Moon visits Jehu

Leading South Wales construction company, Jehu Project Services, last week welcomed Madeleine Moon, MP for Bridgend, to the company’s headquarters to meet the staff behind the successful family business.

Jehu, which has offices in Bridgend and Haverfordwest, opened its doors to Madeleine Moon for her to see the hard work that goes into making Jehu one of South Wales’ most successful construction companies. The firm, which has been established for more than 70 years, is one of just six companies in the UK to be shortlisted for the best places to work in the construction industry and last year won the Welsh Building Contractor of the Year award.

Marc Jehu, Managing Director said: “We were very proud and pleased to have been able to show Madeleine Moon around the Jehu offices and tell her the story behind the company’s success. Jehu has a very strong heritage in Wales and we employ more than 80 members of staff, the turnover of which is very low. We are very proud to have been shortlisted for the best place to work in the construction industry award, it is the third year running we have been up for this award, this is a clear testament to ethos of the company.”

Madeleine Moon MP said: “I was deeply impressed with the operation of this family run business. I could clearly see why this company had won the prestigious Welsh Building Contractor of the Year award and it is a clear competitor in the best place to work award.

“I am proud that this local Company is showing that Bridgend is the place to look for quality, reliability and companies that pay attention to detail and the complex needs of their customers.”

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