International renewable service company BayWa r.e. recently announced the purchase of Scottish renewable energy service provider Becon Consultancy.
Craig Hamilton (Manager – AD Energy) spoke to Stuart Beattie (Founder and Managing Director – Becon Consultancy) about his successful career, entrepreneurial skills, lessons learned and what he looks for in a new recruit.
CH – What’s your background and how did you become the founder of Beacon consultancy
SB – My parents used to be farmers, and when I was at school my career ambition was to become a vet. However, when my parents were farming ground outside Stirling, a large wind developer were seeking to build 36 turbines within the area. Due to this, I started to consider engineering as a career and read about civil, mechanical and electrical qualifications.
I finished High School in 2005 and headed to University to study Civil Engineering , and I asked the developer if I could get some work experience with them. They took me on, and I got tasked all the jobs that no one else wanted to do including making coffee for the engineers, sweeping around cabins etc. When I graduated in 2009, we were right in the middle of the economic crash, so there were not a lot of jobs available, so I went off travelling for 3 weeks to Asia to work out what to do.
During this time, I received a call from the Operations Manager at Braes of Doune Wind Farm where I had worked prior to and during University who advised me that he would like me to come in for a couple of days a week doing renewable consultancy work. I thought I may as well give it a shot and took it from there.
I set up Becon Consultancy in July 2009, and initially the work included discharging planning conditions, project management on wind farms etc and it has grown over the years into what it is now. It started in the corner of the sitting room, a little desk, and then in 2012 the first employee of Becon started, and now we are up to a headcount of 18…and counting!
CH – Amazing. As an entrepreneur what would you say are the main challenges and how do you overcome them?
SB – Good question. I suppose everyone says this, but it is quite a lonely job at times, because you’re doing it for yourself and you don’t have a massive board or anyone above you to give you guidance, you just have to find your way. You’re also working all the hours that god sends and you’re constantly thinking is this going to pay off? So, two of the main challenges were lack of guidance from experienced people and a lack of time.
The other thing I found right at the start was getting financial support. I’m glad to say we never had any bank loans or overdrafts. When I first set up the business, I completed a business plan which said that I needed a £5k – £10k overdraft. I went to the bank, and they told me that I had no chance! So, I decided to go and do it myself. So that is something that I’m extremely proud of. I managed to grow the business without having any debt.
CH – That’s probably one of the reasons as well that you’ve had a lot of attention from different companies looking to buy or invest in the company?
SB – Yeah that’s it. There are not many companies these days that are debt free.
It is difficult at first to take that jump from your own little bubble, where you are basically paying your own salary to having overheads, staff, national insurance, pensions etc. There are a lot of responsibilities there, but that pressure of having a team within the company makes you work even harder for them.
CH – So within the first few years, you’re building up, increasing headcount and moving into an office. How do you build that client base and that reputation as well?
SB – That was another really hard bit as you’re sitting there trying to build into your market, and people are asking who’s Stuart Beattie? Who’s Beacon? What do you do?
And honestly, I think the reason we have been able to build our credibility and then reputation was by doing a quality job. We’ve never done any marketing whatsoever. We’ve got a website, that could do with some work and a couple of social media pages that were set up, and probably the last post was around 2014. We’ve never done any marketing it’s all been through word of mouth.
CH – If you had the chance to start over again, what would you do differently?
SB – There have been a few times in the past when I’ve been young, foolish and inexperienced, and I’ve rushed into a project and it’s maybe not worked out the way I thought.
You know what it’s like, when people provide advice on staff, or commercially with projects, you always think that you know best and they don’t know what they are talking about. However, that is definitely not the case. Looking back, the advice that has been given to me has been vital, and instrumental in the success of the business. I should have listened a bit more than I did. Apart from that, I would probably do it the exact same way as I did.
CH – What three bits of advice would you give to a new entrepreneur – in renewables or any industry?
SB – Know your market and exactly what you’re going into. Go into your business with your eyes wide open and do as much research into what your target market need and want. You must be able to find out what will differentiate you from your competitors. That’s one thing that we did well. For example, all our competitors offered top level asset management, however everything below that was sub contracted out, so you can lose the quality service there. I looked at our business and was confident that we had the resource, experience and personnel in place to do the full project lifecycle, and could offer our services in managing everything from the top-level asset management right down to the nuts, bolts, grass cutting, fixing potholes etc.
Another bit of advice is do not give up. No matter how tough it gets. You get out of it what you put in. You may be working 18-hour days, but it will pay off at the end.
Listen to everything. Whatever anyone says – listen to it. Advice or views from colleagues, clients, family etc – always take it on board.
CH – Becon Consultancy were recently acquired by BayWa. How have you been able to manage the change from a small entrepreneurial company that you’ve had full control of into a Director position within a blue-chip company?
SB – I’m very hands on, and throughout the sale process I had the fear that I would lose this. I still want to roll my sleeves up, and I certainly don’t want to be sitting in a big ivory tower in Edinburgh or Germany. I enjoy and thrive being involved in the day to day running of the business. This is something that I stipulated when I sold the business, and nothing on that side has changed.
The company, understandably has a more corporate feel, especially with back office functions such as finance. German organisations are extremely diligent, and we have taking the step up in regards to reporting process, management accounts etc.
The corporate financial alterations have been quite interesting to get involved in and understanding how a corporate organisation operates, but the day to day stuff hasn’t changed much at all.
CH – And are you enjoying it?
SB – Absolutely. Because we’ve still got our Becon identity, and I am still driving the business forward the same way that I would have had BayWa not taken us over. And yes, my view is the day I wake up not looking forward to going to work is the day I need to go and do something else!
CH – In terms of Scotland overall, what do you think the future holds for renewables?
SB – I think we’re at a point where it will start to grow once again. There are a lot of sites that continue to be developed on an un-subsidised financial model which I hope we will start to see being built out in the next few years. I think there will be a lot more development activity in the years to come.
CH – How do you think Brexit is going to affect the wind industry?
SB – I am confident that for our business, it won’t have a major impact. Potentially for project developers or manufacturers importing into the UK it will have an impact. However, at the moment, it is all a bit of an unknown right now.
CH – Moving into recruitment, what do you look for in someone you might add to your team?
SB – I always look for people that have a bit of spark, drive and ambition. I don’t look at how many letters they have after their name or how many University degrees they have, because in my opinion it is all about the potential they have.
I’ve got two examples. The first employee I ever took on was working in a pub as a bar manager. We were sitting have a pint one night, and I realised that he had a lot of potential. He didn’t have any sector experience, however I brought him on board, and now he is the Managing Director of a Facilities Management business. Another chap was a wind turbine technician when I interviewed him a couple of years back, and now he is our Head of Site Management. Both had ambition, and the drive and determination to mould their career.
CH – Building a business takes a lot of time – how do you de-stress?
SB – Drink lots of gin!! Work / Life balance is probably one thing I have struggled with, even up until May, when Becon was bought by BayWa, I was still working every Saturday and Sunday. I enjoy relaxing with friends, cooking and going on holidays…when I get the chance. When you’ve had some of the tense weeks I’ve had you just want to relax.
- Posted by: AD Group
- 15 January 2019