In Conversation With Colin Cole, CEO of Lioncourt Homes
You can’t do it on your own, you need to have good people around you – says Colin Cole, Chief Executive of Lioncourt Homes, one of the fastest growing private housebuilders in Central England.
Formed in April 2006, the Worcestershire-based team pride themselves in setting new standards in their approach to sustainable new home building. Quality of workmanship, quality of service and customer satisfaction, as recognised by their customers through the House Building Federation 5 Star Award, are all at the forefront of their award-winning business.
To find out more about how the whole team at Lioncourt Homes has worked together to be named in the Sunday Times top 100 fastest growing companies in the UK (for 3 years in a row), why the sky’s the limit for his younger team members and how the CEO has shared his passion of football with hundreds of local youngsters, read Ruby’s latest interview with Colin Cole:
My alarm goes off…
At 6am every morning! I check my emails before I do some form of exercise, normally running in the winter. I set off to work around 7.30am and get ready for a varied day head – visiting new sites, existing developments or in the office. Maybe a meeting in London or Birmingham, wherever the day takes me.
How did you start doing what you’re doing?
At school I wanted to be an Architect, then when I realised the course took 7 years – that was too long for me so I qualified as an accountant whilst I was working, in view of moving into housing. I always wanted to be in housing.
In 1984 I joined Westbury and worked my way through ranks from junior accountant to Group Operations Director. In 2005, we sold the Company for £950million to Persimmon Homes. I worked with them for a while and then set up Lioncourt Homes when I was in my late 40s. I wanted to take a step away, do something different and put into practice everything I’d learnt – I had also met two businessmen from Dublin and they invested in the business, leading Neil Chandler to join us too. All four of us set up the business and are still involved.
How did you know who to ask to join you?
The investors had tracked my career – I was one of youngest Executive Directors on the Board of a Plc – with the intention of approaching me at some time. So, when the opportunity came – I took it. We drafted a plan together and worked together to make it work. It didn’t take long to realise we were all on the same page – which is testament to when, 18 months later, we saw the biggest dip in business in this country, in the 2007 recession. At that time, they reinvested, when we were rock bottom, and the real bond tightened between us. It’s unusual for investors to invest for 5 years and now, 13 years later, we get stronger and stronger together.
I’m responsible for …
Very little. My son often asks what I do – he’s 27 and works for the company! He’s a Site Manager – recently promoted, independently from me. He started as trainee site manager, then an assistant site manager and has worked his way up to being a Site Manager with the responsibility for Regency Walk in Tetbury. I think it’s appropriate for me not to be involved directly in his career here, although I am very proud of him, as I am of my other sons Harry and Marcus.
I mostly get involved in land and corporate activities – banking and any major issues as well as sales. The way we’ve grown is based on our expertise. I have a fantastic team that push the company at a rate of knots. All staff are totally engaged. The culture of the business is really important to me and we have a very low turnover of people. The team is responsible for driving the company forward and have a commitment to make it work. On that basis, they feel totally engaged in everything they do.
In fact, we’re all going to Cheltenham Races on 18th April when I’ll make a presentation (it’s a fun presentation, I can tell that people are listening – and that’s because it’s their company as much as it’s mine – and host drinks and lunch. We all enjoy the races at our own pace, and I enjoy sitting back and seeing the culture and engagement flowing. After the Races finish, we all chat and interact with each other – I see more of the culture of our business at this event, than in every other place. Our Investors join us, interact and discuss – we all mix together.
What are your highlights?
I’m proud that we’re in the top 100 fastest growing companies in the UK across all sectors and for the third year in succession in Sunday Times. And also, in the Financial Times this year too.
Our rapid growth is due to the ethos of quality we have across the whole company and I’m even more proud because we’ve achieved 5* feedback and 90% customer satisfaction in an independent assessment. We’re one of only 13 housebuilders in the whole of UK that has 5* quality and 1 of 7 to win 4 years on the trot.
On 26th March 2019, we’re heading to the HBF Home Builders Quality Awards in London, which is driven by the culture of the company – a culture based on quality: of build, design and service. Without all the elements of the business, we wouldn’t be so successful.
I’m also proud that, for 2 years in succession, we’re in the top 500 fastest growing companies across 31 countries within Europe. If a business is fast growing that’s good and if the is quality good, that’s great – if you can have both, you have something special, which is why 5* quality (achieved for 5 years in succession) is so great!
Who or what has been your biggest influence?
In a work context, my old CEO at Westbury – Martin Donohue – gave me a lot of time and opportunities.
I made my own way, but he helped me along. In a wider context, Bill Shankly – the Manager at Liverpool Football Club – influenced me too, when I was a young lad. He captivated me with some of the things he said and how he put them over to everyone. He used simple words in order to make his point so that everyone understood it. In the same way, when I’m talking I’m not looking to use long words to explain things – people have expertise in certain parts of business and not all will understand the same things.
What’s on your bucket list?
Travel. Time means that travelling is difficult although I would love to in retirement. Rather than have a place in the sun, I’d love to go to Australia, hire different homes and invite friends to enjoy along with me and my boys. Then the following year, maybe go somewhere else…
I would also like to take the experience I’ve had in the football centre (in Brinscombe, Stroud that Colin co-owns with friends: Inside football) and build something fantastic. Maybe something collaborative with local schools? We’ll see. I’d also like to LFC win the league… I regularly go and watch them, but there’s nothing I can do to influence it!
What’s your biggest bugbear?
Procrastination. Moaning. Do something about it – life’s too short.
There’s a saying in the company: “everyone’s important and if there’s a decision – make it yourself.” If you get it wrong then it’s our job to pull together and sort it out. There’s no point in giving responsibility unless you’re willing to let people make decisions. We all make mistakes.
What I wanted to be when I grew up…
Becoming an architect was always the plan and I do frustrate the design team (a little) as I’ll go around our sites looking at the houses and suggesting it will look better if…
We’re just designing a new range of small homes; we usually design two bed homes up to 5 bed luxury homes, our top end/bigger houses are very good and so we’re looking at our smaller range now. I recently sat down and looked at the details together with the design team. I enjoy seeing a project from start to finish – certain things will stand out to me on a plan and I can see it in reality in my mind. I get involved – maybe I interfere?
I also get involved with the younger members of the team and launched an initiative called ‘the sky’s the limit’ to encourage them to develop through the business. Their latest project is focused on sustainable and smaller homes aimed at those on the lowest incomes. I’ve been impressed with the project to date where they have designed new homes in clusters involving off-site manufacture, new ideas regarding saving space and other cost saving ideas. The project is now well advanced.
Where can you mostly be found after work?
Either at home or playing football.
What’s your best piece of advice?
You can’t do it on your own – you need to have good people around you. That’s what’s happened at Lioncourt Homes – it’s a team of very good people.
I’ve carried this ethos all the way through my career, even when I first started recruiting 35 years ago, I always employed people better than me, with different skills, to push you and the business along.
What can you do 3 of?
Keep ahead of my 3 boys in a race!