Now 65 years old, Lowery took the decision in 2007 to focus solely on providing engineering and construction solutions for the rail sector on both signal and power supply projects.
Says Managing Director Mark Gubbins: “If not a boom time for anyone working in the rail industry, it’s certainly a golden opportunity with both London Underground and Network Rail, two of our most important customers, pursuing major expansion programmes because we’re ideally set to service both.”
At the moment, 50% of Lowery’s work is on Crossrail – the 118-kilometre east-west rail route across Greater London, which is Europe’s largest construction project. A further 25% of the company’s contracts are with Network Rail and the final 25% is with London Underground.
Explaining in more detail what the company does, Mark says: “We don’t build bridges, what we normally do is install the cable route management systems which involves laying the trackside concrete troughs, undertrack crossings or putting up the steelwork to contain the cables and then testing and commissioning them into service.”
He adds: “We decided to focus on the rail sector because we already had an excellent reputation as a contractor in that field and because the margins are viable. Anyone can dig up a road but to get rail industry work there are a number of qualifications and competencies you have to master and hurdles you have to jump over to even get into a place where you can even tender for work.”
Mark believes the company’s relationship with its customers is at the heart of its success. “We have a good reputation in the industry because we deliver on what we promise. We also have numerous commendations on the Crossrail project. We’re the first contractor on power supply projects for London Underground to be awarded a Beacon health and safety award. And working with Network Rail on its power programme we have an excellent track record in hitting our delivery targets".
Honesty is the best policy
“We pride ourselves on being honest. If we think we can’t do the job, we will say so. For example, around 18 months ago there was an instance on a competitive tender when we told the prospective client that we just couldn’t see a way that just one contractor could complete the work by the deadline they set. Another contractor said they could and got the job but they were 18 months late in delivering. It doesn’t make you feel any better about losing the contract but at the end of the day we were proved right.”
In common with the engineering sector as a whole, Mark reveals the main challenge for Lowery is the UK skills gap. “There are all these competencies and audits to qualify for the work and now there’s the situation where there’s only a handful of contractors who can do the work. So, recruitment and then retention of competent staff is a challenge.”
Shipleys carries out Lowery’s audit and has enjoyed a relationship with the company that goes back to the mid-70s. More recently Shipleys was “instrumental”, says Mark, in guiding the company through a management buyout. The process took 12 months in total before completion in March this year. Mark adds: “Working with Shipleys gave everyone involved confidence that we were being represented in the right way.”
Lowery’s plans for the future are to “grow steadily and manageably”, says Mark. “We’re not looking to conquer the world; the market we’re in may be one of the growth industries in the country but our philosophy is to do things well and to grow steadily.”
It certainly appears that they’re on the right tracks.