Back to basics: NorDan CEO wants industry to focus more on quality

Alex Brown

Alex Brown, CEO of the Norwegian windows and doors manufacturer NorDan, responds to a recent Project Scotland article with leading quantity surveyor, Michael C Hastie, about the “cost-cutting” culture in the UK construction industry

HAVING worked with Norwegian businesses for 25 years and as CEO of NorDan UK for eight years, Alex Brown has learned a culture of work and efficiency from our Norwegian counterparts that he feels it’s time more contractors in the UK adopt.

Brown said that in Norway, contractors and manufacturers build relationships with their supply chain, work with people and companies with whom they have the same philosophy and share similar values and vision for the industry.

He is in full agreement with comments made by quantity surveyor Michael C Hastie in Project Scotland’s September issue that, “the tendering of fees is a recipe for disaster…in order to get the job you have to be competitive; now competitive doesn’t mean competitive in quality, it means competitive in price and that’s where the customer lets himself down.”

Brown said, “Nowadays, it’s a daily fight to sell quality and integrity. I talk to CEOs of like-minded companies who deal with same issues, but every day they’re being undercut by companies who claim to provide the same product or service for a lower cost, when in reality that’s not the case.”

It is this dilution of the service and trimming down of price that Brown believes results in errors, mistakes and the product not being suitable for the end user. He said, “Construction is the biggest industry in the UK and its procurement process is fragmented. When we look at the tragic Grenfell Tower case, it has sadly exposed a culture of cost-cutting and in building products that can have serious consequences.”

Brown references a report produced in 1998 by Sir John Eagan titled ‘Rethinking Construction’, which he believes is still as relevant and influential today as it was almost 20 years ago.

The report highlighted many of the problems endemic within the construction industry, it made comparisons with leading organisations such as Toyota and Tesco and looked at how lessons could be learned in achieving efficiencies, quality control and, ultimately, delivering value to the customer. Although progress has been made, he believes there is still a lot we can learn from Egan’s recommendations.

“In the UK, it seems that everything is driven by cost rather than quality, and there is even a price attached to having the correct compliance in place. So, the concept of being able to sell a product based on its integrity and quality is already flawed.

“What we have is contractors reducing specification and the power being taken away from architects which can lead to the client being sold a false product. As a young man starting out in construction, I was inspired by Egan and felt he was going to change the industry, however, 20 years on and it’s fair to say not a lot has changed.

“I believe many manufacturers and contractors would agree that if we reduce the supply chain, work together continuously and build relationships within the chain that the efficiency and overall value to the customer improves.

“Take windows for example. They are asked to perform acoustically with high thermal values, weather resistance, ventilate the building, perform in certain fire situations and provide safety and security.”

Brown believes that many clients and contractors need to dig deeper into supply chain ‘compliance and chain of custody documentation’. For example,  he added, “NorDan are one of the only companies providing timber and alu clad windows from abroad that actually manufacture. Others are merely brokering products from other countries with limited back to back warranties. It is crucial clients are extremely diligent in the origin of the product and more importantly the certification that supports performance.

“NorDan is a 91-year-old company, 35 years established in the UK and one of the only companies manufacturing our own products. We know exactly where our timber comes from and the processes it goes through from start to finish. That is part of our duty of care to the client and to the people who will occupy that building.”

Sadly, Brown believes that Grenfell has raised a lot of questions that NorDan have been fighting for years. The NorDan philosophy, he said, is to make the product right for the end user.

“At NorDan, we’re fortunate to have very good long-term customers who see the value of our relationship and integrity of our product, we work together with them to find solutions, and they know they’re safe with us. However, many construction companies gamble on the promises of suppliers with whom they have no relationship but they can offer them a cheaper cost.

“We work with Norwegians every day and quite frankly, they are appalled at what is going on in the UK. We sit in the middle of a totally chaotic, fragmented industry here in the UK and shoehorn it into the most organised calm sector in Norway. In summary, we need to go back to basics and do the right thing. We will continue to be passionate about the products and sell what’s right for the end user, not what makes us money. What’s right for you is more important to us than our top line.”