Suffolk construction boss celebrates 20 years at the helm

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The director of a Suffolk construction firm has looked back on the last two decades as he celebrates 20 years at the helm.  

Simon Girling is the director of SEH French, an Ipswich-based operating across East Anglia, alongside his colleague Paul Rodwell. 

He joined SEH Ipswich aged 16 in 1989 before moving to SEH French in 1991 to avoid redundancy.  

“I was toying with the idea of being a holiday rep in Ibiza, but staying in Suffolk somehow beat sunny Spain when I decided to move to SEH French,” explained Simon.  

“Looking back, I definitely made the right decision.” 

After four years with the company, Simon moved to Morrison Construction and Haymills, before returning to SEH French as a quantity surveyor in April 2000 and becoming director designate in January 2022. On 29th May 2003, Simon became shareholding director. 

Since joining the company in 1991, and during his time leading the firm, SEH French has experienced significant growth.  

The 50-year-old quantity surveyor by trade said: “In the early days we were operating out of a portacabin in Nedging Tye, with around 10 site-based staff.  

“Now, we’re located in a large office on Whitehouse Road in Ipswich with around 50 employees alongside our sister company Jackson.” 

In 2001 the company’s turnover was under £3 million but has reached almost £22 million in recent years.  

The company have been offered numerous contracts in the capital but have stuck local to ensure good quality construction remains in East Anglia and local suppliers are supported. 

While the last two decades have been mostly positive, it has come with its difficulties such as the coronavirus pandemic and the Great Recession in 2008-2009.  

Simon said: “The pandemic certainly presented challenges, but there was still money being spent. The Great Recession, however, was another ball game – everything grinded to a halt and it was the first recession I experienced.  

“Thankfully I had older and wiser heads around me, such as my then-co-director Jack Davey and founder Graham Emmerson, who helped us ensure SEH French stayed afloat. While other businesses were getting rid of staff, we supported ours. It was the right thing to do and, from a business perspective, investing in them was better than losing them.” 

While Simon noted many proud moments – including building the MSC head office, Birkett’s Ipswich office and spending a year as National Chair of the National Federation of Builders – his proudest is watching the company and its people grow, without wavering from their principles.  

He added: “Over the years we’ve taken on and retained some great talent. Almost half of our employees have been promoted to their current positions. 

“They’ve been integral to the company’s growth over the years. We take great pride in our workforce and the projects we’re involved in, and continued growth definitely remains on the agenda.  

“While the size of the company may change, our quality and attention to detail will remain. We don’t believe in short cuts – if you do something right, the rest will follow. 

“I’d like to thank the company’s founders Graham Emmerson and Colin Hewitt, as well as Jack Davey, Richard Neall and Paul Rodwell for their guidance and wisdom over the years, and our fantastic team for their hard work and support.” 

SEH French is part of One Group construction, a collection of 10 different businesses in the construction and logistics sectors.