Thursday 30 March 2017

New Grafton boss vows to tweak rather than remodel business

Revolution not on agenda when Gavin Slark replaces Michael Chadwick in top position at profitable building materials firm

John Mulligan

John Mulligan

The new chief executive of building materials firm Grafton, Gavin Slark, has told shareholders not to expect a revolution in the business when he formally takes up the role in July.

Mr Slark was making his first public appearance yesterday at what was Grafton Group's last annual general meeting with Michael Chadwick as executive chairman, who is stepping down from the role to become non-executive chairman.

"In the short to medium term don't expect any revolutions in terms of the culture of the business," Mr Slark told the small shareholder gathering in Dublin.

"There's obviously a difference in style between myself and Michael. That doesn't mean there's a change in the DNA of the business."

He added that despite the "economic trauma" that has been experienced in Ireland and the UK, Grafton is in "remarkably good shape".

He said that his immediate priorities would be in improving Grafton's operating margin in its merchanting businesses, keeping costs under control and ensuring strong cashflow so that Grafton could take advantage of investment opportunities "that may or may not come along for the group".

An interim management statement issued yesterday by Grafton noted that total revenue in the first four months of this year rose 4pc year-on-year to €642m, while the rate of decline in turnover in Ireland moderated to 2.6pc, which included growth of 4.6pc in its Irish retailing business that includes DIY chains Woodies and Atlantic Homecare. Grafton generated over 70pc of its €2bn revenue last year from the UK, where, it said, uncertain consumer confidence pervades.

Marking his exit from executive duties in typically low-key fashion, Mr Chadwick yesterday praised chief operating officer Leo Martin, who is retiring at the end of this year.

He also thanked Gillian Bowler, who stepped down as a non-executive director, for her contribution to the group. Mr Chadwick, who joined the group in 1975, has been notoriously media shy, undertaking just a handful of business interviews during his period as boss of the company.

"You have responsibilities as a public company and we fulfilled those responsibilities," he said yesterday when asked by the Irish Independent about his reasons for shunning the spotlight. "I don't think we felt it necessary to go beyond those responsibilities."

Asked what lessons Grafton Group could offer other Irish firms during the downturn (Grafton turned a €25.6m pre-tax profit last year having slashed costs since 2007), Mr Chadwick said being level-headed was the best solution.

"A lot of it's common sense -- just be sensible and know what you're doing," he said.

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