Decisions: Garvis Snook - Rok - Chief executive of the 'nation's local builder'


Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

... was to go with my convictions. I've spent my life in construction and I recognised that the industry doesn't work very well, because it is driven by two kinds of manager. For the engineer it's about overcoming technical difficulty; the money man's skill is to use contract law to screw more money out of customers and pay less to sub-contractors. Two groups of people are missed: customers, and most importantly, the people who actually do the building work.

I'd long thought about this and came up with a theory that if you really care about those who do the work, you should make them feel valued and, in turn, expect them to deliver a great service. That's win-win.

In 2001, I got the opportunity to put my theory into practice when I joined Rok's forerunner EBC. I went to the board and laid all this cultural stuff on the line. That was my loneliest moment as a leader. People told me construction didn't operate like that. Yet Rok has grown at 40% a year and we're more profitable than any other company in the sector. So now I know it works!


Soon after I launched the business as Rok, my father died. I was desperate for help and recruited the operations director for the business as it was then. He said the right things, but my heart said it wasn't right. Over time, it became apparent that he was telling me what I wanted to hear about the Rok culture, but telling others not to worry about the 'fluffy stuff'. I stuck with him because I knew that if he went, I'd have to pick up running the operation. When, ultimately, I fired him, the depth of the damage he'd done became apparent.

The second-worst decision was related to development. I was in a leadership role in 1989-93, when the industry went through hell. In 2005, I presented a paper to the Rok board saying that commercial property would go through a catastrophic fall-off in value in 2008. I proposed that we halve our investment in it in 2006. A non-exec, who also sat on the HBOS board, argued that this wouldn't happen, and it was decided to maintain the investment levels. I reckon that cost the company £10m.

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