Comment – Walking Away…

Regardless of industry or chosen profession, it is not unusual to hear entrepreneurs and company founders describe their company as their baby; and for good reason.

A new company is often born out of a moment of passion. In its first year or two, it requires constant attention and nurturing. It causes endless sleepless nights and requires almost constant sacrifice and compromise. Slowly, ever so slowly, it begins to grow and to support itself. It still needs a guiding hand, of course. But it can now stand on its own two feet.

The parent will do their best to imbue their offspring with values and principles that will prepare it for the years ahead in a rough and tough world. With luck, that offspring will ultimately become wholly independent and self-sufficient and it will make its creator beam with pride. With even more luck, that proud parent will be able to sit back, put their feet up and rest easy in the knowledge that their work here is done and that their constant attention is no longer required.

Sadly, however, some companies – just like children – have their problems and their struggles. Just when you think they’re able to stand-alone, they buckle and require picking up and dusting down. They get in with the wrong crowd and the sleepless nights return. And, like an errant or troublesome child, such companies test their parents’ patience, resolve and love to breaking point.

Over the years, it has been my misfortune to speak to and interview countless demolition men that have seen their companies – those babies they created, nurtured and raised – slip, stumble and fall. They have seen years and decades or tireless and often thankless work crumble and their companies collapse.
Those individuals speak openly of their anger at the hand that life, clients and the economy has dealt them. They speak of their disappointment in seeing their life’s work vanish, often through no fault of their own. They are equal parts resentful, heartbroken and bitter. There is an unspoken sense that a bit of them died with their failed company.

I spoke to Chris McFletch of McFletch Demolition last week, shortly after he announced his decision to shut up shop and walk away from an industry to which he has devoted much of his life.

There was no heartbreak and no bitterness. In fact, rather than sounding in any way broken, McFletch sounded genuinely relieved to be leaving a sector that he believes has changed for the worse.

Unlike those that see their companies collapse, McFletch took the decision to walk away with his head held high. At the same time, he was shaking his head in disbelief at what has become of an industry he once loved.

Now, admittedly, McFletch is past retirement age. He has, without question, earned his retirement. But it is the nature and the tone of his departure that is the most telling. It also reveals some stark truths about the industry to which he devoted his life but which he is now glad to see the back of.

If Chris McFletch’s decision to walk away from the demolition industry was an isolated incident, it would be barely worthy of mention. It could be dismissed as a final shot across the bows from a man that has just grown weary of all things demolition. But it is NOT an isolated incident.

Back in June 2018, the founders of Liverpool-based Sloyan Doyle chose retirement over succession; bringing to an end a proud 40-year history in the demolition business.

In March this year, Forth Demolition chose the same option. Although their decision coincided with the unwelcome arrival of the Coronavirus, the speed with which the decision was made suggests that was merely the final straw and that the decision to walk away had been made long before COVID-19 made landfall in their native Scotland.

Of course, three companies out of an estimated 550+ UK demolition companies choosing to walk away is not a trend. But what has been most telling has been the wider industry’s reaction to McFletch’s decision.

Across social media, his decision had been greeted with empathy. Not a single person showed surprise or dismay. Rather, it appears that McFletch has merely done what a good many have been thinking.

What a sad indictment of the current state of the UK demolition industry that so many of its number have seemingly fallen out of love with the very sector to which they have devoted so much of their time, effort and life.

McFletch may have taken the entirely understandable decision to quit and to walk away. But he does so still swinging.

In my conversation with him, he railed against the inequities of the modern demolition industry; many of which – he believes – the sector itself has created.
He was particularly vocal in his disdain for main contractors, confessing that he had long ago taken the decision to not work for any of them, primarily over their refusal to pay their bills on time.

What does it say about the structure of an industry when a working man is forced to disregard an entire and potentially lucrative sector because of their tacit refusal to abide by fair payment rules? Moreover, what does it say about the demolition industry’s trade body that it continues to cosy up to an organisation of those very companies that make the demolition man’s life so miserable and that – by their own admission – do not pay their bills on time?

McFletch Demolition was a member of the NFDC right up until the day the gates closed for the final time. But Chris McFletch has very little positive to say about the Federation and says that he hadn’t attended an NFDC meeting in ten years or more, electing to send one of his team instead.

He is particularly critical of the NFDC and its National Demolition Training Group offshoot’s role in making demolition training so complex, onerous and expensive; or a “money-making exercise” as he described it

He claims that he was often required to spend days and even weeks ensuring that his company’s training was up to date; and that it was complying with the latest round of regulation foist upon the sector. He said that he joined the demolition business because he loved demolition but that – latterly – he found himself doing less and less demolition and more and more paperwork instead.

It is sad that the modern demolition world has evolved in such a way that a committed industry man would rather walk away than continue. It is sad that it has become such a grind that an industry veteran should sound so relieved to be closing the gates behind him for a final time. Saddest of all, however, is that the demolition industry itself has largely been the architect of its own fate.

Back at the beginning of this article, I compared the creation of a company to the raising of a child.

In McFletch’s case, he endured the sleepless nights and the sacrifice of those early years. He compromised and made allowances as his progeny went through the “terrible twos”. He guided, nurtured and advised as his offspring grew and became increasingly independent. He stood by his creation through its teenage years; and did his best to imbue it with his values and principles.

Ultimately, however, he has seen his offspring tainted and compromised by its surroundings and by the company it keeps.

Like any parent, I get the sense that Chris McFletch still loves that child he created and that he raised. But he has grown to despise the environment that child now inhabits.

It is fitting, therefore, that McFletch’s decision to call it a day was prompted by a conversation with his actual offspring.

He said that his daughter had questioned why he was still getting up at 4.00 am in the morning to drive 200 miles to work. She said she didn’t want to receive a phone call to tell her he had dropped dead in a digger.

It is a comment to which the families of many demolition men and women will relate.

It is to Chris’s credit that he heeded the warning; that he got out while the going was good; and that he chose the needs of his real offspring over the one that has consumed so much of his time over the years.

It is always sad to see the gates of a demolition company clang shut for the final time. It is equally sad that the industry has lost Chris’s experience, expertise and knowledge.

But Chris McFletch is not abandoning a metaphorical baby. He is embracing the needs of his real one. He is a man that has his priorities right. I wish him well in his hard-earned retirement.