Live: Q&A with Steve Horn, Black and White Engineering

Black & White Engineering (B&W) is a leading MEP design consultancy. Launched in the UAE in 2007, Black & White became an independent company in 2014 and is now a true global consultancy with offices worldwide. Director, Steve Horn, reflects on running the business in the North East, and short and long-term plans for the business

What is the most rewarding aspect of running an independent business in the region?

The most rewarding aspect has been the growth of our business over the past seven years. We started our UK division of Black and White (B&W) Engineering with just one employee back in March 2014 and have just employed our 50th employee here in the UK with 26 of those in our Newcastle office.

As well as qualified engineers we have employed apprentices and graduates. We are part of the PlanBEE training programme, working alongside Gateshead College, which has been particularly rewarding to feel that we have put something back into the local economy and supported the next generation of engineers.

We now have offices in Newcastle, London and Edinburgh and work all across the UK and Europe, so to see all this being achieved from our original Newcastle base has been fantastic to be part of.

And the most challenging?

Growing a business and the scaling up requirements that come with it is always challenging, whether that’s new offices, software, structural changes or IT implementation. We have self-funded our growth through continued investment, which was particularly challenging, especially during the early years.

Recruitment is an ongoing issue, due to a general shortage nationally of engineers with the right skill set, who complement our core values and ways of working. This is one of the reasons why we have continually invested in bringing apprentices or graduates into the business, to allow us to train and develop them to our specifications, internally.

What are the short and long-term plans for the business?

In both the short and long term we will continue with our growth strategy, investing in our staff and infrastructure as we take the business forwards. We undertake a lot of work in the data centre sector and we see huge growth potential in this space, which will hopefully see us working in more and more countries across Europe in the months and years to come.

The structure of our business will continue to be shaped to support our growth as we move forwards. We have several ongoing initiatives and have recently started leadership development programmes for our senior staff and to grow our future leaders.

What advice would you give to anyone with a business idea?

Test the market and get as much advice and support as you possibly can, particularly from people who know and understand business.

Create a business plan and continually revisit and assess your plan and evolve it as your business grows and develops. It may sound a little cliché but always put the customer or client first and take a longer-term view over short term gains.

As the organisation grows you need to work on the business as well as in the business and I would say always stay true to your business culture, core values and ways of working.

Finally, spot opportunities and take some calculated risks and be bold. There are times when it is easier to take the safe option but if you have confidence in your business and your idea or product then you can move your company forwards.

Who has been your most significant influence in business?

There have been a number over the years but recently it has been the support from an independent business coach and mentor. Whilst not involved in the same industry his knowledge of growing businesses and the challenges that it involves has been invaluable. He is a great sounding board and provides valuable impartial and practical advice and support.

Black and White Engineering