INTERVIEW | What Wates’ Saville has learned as head of the North
It was approximately six months ago that Dave Saville became the construction company’s regional managing director of the North. Since then, there have been three prime ministers, three chancellors, two budgets, and an awful lot of change.
For Saville, the new role was a promotion – he had been head of Wates’ North West operations for more than three years. Now, his remit extends past the Pennines. We caught up with Saville to see how well his first six months have gone.
When asked what he’s learned since taking on the role, Saville’s first answer is delivered with a laugh: “Just how big the North is!” he jokes.
He jests, but it is a true point. His role has him on the road visiting Newcastle, Leeds, Liverpool, and all the towns in between. Each region has its own personality, its own priorities, its own landscape. There’s not one “Northern” culture, when you get down to it.
“You become the North when you’re faced by the South,” Saville said. “When we’re in our own space up here, we very quickly become local…
“We like to use our collective banner in the North but to some extent we all have our unique identities,” he continued. “One of the challenges I have is trying to get to know them all.”
Back in July, Saville still had to contend with the rising costs of materials and skills gaps, but the impact of inflation had yet to peak. That obviously changed in the months proceeding, and Saville is not particularly optimistic about the future.
“It’s clear we’re heading into a recession,” Saville said. “That’s the reality of it.”
However, there is reason to be hopeful.
“In my view, from what I’ve seen, it will be quite short-term,” he said.
“As long as we can maintain a healthy workload through that period we’ll weather the storm well – and that’s because of the good work we’ve put in over the years in maintaining the pipeline and making sure we have a strong order book and a strong financial budget sheet.”
Saville is not seeing many projects fall away but some schemes are without a doubt taking a little longer to get to site than before. The entire process is being elongated, as Wates works alongside its clients to try and deliver a project that is commercially viable as costs continue to rise.
“One of my biggest concerns for 2023 is the financial resilience of the supply chain within this challenging economic landscape,” Saville said. “Fortunately, we have, and will continue to pay our supply partners fairly and regularly.
“I just hope others will follow suit,” he said.
Saville has been busy since he took on the role, beyond just putting in some serious time getting around the business. He has appointed his successor to the role of leading Wates in the North West – Sarah Cooke.
“I wanted to ensure we left the North West with a solid leadership team that can build on what we’ve done over here,” Saville said.
In February, he’s bringing in a strategic partnerships director, a role that, in his words, will “provide real focus on our desire to deliver a £300m+ turnover across the North in a consistent manner”.
There are also a few projects he has been particularly excited about, referencing Merseyside Fire & Rescue’s ‘super station’ and Teesside University’s £35m BIOS health and science facility.
“We’ve had some great wins despite the challenges in the economy,” Saville said.
Where does Saville want to take Wates going forward?
“I am very focused on developing our healthcare offering in the North,” he said. “It is something that the business has wanted to embrace for some time and there are plenty of opportunities in the North that will help provide balance to our portfolio.”
Saville is also looking forward to continuing work with long-term clients like Star Academies and MEPC, all of which have exciting plans for the future.
Another big focus? “Maintaining profitability,” Saville said. “Profit is not a dirty word. It’s the key word that sustainability springs from, if you think about it from a business perspective.”
This leads to Saville’s third commitment for the future of Wates in the North – a continuing push towards net zero.
“We’ve seen from COP26 just how bad climate change is and there has been no commitment against reducing global warming,” Saville said. “We are not even kicking a problem down the road, it’s getting worse right now.
“Trying to find ways we can still provide sustainable projects at a viable price is really, really challenging,” Saville noted. “But the forward-thinking clients such as Halton Borough Council on their leisure project will work with you to find ways.
Saville also wants to continue diversifying the senior leadership team at Wates. “You will see more of that over the next year,” he said. “It helps us to think more broadly and to take a balanced view. We’re certainly feeling the benefit of having different voices already.”