In this interview with Eugenio de Sa, Executive Chairman of Premier Modular, who retires this month, he shares his views on how Premier and the offsite sector have developed over the last 20 years.
What changes have you seen at Premier?
When I joined Premier 20 years ago as Financial Director, it was a much smaller company, and it was in complete disarray. Thankfully, our parent company, Waco, saw the potential and had the financial strength to help us avoid administration.
Back in 2000, Premier was made up of three very diverse businesses – a modular and cabin hire fleet, laboratory furnishings and a scaffolding company.
We created a new leadership team and took the decision to focus on the modular business. This was merged with Interlink when our parent company acquired this very successful offsite construction and hire business in 2004.
In 2008 I became Managing Director, in the same year as the economy was crippled by the financial crisis. Government spending was hugely restricted, and hospital, school and prison building programmes were halted which was devastating for our sector.
Despite the economic challenges and by focusing on the quality of our buildings and significant operational improvements, the leadership team was able to return the business to a small profit by 2012.
In 2015 we launched our Transline Plus product to deliver high quality site accommodation to the construction sector – and this proved to be a complete game changer for Premier. We were able to enter this new market and we now have a fleet of over 1000 of these units.
Today we have an exceptionally strong management team in place, and the business has increased turnover to £65m with a profit of £10.2m last year. This was a very proud moment for me personally. We are now in a really strong financial position and can self-finance our own hire fleet – which is one of the newest in the UK.
The management team now led by David Harris is hugely talented and very well placed to lead the business into the future. I was very privileged to work with them and wish them continued success.
How has the offsite sector changed in the last 20 years?
The sector has simply transformed, and offsite construction is finally coming into its own.
For years, modular buildings were perceived as ‘ugly grey boxes which leaked’. Perceptions started to change as more NHS trusts and education authorities started to use the approach to improve the speed, quality, and certainty of construction.
The Government is now recognising and promoting the benefits of offsite. Major frameworks have been put in place for healthcare and education buildings. Modular technology has advanced. Floors are steel and concrete rather than timber, and external finishes can be contemporary and as visually appealing as any other building type.
With these advancements, offsite offers clear benefits – improved U values, reduced heat loss, less material waste, increased flexibility for future proofing – as well as faster programmes and enhanced build quality.
The potential for the sector is simply enormous – provided the quality remains high.
What have you enjoyed most about your time at Premier?
Without doubt, the people. We have created a fantastic team at Premier who are passionate about what we do. Many people have been with the business much longer than my 20 years!
It feels very much like a family business. We care hugely about our colleagues and have a unique culture. Our teams consistently go the extra mile.
And none of this would have been possible without the support of our parent company, Waco, who have helped to make the company what it is today.
What advice would you give to anyone considering a career in the offsite sector?
It is a really exciting time. There are some great opportunities for developing new products and markets. Construction has always been quite traditional and slow to innovate
And yet innovation is vital to give the UK economy and public services the infrastructure needed to achieve best value and their full potential.
We need to continually attract new talent and fresh thinking into the offsite sector and then we can really make a difference to the communities we live and work in.
What is the future of offsite?
The potential for offsite is vast and limitless. From research we have carried out, the modular market will grow many times over in the next two decades.
What we have to do as an industry is to keep standards high to ensure compliance, build quality, financial stability and to produce really fantastic, sustainable buildings for future generations.