Grundon family values that underpin success
Grundon Waste Management* was founded in 1929 by Stephen Grundon and is now 50th on the Thames Valley 250 list. Based in Wallingford, Oxon the company employs 700 staff and has sales of £73.8million.
Today, the company may be the largest privately owned waste management operator in the UK, but in many ways it continues as a typical family-run business
Neil Grundon’s father Norman spotted the first effects of recession. Waste volumes had fallen; consumer spending was obviously down.
And, the rest of the Grundon management team adjusted quickly to the commercial needs of a changing future market.
Grundon Waste Management responded by focusing on reducing its overall costs of waste disposal and recycling, while concentrating on the d
evelopment of its innovative energy from waste (EfW) plans.
The recession acted as a catalyst for cost-efficiency changes and technological progress, admits Neil Grundon, deputy chairman and development director of his family’s 84-year-old business.
The result? In 2010 the Duke of Edinburgh opened Grundon’s state-of-the-art Lakeside EfW plant at Colnbrook, its landmark spiral chimney today easily viewed from the M25. Lakeside generates up to 34 megawatts of electricity for the National Grid, enough to meet the domestic needs of around 50,000 homes.
The £155m cost of Lakeside was enabled through a Grundon joint venture with waste management group Viridor. “It was the biggest financial step we had ever taken in the evolution of the company,” says Neil. It was also a brave move, but the key word there is ‘evolution’.
Neil Grundon, like the company, is constantly looking forward, keen to explore fresh technologies and developing trends. It’s one of its major strengths.
A significant R&D programme ensures Grundon stays at the leading edge.
“As a family we are quite interested in technology, always looking for something new. Part of our business philosophy is not to be in the general swim. If everyone is selling apples, we’d quite like to be selling pears, making our own market.”
Notably, Grundon began its recycling operations in the 1970s, long before the Government introduced its progressive Landfill Tax in 1996, increasing gate fees for disposal and driving the waste market towards other solutions. Also, Grundon bought potential sites for organic growth in the pre-recession boom years, while several competitors adopted M&A activity. (Family-business trait: Planning for future stability, not short-term profit)
The EfW project had been on Grundon’s drawing board from 1995. With planning permission gained, the family coffers needed additional funding. “Dealing with planning is in our DNA, but the high finance side was new to us.”
With anything outside your business comfort zone, I think you should defer to the experts.” Neil Grundon’s approach to the unknown is to keep asking questions, regardless of their naivety, until he fully understands things.
Business advisers Ernst & Young introduced Grundon to Viridor. “It wasn’t just the finance, we wanted a cultural fit too. We like to be open, to enjoy working with people.” (Family-business trait: Knowing when to call in professional expertise)
Over the past five years, Grundon turnover has grown steadily. Lakeside should return around £10m profit this year. “We are comfortable with where we are financially at the moment.”
Despite planning refusal for a site at Chieveley, Grundon is continuing its EfW focus. “We have bought new sites for that purpose. As housing grows, so will waste volumes. We hope to have another two EfW’s within the next 10 years.”
(Family-business trait: Planning long-term for structured success)
Ironically, through the Government’s high Landfill Tax pricing, it currently makes good business sense for Grundon to send around 25,000 tonnes of waste to Germany and the Netherlands that would have gone to Chieveley. (Overall, the UK waste industry exports almost one million tonnes.) “That’s potential taxpayers’ money going abroad, to employ European neighbours to use our waste as fuel, and charge us for the privilege.”
Grundon is currently lobbying for waste to stay in the UK, and EfW to become more integrated as one of a suite of ‘green’ renewable energy options.
The company has a strong ‘green’ focus. “As a teenager I was impressed by Anita Roddick’s message that a business could be both successful and green.”
The company promotes ‘green’ waste and environmental measures through a number of sponsorships, publications, charity and educational activities. Grundon’s special events team recently won recognition at the Event Production Awards 2013.
“With a family business, there is always the legacy aspect in your mind, and that includes passing on a greener legacy to the world.”
Grundon sponsors the ‘Green Progress Award’ in our annual Thames Valley Business Magazine Awards, and has just become the first company in the UK waste industry to gain a comprehensive BSI-approved Integrated Management System. “I like the idea of business systems being measurable and process driven, because then improving becomes a cultural thing within the company. (Family-business trait: Focus on legacy and community involvement)
Urging greater collaboration between industry sectors on waste issues, he adds: “People should not be reacting to problems, they should anticipate them.
“I see us (Grundon) as the conduit between the producer and the consumer and the producer again – establishing a circular economy of waste management. As a company, I believe, we are already good at completing that circle.”
(Family-business trait: Understanding all areas of one’s business)
* Grundon Waste Management also has a sister company, Grundon Sand & Gravel, the original focus of the company before it developed into waste-handling.