Controlling the Uncontrollables

(by Simon Kidney, CEO)

The first rule of uncertainty school is that you’re certain there’s going to be uncertainty.

Lost? Me too, but stick with it.

The dreaded B word has been banging around for a number of years, yet with no prospect of real resolution or assurance to business leaders about a period of certainty. In any market, and economic history demonstrates this, periods of growth through time are complimented by periods of political certainty. And it’s fair to assume we’re not in one of those yet.

So, as business owners and leaders what can we do?

Set the Foundations – as a team it is unquestioned that our ability to grow in a controlled and secure manner is solely down to the foundations we inherited. We sadly lost our friend, founder and inspiration, Tim Robinson, at the start of the year but the ongoing successes of the team is certainly down to those ‘family value’ foundations that Tim created and nurtured all those years ago. When devising a strategy for growth, and security, a good poke around the foundations is what you need. You’d do the same with the extension of your house, right? You’d make sure they were secure before you built another floor on top of the garage? (Hopefully). It is no different in business. Dig a couple of bore holes, have a delve, have a check, make sure the business and its people are ready. Confirm that everyone knows what the platform is, where we’ve started from and then….


Over the last 6 months we’ve worked hard to integrate the two businesses of Robinson Manufacturing and ETFS (formerly the joists division of National Hickman) together. We’ve asked a lot of our teams to work hard to merge systems, processes and values. This has been a tough ask but the opportunity to work with such creativity and brilliance on a daily basis has made the task really pleasurable. The key, navigation. It’s a bit like a mini political division and brings the two teams together to come up with a way forward – sound familiar? Different culture backgrounds, different processes, different systems and differing experiences over the last 3 years. RML a business on the growth curve and ETFS not so much.  Navigation is key, steering through sticky waters, leading through the unknown but creating an enabler for people to believe in and follow. Always looking back so your people are aware of where you have come from and continually checking those foundations are ‘on point’. Think of a water skier getting towed behind a speed boat with the occasion jump. Less wet. But just as much fun.


If you stand still you go backwards. This isn’t wholly true if you’re standing in the sea, facing the coast, in a strong current, but alas, I digress. The opportunity to acquire ETFS, just a short time after acquiring Cheshire Roof Trusses, was too good an opportunity to walk past. Sense checking with the teams that the foundation are sound and the belief is still eleven out of ten! In its prime ETFS (Hickman) was a national treasure, a competitor to be feared and respected in equal measure. The manufacturing capacity capability (easy for you to say) of ETFS is unrivalled. The joy is that the opportunity to revive, resuscitate and resurrect ETFS to former glories was, and is, too good an opportunity to walk past. Investment comes in two forms. The two C’s. Cash and cuddles. I’m a big believer of investing emotional capital, through engagement and metaphorical cuddles! The two work together, just one on its own can’t, and won’t, work. It was relatively easy to acquire ETFS. What’s been more pleasurable is the investment in the people. We’ve given a few cuddles, we’ve given some direction and we’ve given some belief. Hand in hand with navigational behaviours from every single member of the team. Demonstrating good foundations across the group, we’ve unearthed some real pockets of talent and ability. The resurrection is on course and coupled with further investment, automation and upgrading of both premises and machinery this jewel in the crown will be the lynchpin of joists supply across the housebuilding sector for decades to come.


Have you ever watched the Wiz? No? Stick with me on this one. It’s the American version of the Wizard of Oz. Still with me? Think you are reading the wrong blog? The words that ring true in business are:

Believe in yourself right from the start
You’ll have brains, you’ll have a heart
You’ll have courage
To last your whole life through
If you believe in yourself
As I believe in you

Now I’m not suggesting for one moment I work with scarecrows, lions or tinmen. But the concept of belief remains true whatever the circumstance. Business owners need to have belief in their abilities and capabilities but also belief in their teams that they will make the right decisions and they have the empowerment to believe in their abilities, skills and talent too. We’re big fans of engaging with our competitors and industry friends to benchmark, engage, understand common challenges and continue to strive for improvement. Belief in conviction comes not only from success of a P&L and a strengthening of balance sheet but from things such as a smile of one of the team as they work, a morning chat, a great piece of feedback from a customer, external successes, seeing former colleagues thrive in new opportunities, many things that continue to reaffirm that belief in what you are doing, that how you are leading and investing is the right thing in the circumstances.

We can’t control the external influences.

You can only control the controllables. That’s business, that’s politics, that’s history. But you most certainly can use a simple quadrant of Foundations, Navigation, Investment and Belief. I just tried to turn that into a snappy pneumonic but got mentally hijacked by the song from the Wiz again….  Go on, youtube it.

Simon Kidney