We are taking a look at how Dalcour Maclaren started and how we have reached where we are now. Managing Director, James Neil, reflects on the last 17 years of service and how our innovation has shaped the Dalcour Maclaren we recognise today.
What drove you to set up Dalcour Maclaren?
I started working for a national property firm in 1993 which provided a multi-disciplined service for a variety of clients. Jonathan Tennant and I had started building up a specialist utility and infrastructure sector based down in sunny Kent. As with all partnerships, there seemed to be a lot of politics, coupled with the issue of finding ourselves acting on both sides of the fence – working for the utilities and other partners acting against us for landowners. We were beginning to discover this was causing issues with our clients, as well as the pressures put on us to maintain margins due to the high costs of running a London-heavy national firm. Jonathan and I pondered for many months about this move and agreed that it was time to take that leap and set up a firm which was wholly focussed on utility and infrastructure and therefore able to align itself far better to that world. Jonathan, George Gray-Cheape, who had been working with me, and I decided in 2003 to take the plunge.
“The obvious name was Neil Tennant, however as you are all no doubt aware that is the name of the lead singer of the Pet Shop Boys and therefore we didn’t think this was a runner!"
How did you come up with the name?
The name took a bit of thinking about – the obvious name was Neil Tennant, however as you are all no doubt aware that is the name of the lead singer of the Pet Shop Boys and therefore we didn’t think this was a runner! So we looked back at names and Dalcour was a family name for Jonathan and Maclaren was a family name for me – and Dalcour Maclaren was born!
Was it all smooth sailing from day one?
I think it is fair to say that our first two years of trading were incredibly tough! Going from a monthly salary to zero was a challenge. However, we were very fortunate in that almost from day one the majority of our clients moved with us. This allowed us to develop a really solid base, particularly focussed on the water industry. What we soon discovered was that our niche and almost unique service offering of acting for only utility and infrastructure companies was of interest to many companies, and we were being invited through doors that were previously closed. This allowed us to expand faster than our expectations and we were soon making decisions about bigger offices, employing more staff etc.
Did any of you have any experience of running a business?
This is a question that is asked regularly. Let’s just say that none of the directors have undertaken an MBA course. I think a lot of our decisions and success are down to sheer hard work, determination, and a very positive outlook on the future. Personally, I tend to learn by looking at other models and very quickly working out what works and what doesn’t work. Certainly from my experience of working for a large partnership, there were many aspects that I did not want to appear at Dalcour Maclaren. We are very focussed on ensuring that Dalcour Maclaren remains a modern business, and as our people are our assets and we need to treat them exceptionally so that we can get the fantastic results we wish to achieve. A key driver for all the directors is that “the company is king” and all decision making is made on that basis.
“We are very focussed on ensuring that Dalcour Maclaren remains a modern business, and as our people are our assets and we need to treat them exceptionally so that we can get the fantastic results we wish to achieve."
Dalcour Maclaren has grown from a business of three to 250+ people. How do you think you manage to attract and retain your employees?
When any business grows there are growing pains, and certainly one of the periods I remember is one week in 2013 where we had a multiple of people handing their notice in. This resulted in a real look at the business and how we operated and, more importantly, how we treated our people. From this point on we have been transforming the business to ensure that we are an employer of choice. This is not an area where you can sit still. It constantly evolves, whether it be our people’s personal development, their own promotion aspirations, or financial rewards. We look to get this right and invest heavily in doing so, as well as ensuring that our work ethics are modern and fit with our values and the modern world that we live in. We want our existing workforce to be fully engaged and proud to be part of the Dalcour Maclaren Team, and we want people on the outside to be looking in and asking how they can join. We are this winning this challenge, but there is always work to do as you cannot take this for granted. The DM culture is very much “work hard, play hard” and this works really well for us to create a driven, engaged and fun team.
How important are your people to the success of Dalcour Maclaren?
People are everything to Dalcour Maclaren. We are a service industry reliant on relationships, whether that be with the client, or with affected parties. In order to achieve and maintain these relationships we need excellent people. The key to achieving this is at the recruitment stage where we look to find people who are ‘a DM fit’. What is a DM fit? We focus very heavily on our values as a company and therefore people who join the company need to embrace and live our values – Pride, Progression, Excellence, One Team and Trust. These are absolutely critical and the Dalcour Maclaren One Team embrace these values and prove this daily. The strength of these values have been particularly demonstrated in this COVID-19 period.
“Our company values are absolutely critical and the Dalcour Maclaren ‘One Team’ embrace these values and prove this daily. “
What are the key challenges for the future?
As we all know, the world has been turned on its head in the last six months, and we no doubt have a fairly sticky time ahead of us with most of the world seemingly heading for recession. In my view I think a real challenge, not only for Dalcour Maclaren but for the business world, is to remain positive. There will be opportunities for people, and some of those opportunities may require a different approach to the way we have done things previously. Our challenge and priority has always been finding the right, good people, and a lot of our efforts are focussed on ensuring we get this right. I think one of our solutions has been to invest in apprentices and graduates as we believe they are key to the future of Dalcour Maclaren. We aim to give them the best development available so that they can grow as the company grows and achieve their aspirations. Like all companies, we clearly need to win new work, and I am sure margins will be tightened during this difficult time. We need to ensure we are flexible to achieve this, but not dumb down the outstanding service that we offer. Our exceptional service and our reputation is what wins us new work, and that is our focus. As we sit here today we are very fortunate in that Dalcour Maclaren is still a very busy organisation with a lot of opportunities for growth which we will look to achieve in an ever changing world. We are positive and excited about the future and helping the UK deliver its utilities and infrastructure requirements.