June 29, 2022

MWT Civil Engineering Limited –  Over 20 years of progress

Since it was established in 2001 MWT Civil Engineering Limited has enjoyed two decades of forward progression and today generates turnover of £4m. This success is all the more impressive given that the Wales-based business was created from a standing start. We recently caught up with Mike Thomas, Owner and Managing Director, to chart the upward trajectory the company has been on and gauge how its success has been achieved.

“I originally got the idea of creating MWT while I was managing the construction of the A55 across Anglesey into the port of Holyhead for Laings,” explains Mr Thomas. “During the project I realised that there was a shortage of small, professional civil engineering companies in North Wales, so decided to try and fill this gap by setting up my own business with three other members of staff.

“The first couple of years were something of a struggle and securing financing initially was an issue. Due to the reputation I had gained during my time with Laings and relationships I had formed with key suppliers and potential clients, we were thankfully able to agree some favourable payment terms to ease our cashflow problems. One of our first contracts was a £300k widening scheme on the A55 Trunk road that provided the springboard to get the company really up and running.”

Having survived the early years, the business moved to new premises in 2004, from where it was able to grow further by carrying out work for various contractors with its activities being split 50/50 between residential and civil engineering projects. Once again demonstrating its resilience, when the housing recession hit in 2008 the business significantly increased its civil engineering work. This proved to be a blessing in disguise, as Mr Thomas outlines: “We found that we were able to make better progress concentrating on civils, which turned out to be something of a niche for us. We were able to move away from working for contractors and instead deal more directly with local authorities, which brought more money into the business, enabling us to take the business to the next stage with turnover moving past the £1m-barrier. Securing work at Wylfa Power Station around this time also helped inject a substantial amount of impetus into the business.”

From its small beginnings the company has continued to progress to the extent that in 2013 it moved into larger premises consisting of a depot, offices and a workshop. From here it operates a fleet of 14 vehicles plus a number of excavators ranging from 1.5 to 14 tonnes and a selection of dumpers and rollers, as well as a range of other construction equipment. These are supported by a workforce of 24 employees, comprising multi-skilled operatives, mechanical fitters, engineers, managers and administrative staff.

Thanks to the strength of its infrastructure, MWT has been able to tackle a broad range of different projects, including the recent reconstruction of Bryn Rhyd yr Arian bridge. Having undertaken initial safety critical work when the bridge was washed away in a flood, the company won the tender late in 2020 to fabricate and install the new superstructure, which was completed in 2021.

Another significant contract was the strengthening of Pont Faen, a three arch masonry structure that crosses the main river at Llangergnw. It had suffered undermining and the arches were showing signs of distress. MWT were commissioned to undertake a major refurbishment which included diverting river flows, underpinning the structure, careful and phased excavation above the arches prior to installing over 200mc of lightweight concrete, reinforced concrete slab and surfacing. Despite their complexity, the works were undertaken within programme and below budget to the client’s satisfaction.

Away from bridges, MWT was principal contractor for a recent housing development at Maes Ysgol for Anglesey Council. This consisted of four individual dwellings built to passivhaus specifications. 

While it operates almost exclusively in North Wales, MWT has also spread its wings on occasion. For example, it developed and built six luxury lodges in the heart of Weybourne Forest in Norfolk. This scheme included all enabling works, site services, timber frame construction and finishing for what was a high quality development. “These were timber framed buildings that were fabricated in Welshpool by a Welsh timber supplier before everything was shipped down to Weybourne,” outlines Mr Thomas. “It was a two-year project with a value of £1m and was a really interesting development to be involved in.”

MWT has also undertaken work in Glasgow for an existing client, but typically its workload tends to be within 150 miles of its Colwyn Bay offices. That said, it is always prepared to travel further afield for jobs when it is appropriate to do so.

While a significant aspect of MWT’s strength is the quality of its workforce, the company has found that the skills shortage has been an issue as it looks to keep progressing. “Our employees are fantastic and we have an excellent all-round team, enabling us to take on a broad range of work across the UK, but finding new staff can be tricky in the current climate. We therefore have an ongoing programme of staff training to ensure that we develop our existing employees to their full potential. 

“Both my son and daughter work within the business. My daughter recently joined to help me with the pay roll and accounts, she is also in the process of sourcing a range of new courses that will strengthen the skills within the business even further. We’re hoping to have our biggest training year yet. My son joined a few ago and is now a site supervisor learning the job from the ground so he will be in a great position to run the company when I decide to retire.”

This level of commitment to staff development has engendered a high degree of loyalty from MWT’s employees, several of which have been with the company since 2001. For example, one of its senior supervisors started out as a 16-year-old before working their way up through the ranks.

“Although I’m not onsite as I much as I used to, for many years I’d work alongside my employees everyday so there is a strong bond there. Even with the new guys coming in, there is still a real family feel within the company. At a time when the industry can be quite aggressive and hard hitting, we ensure that we treat our people well, which isn’t a mentality that you see at all companies unfortunately. We, however, have always felt that it was important to fully invest in our people to ensure they are able to progress their careers with us. This has helped build a really loyal workforce, even if we’re not the biggest payers, although we are competitive. The fact remains there’s always someone willing to pay more and we have had instances where companies have tried to poach our staff. Fortunately, the vast majority stay because of the working environment we have been able to develop within the company.”

This employee-focused approach has been mirrored by the relationships MWT has built with its suppliers, some of which have also worked with the company since the very beginning.

“We’ve always strived to pay our suppliers on-time, as we fully understand the frustration when 30-day payment terms turn into 90 days, and we are left in a situation where we are desperate for money so that we can pay our own people and suppliers. This doesn’t happen anymore because we now work mainly for local authorities that pay promptly so we’re able to pass that money immediately on to our suppliers. We even pay suppliers in advance if we can as we are in a strong position financially. This has helped build a great deal of trust and we like the fact that we never have anyone ringing up chasing payment. With my daughter now looking after this side of the business the process has become even smoother.”

It is clear that MWT has worked hard to put the ‘civil’ into ‘civil engineering’ and it is pleasing to see that this approach is working so well in an industry that can be cutthroat at times, ensuring the longevity of the business. “We basically treat our suppliers, our clients and our employees with respect and while it might sound ‘wishy washy’, it has always worked for us, as we’ve built long and lasting relationships that have been built on trust and on honesty. If there’s a potential problem, then we’re quick to highlight it. This has earnt us a reputation for being able to complete work to the required standard at the right price. Local authorities particularly appreciate our approach and we have been rewarded with a regular pipeline of projects.

“We have a similar trust-based approach with our suppliers and when we are quoted a price by a sub-contractor, we don’t immediately ask for a discount. Ultimately, it’s all about building relationships that are going to work in the long term for everyone’s benefit.

“A s a local, family-run business it is also important that we support the local community in which we live. Over the years the company has donated kit to various sports teams, made donations to local charities, as well as having also organised charity challenges to support good causes around North Wales. 

“Charity events are always good fun and a chance for the whole team to get involved and in addition we also attend training days at local schools and colleges to give the next generation  an insight into what we do.”

With such a well-developed formula that continues to pay dividends, MWT can look forward to writing the next chapter in its already impressive history. 

“We have been going for just over 20 years now and during this time we have grown steadily,” says Mr Thomas. “It has sometimes been frustrating to see companies that started out at around the same times as us suddenly buying a range of new equipment or fleet of vehicles. However, many have since fallen by the wayside, while we’ve been very sensible in our approach and are still here as a result. 

“We’ve been careful to take on the right jobs when the opportunity presented itself and to manage the challenges as they’ve arisen. Over the past two decades we’ve had to deal with various issues, such as the housing recession and the pandemic, and there will be other challenges to come. For instance, there’s potential issues regarding fuel just around the corner and we may have to take measures to prevent the theft of diesel from our machines by securing them more safely. 

“We’re always looked to the future and what pitfalls may lay ahead so that we can prepare for them. This is an approach that has served us well over the years, such as when we moved away from housing and into civils. It was the same with the pandemic, where we took on more healthcare work as other areas of the marketplace shutdown. This allowed us to almost double our turnover in a year at at time when  many of our competitors struggled. At the end of the day, we have a great team of people within the company and we want to protect their livelihoods for the next 20 years by planning ahead and rising to the challenges that lie in wait.”

With the robust relationships it has built up with clients and suppliers alike, coupled with its highly trained and dedicated workforce, MWT certainly looks well placed to continue progressing strongly in the years to come and building further on its proven track record.