Looking for that ‘hockey stick’ uplift on the SME Growth Challenge


"Exposing our senior team to the expertise available on the SME Growth Challenge has given us the thinking space and the stimulus we need to grow differently and significantly," says Malcolm Watson, Director, Munro Building Services.


The senior team at Munro Building Services decided to join the SME Growth Challenge run by Cambridge Judge Business School’s Entrepreneurship Centre to explore new markets and find innovative ways of working with partner contractors. Identifying and building a proactive strategy to deliver accelerated and sustainable growth was a clear priority. Director Malcolm Watson said: “We know that if we do more of the same we will make money. But it won’t fuel any significant long-term growth. We’re looking for that ‘hockey stick’ uplift.”

Munro Building Services was founded in 1953.   Sixty-three years on, this privately owned company has a current turnover in the region of £30 million, serving customers throughout East Anglia, London and the northern home counties from bases in Cambridge and Chelmsford. As Malcolm says, the company specialises in building services, offering mechanical and electrical engineering installation and maintenance services and project management to universities, colleges, hospitals, science parks and commercial property developers. With over 150 employees and 16 apprentices/trainees, Munro Building Services are also significant employers, committed to developing their skilled workforce through apprenticeships, graduate recruitment and on-the-job training.

This quest for dramatic, ‘hockey stick’ growth doesn’t mean a departure from the values and core competencies that have brought Munro’s successes to date. It does mean far-sighted, long-term planning. The Board have, for the time-being, ruled out the traditional routes to growth of acquisition and geographical expansion. As a consequence, Malcolm together with Managing Director Steve Barry, and Directors Adam Jeckells, David Clark and Jonpaul Simpkins, are challenging themselves to innovate across the board. Malcolm commented: “We’re looking beyond 2020. We will always hopefully get our fair share of the pie, but, as there’s only so much major infrastructure in the pipeline, we’re anticipating that the size of the pie will contract. So we’re exploring where our growth opportunities will come from once the current building boom in Cambridge and the region levels off.”

The SME Growth Challenge programme was launched in 2015 and has already trained 10 companies based in the East of England. Malcolm said: “We are a blue collar business that specialises in installing building services in commercial buildings. There are some very good businesses out there like us, looking to grow, and who’d benefit massively.”

Malcolm is clear that, whatever shape the company’s growth strategy ultimately takes, building the right team to develop plans and implement innovation is critical. In fact, just before the programme started, Malcolm and Munro Building Services MD Steve Barry had promoted three long-time company employees to the management Board. New directors Adam Jeckells, David Clark and Jonpaul Simpkins started as apprentice heating engineers and electricians and have worked their way up from ‘on the tools’ to the management Board. Malcolm is convinced of the benefits participation in the SME Growth Challenge has given all the Munro directors, fast-tracking and cementing an effective, high-performing team: “We’re growing three very senior people who in turn will have a significant impact on the business. Exposing our senior team to the expertise available on the SME Growth Challenge has given us the thinking space and the stimulus we need to grow differently and significantly.”

That spur to action is a vital ingredient and another outstanding benefit of the SME Growth Challenge for Malcolm and his fellow directors. “I know it’s up to us to find the time to plan for growth and not let it slip. But we’re competitive, and knowing that we have to report back to the programme tutors and the other businesses, is a huge driver for our senior management to find this time.”

Simon Stockley, Senior Faculty in Management Practice at Cambridge Judge Business School, said, “Munro are a business that really practice what they preach. Working with their top team has been a fabulous experience; these are people who say what they mean, and do what they say. Such authenticity and an absolute commitment to working collaboratively with customers is a formidable source of competitive advantage. It is also pleasing to see an already successful business investing in future senior management talent.”

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The Entrepreneurship Centre at Cambridge Judge Business School aims to inspire, enable and research entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship Centre, Cambridge Judge Business School, University of Cambridge