“We’re focused on growth”

Last month we reported that there were changes afoot at Doncaster-based Strata Homes with Irving Weaver, stepping down from his role as chairman of the housebuilder.

I sat down with Andrew Weaver, the current chief executive and fourth generation of the family to run Strata to talk about the firm’s future.

It starts with him explaining the important role his father had played in the business, overseeing its evolution into the housing company it is today, although he cautions about seeing the news of his father stepping back as a changing of the guard.

“For businesses – like ours – which are focused on the future and on what comes next sometimes those business aren’t good at preparing well and I think one thing my father has always been good at is allowing me to go and ‘do’ while being very good in the background and ensuring we’re prepared.”

Weaver explains that since the recession in 2008 he’s felt more ownership, and that this doesn’t just mean owning the company on a piece of paper but means a multitude of things such as driving the business forward.

So, what is the focus going forward?

“We’re focused on growth”, explains Weaver

“We’ve got a kind of delayed growth spurt, like many businesses we thought there’d be a pause moment for Brexit and that was then compounded by the pandemic. So we’ve had almost two years worth of wait and see.

“The housing market is a sentiment market and the first thing to stop if there’s a wobble in the marketplace is housing. But despite the challenges of the pandemic and Brexit over the last two years the sector has done all right and held up.”

So if the watch word for Strata moving forward is growth, Weaver explains that “there’s good growth and there’s bad growth” before cautioning that chasing growth in the wrong moment can be “dangerous.”

However Strata isn’t chasing growth according to the chief executive but delivering on a plan that is already underway.

“We plan to double our number of live sites in the next two years” he outlines and highlights that much of this process has been taking place through the pandemic and national lockdowns because the process starts long before a spade strikes the ground.

However because of the long lead times he adds “We’ve also got our eyes open to legislation changes.

“Any land that we buy today will be delivered between 2023 to 2025, which means this period of traditional growth were looking at is medium term. Our eyes are open to the changes in regulation and fabric of the industry which might be four years away but for us are today!

“So, the regulation change in 2025, with the finishing of gas and move to more electric power is probably the biggest change in housing. Which neatly talks about the way our business has changed over the 50 years of my father’s tenure and the 25 years of my involvement, in a business that is over 100 years old.

“We’re embarking on growth knowing that within this next decade it is growth that will underpin a transition into innovation, because the home is no longer going to be a sapper of resources, it’s got to be turned on its head.”

He adds that this means “the home has to actually give back resources and be a force for good and something positive”.

As we talk about this transition to innovation Weaver outlines that Strata has already started to deliver its first zero carbon homes, a small-scale pilot project that at the height of the pandemic saw the homes of the future, using Scandinavian timber and techniques delivered in Chesterfield.

So as a 25-year veteran of the housing industry have his views changed and how does he see the future beyond just growth for Strata?

“The older I get, the more sympathetic or empathetic I become with how much shifting goes on within the housebuilding industry which often makes the focus shorter term rather than a long term stargazing approach. But I do want our business to always be pushing at the edges of innovation and known for that, because I think customers want to associate themselves with being forward thinking.

“So looking ahead, if in the last 15 years we were trying to say housebuilding is bigger than bricks and mortar, now it actually is. The flipside is that everybody in the industry is now under real pressure to acknowledge that fact, and that’s fine as it means everybody is going to be part of a bigger agenda.

He adds that his aim at Strata is to keep “pushing at the edges of technological, smart innovation, making the customer journey seamless and easy and more tech based, taking the stress out of it, making it green and making life simpler” as then “it’s not just a green agenda it’s actually a move to take the best of our times”.

However, Weaver acknowledges that pushing the edges is always a challenge for businesses: “You go to soon you end up in a blaze of fire, you wait too long and go too late and you’re a dinosaur” so for him it’s about “just trying to plot your curve.”

As we continue to talk about what’s next, the conversation returns to his father’s departure.

“People say you make your own luck, I think I’m really lucky and privileged that I’ve had a really great role model in my father where he’s given me lots of freedom to do things.”

As we talk of Irving, we have to touch on Strata’s links to Harrogate Town, it’s clear Weaver is proud of what his brother and father have achieved at the club and he highlights it has the same DNA as Strata.

“If we’ve been establishing Strata as a house building business over 100 years, in pretty much the same way over the last 10, in a microcosm, my brother and father have been working on building Harrogate Town and doing it layer on layer.”

He does concede that perhaps the familial connection is the key to the partnership, but adds he likes to show that Strata and the club have the same ethos to grow and support their communities.

“Without the connection, we might not be sponsoring a football club, but it’s really nice when we take somebody there, very informally with pie and chips and they say they see it’s part of the same DNA.”

At this point Weaver shares a story about his father and although early in our conversation he cautioned this piece wasn’t going to be a “sugary sweet swansong”, the tale shows the familial connection that is at the heart of the business both genetically and in its culture.

“I look at my father and think it’s not bad is it, he’s got two sons one in housing who enjoys it – and I love it – and he’s got another in Simon, that followed his passion for kicking a ball from when he was a child through to Sheffield Wednesday and now coaching Harrogate Town. And [my dad’s] been able to enjoy that ride.

“It’s nice he’s got a foot in both camps but he has given us the freedom and the values to go forward.

“But there’s been plenty of times when we’d all go to the pub and we’d be sitting there, such as in 2008/9 when there’s a mortgage famine and Simon’s 4-0 down at half time and he’d say: ‘If you could just stop the goals going in and you could just get a few mortgages it would be great fun this!'”

So, with Weaver taking over from his father, does he think another generation will follow?

He smiles at the question, “The fifth generation – I lay this completely at Strata’s door, I only found my wife seven years ago because I was married to Strata for 20 years – so my three little girls are very young and I think obviously there’s a passage of time.

“But what’s lovely about everything is to just stay open to what’s possible and that’s the beauty of ownership and control you can feel your way and where it takes you.”

However, he adds what’s most important for the business isn’t the succession plan for a two-year-old but the plan to support the 20- and 30-year olds that are part of it now and giving them the freedom in their own right to come through the ranks and develop.

So as the call comes to an end, Weaver finishes by stating: “Owning something comes with responsibilities, but what I’m really excited about is that I think we’ve genuinely got great people and a crop of talent in their 20s, 30s, 40s who are all aligned. And hopefully we’re now at a time when there’s no need to think about interventions, it’s now about just solidifying the purpose and driving the business in this direction of good growth.”

So, what’s next for Strata, good growth, green growth and yet more evolving. But it’s clear that Weaver is passionate about the business and sees opportunities moving forward and that it’s about more than just about bricks and mortar it’s about people – the customers, the staff and the family.