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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