In previous BIG Interviews, we’ve concentrated on large clients, consulting engineers and suppliers. In this edition we speak to Alastair Aboyne, Managing Director of traditional housebuilder AJC construction, who has been a W M Donald client for 14 years.
Alastair founded AJC Construction in 2000. He started out with one joiner and has since grown the business to the point where it now employs 60 people full-time, with a further 60 or so regular contractors depending on the portfolio of projects at any one time.
How did your relationship with W M Donald first start?
I first met Willie back in 2004. We were looking to build 50 affordable homes in Aboyne. This was a large project for us at the time and I needed someone to build the access roads, construct the sewers and cast the floor slabs.
I remember vividly that Willie insisted on coming to site to check on ground conditions. I took the excavator down and dug some holes for him. He was polite enough not to critique my lack of skill in that area!
It was clear from that very first meeting that Willie had a really deep knowledge and understanding of both the technical engineering aspects and, most importantly, the logistics of how to deliver a project on time and to specification.
We have remained a customer ever since.
What changes have you seen in W M Donald over the time you have been working with them?
Ironically, one of the things I admire about W M Donald is that its values and basic approach to business have not changed. For a housebuilder like AJC, being able to have absolute confidence in your groundworks contractor is invaluable. With W M Donald, I know they’ll deliver. They haven’t missed a deadline in the fourteen years I’ve worked with them.
It seems to me that our values and culture are very similar. It’s too easy in business to focus on the financials and forget about the ‘heart’. However, in my experience companies which focus on numbers and spreadsheets often lose sight of what it is that they set out to achieve. At AJC we set out to build homes that customers love and cherish; that’s what gets us out of bed in the morning. As long as you’re not financially reckless, the money will take care of itself.
I respect the way Willie has grown his business – invested in people, plant and technology – whilst maintaining its essential character.
What are your plans for AJC in 2019?
With one exception, AJC has achieved year-on-year growth since it started in 2000. All of this growth has been organic. I believe in recruiting, developing and looking after good people. I am particularly proud of our trades apprentices. We are training the next generation of masons and joiners.
I’m not an engineer, but I learned from being out on site in all weathers. I really wanted to understand how a house goes together. I hope to pass on that passion to the rest of my team.
We are fortunate that our product is always in demand; people will always need houses, and houses will always need maintaining. Brexit and the downturn in oil activity has had a huge negative impact on our industry. However, change brings opportunity for businesses that are agile and can adapt their business models to the new circumstances. My role as Managing Director is to ensure that AJC is one of those businesses.