A Colourful Career: Steve Bethell’s Story

27 October 2022

Our Director, Steve Bethell, is retiring this month after an incredible 45 years at Bagnalls. He’s achieved so much in his time with the company and here he reflects on how things have changed and remembers his greatest achievements.

When I started at Bagnalls, back in the summer of 1977, things were very different from how they are today. In the pre-computer days, there was much less red tape to jump through to ensure business was done properly.

Photocopying was done on wet/dry paper, and all communication was done with typewriters instead of computers. There were no mobile phones – so every time we had to order materials when out on site, we’d dip into the office’s big bag of change and call from the nearest pay phone. Since there were no computers, wages were also handled manually; on Thursdays, we’d have to count out all the pennies to put into wage packets and head round ALL our sites to hand them out to the painters!

Despite all of this, even in those early days, the most important thing at Bagnalls was looking after our people. It’s always been that way, right up to today!

The superstars who supported me

When I first began managing the painting and decorating business, we only had about 10 painters in the North West. There were some tough times in those early days, but winning a huge contract for Sunblest Bakery, worth around £30,000, proved to be the turning point. That project kept our painters busy for several months and helped us win other contracts going forward!

That’s not to say it was all plain sailing, though. When times were tough, I was extremely fortunate and grateful, to have John Bagnall, Group Managing Director as my mentor and coach. He would visit on a monthly basis, and we’d spend hours in a cigar smoke-filled room looking to develop the team and build the business.

Through some smart recruitment, we began to build a team capable of winning and delivering contracts on a regular basis. We brought Jim off the tools and into the office, making him responsible for the site team. He gave the team regular targets and easy access to materials, using his expertise to instruct the team on complicated works. Jim is now enjoying his well-earned retirement too!

Meanwhile, an advert in the paper helped us recruit Isobel, who helped streamline our operating further by handling our office administration. Isobel was responsible for running the office and payroll, as well as answering phones and ensuring all paint and plant items were delivered on time. She was an indispensable addition.

Sylvia also joined the team as a sales representative, having previously worked in sales for a local newspaper. She would leave no stone unturned, identifying a whole host of new clients and persisting with sales pitches to expand our client base.

Bagnalls reaches new heights

We had begun to build a great reputation for quality and customer service, and were bringing in good painters, who, through Jim’s guidance, slotted in perfectly with our existing foremen to maintain our quality standards. By now, we were running with 30–40 people!

Around this stage, we were given the opportunity to quote for an exceptionally large painting contract on a refinery and won the job; this was a huge coup for Bagnalls and allowed us to expand our team further. After winning this contract, we brought even more people on board, and had 70–80 experienced painters on our books.

Expanding our services

Regrettably, due to diminishing markets and procurement changes, we were unable to renew our term contract with the refinery, which we had held for several years. However, by this time, we had set up our Special Projects division, which was already winning and delivering a number of national projects.

As a company, Bagnalls was looking at new markets to move into. We became heavily involved with social housing contracts, building a reputation for both quality and reliability. We worked for several large housing associations during this period and became a key player in the social housing market, which remains our bread and butter to this day.

It’s all about teamwork

Everything that we achieved during my tenure was possible through having the right people and working together as a team. Our people have developed, and so too have our tools and methods of working. The implementation of IT systems and a just-in-time ordering system helped streamline our logistics, and our ongoing focus on people saw us continue to commit to our team’s personal and professional development.

It’s naïve to think that work will always be easy – everyone has difficult situations and projects to deal with on a day-to-day basis, but managing these situations is much easier with the right people around. My advice is to always seek support where required, try to stay positive and embrace change – it comes to us all!

I’ve had a fantastic career at Bagnalls, and I’m fortunate to have worked with some amazing people. Though all things must come to an end, I’m extremely proud to have been a part of Bagnalls, with the values the company holds.

We hope you enjoyed reading about Steve’s incredible career at Bagnalls – we want to extend a huge and heartfelt thank you to you, Steve, for everything you’ve done for the company. We hope your retirement is as fulfilling as your career!

Want to discuss your next project? We offer a professional service from start to perfect finish.

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