From Wallingford Grammar School, Rob Houseman made his name (and first business success) by specialising in dry-lining installation. Thirty years later he is now MD of Houseman Dry-Lining, chairman of the HDL Group of companies, and a director of Houseman Construction. Since 2003 he has become increasingly involved in the British Touring Car Championship, today as team principal of Houseman Racing.
Good timing, reliability and high-quality performance are “hugely important” to entrepreneur Rob Houseman – in all of his businesses.
One might expect those qualities to be common in the motorsport world in which Houseman’s team has now become established as one of only 32 BTCC-licensed teams, but perhaps in the construction industry they might be harder to find, writes John Burbedge.
However, Houseman’s group of companies all maintain such qualities, resulting in a steadily growing entity. Group turnover has increased by 7% in the past three years within a very competitive marketplace.
Despite his key commercial operations being in vastly different sectors – construction and automotive – Houseman’s business model is remarkably similar: employ talent, experience and knowledge, maintain cost control, be ready to adopt the latest advances, make the most of opportunities, stay ahead of the competition, always seek top quality results, and enjoy what you do.
Entrepreneurial life began for Houseman when he left school and got a job on a building site. “I fell into the construction industry at a perfect time in the mid 1980s when the industry was booming.” Houseman noticed that traditional wet plastering was being challenged by a quicker process called dry-lining.
Seizing the breaking wave opportunity, he learned the dry-lining trade. “Once you jump in the deep end you need to swim, and well.”
The catalyst for today’s Houseman Group, was the supportive advice of a successful property developer. “He recognised my ability, said I should set up my own business and provided me with my first jobs.”
That businessman also taught Houseman the importance of punctuality, reliability and quality work. “He was a stickler for that, but definitely a driving force and role model for me.”
Another quality that helped came from Houseman’s parents. “They always taught me to save money to buy the things I wanted.” Today Houseman still aims to keep his commercial enterprises cash-rich.
As the 1980s good times rolled, Houseman watched his peers spending lavishly. Then the 1991 recession hit. “Having saved well, I was in a comfortable position to buy land at a good price, and started building houses.” (Nowadays, Houseman focuses mainly on commercial fit-out and residential property development.)
That recession also proved an invaluable business learning curve for market changes and downturns to come.
“A different approach is needed when times are tough, and diversity can be key. We have moved outside our comfort zone with ventures in unconnected territories.” Recently HDL Group invested in a firework display company to support its successful firework supply business.
“As long as your eye doesn’t get taken off the ball from core activities, it’s good to have a few baskets in which to place one’s eggs.”
As business operations grew Houseman also learned another valuable lesson – know your own abilities. “Delegation was difficult for me. I winged it a bit, then got wise and started to use professional help for the things I wasn’t good at.”
The same goes for his workforce, which although predominantly sub-contracted, consists of Houseman-selected proven professionals, with whom he profit-shares.
“To be successful any business has to have the right people, be efficient, profitable and enjoyable. At school, I always excelled at the lessons I enjoyed most.”
The BTCC race team came via high performance motorbikes and Minis, plus Houseman’s interest in resolving … “the poor business model of motorsport. Successful businessmen seem to lose their sensible heads when they get involved in motorsport.”
Needless to say, Houseman’s race team still needs its wealthy sponsors, but spends its resources realistically and wisely with the plain objective of becoming the number one team in BTCC motorsport. “As a business, it needs teamwork and control to achieve the end-goal of winning.” (Particularly, when only one second divides the lap-times of the top 20 BTCC cars.)
Houseman isn’t actually keen to drive his racecars … he gets his ‘buzz’ from skilfully steering all his businesses, it seems.
What does success look like for Houseman? “I suppose it’s achieving your goals. Money is part of it, but personal success depends upon how you measure your quality of life.”
And his hopes and fears for the future? “Another recession would be good, so I could capitalise on it again.”
Meanwhile, Houseman may be sitting atop another breaking wave with fan support and television interest in action-packed BTCC consistently growing. “A massive sponsorship opportunity for some forward-thinking brands, I would think,” added the ever entrepreneurially-minded Houseman.
Link: Housemann Racing website
Images: Angus Thomas Photography