PracticeConsultingProfile – Bob Speight, Unicorn Consultancy Services

Profile - Bob Speight, Unicorn Consultancy Services

'The challenge is to target the commercial area'

After 25 years in the manufacturing industry, Bob Speight has been appointed FD of building and property subsidiary Unicorn Consultancy Services. Unicorn is a property consultancy which provides architectural and building services as well as maintaining estates. Speight defines his role as ‘making Unicorn autonomous and self-standing’.

The bulk of Unicorn’s income comes from government organisations such as the Ministry of Defence and Aldershot Garrison. ‘We’re in a rather enviable position,’ says Speight, ‘although we’re not recession-proof.’

Speight, a CIMA member, was sponsored through university by General Electric, but says accountancy was never a burning ambition. ‘There were no jobs in sales or marketing, so they stuck me in accounts,’ he says, recalling his job as a cost accountant for the Birmingham office of GE.

In 1975 he joined Plessey, the electronics giant taken over by GE, as a management accountant. This – back in the days when Tony Benn was a government minister – involved securing the maximum government assistance.

In 1977, he joined US giant American Can, later National Can, starting off as a management accountant and ending up as deputy managing director. ‘It was very competitive and volume-driven,’ he says. ‘If you’re making two billion cans a year and can shave one hundredth of the cost off each can, you’ll make a difference.’

In 1991, after being made redundant, he moved to Samuel Jones, the paper manufacturer, which he says was ‘close to bankruptcy’ following a management buyout. ‘All the board had been fired. We took the headcount down from 570 to 380 over a three-year period until it was in profit,’ he recalls.

Speight then became FD at Omnipack, set up by venture capitalists, which acquired five packaging companies.

Looking ahead, he says: ‘The challenge is to target the commercial area and we already work for Shell and Sainsbury’s.’

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