Leadership Interview: John Newcomb, CEO, Builders Merchant Federation

Could you give us an overview of your career?
I have led the Builders Merchants Federation since 2012, initially as Managing Director and since 2017 as Chief Executive Officer.  Prior to that I held senior marketing, commercial and MD roles within the DIY and housewares industry, notably with H&R Johnson, Sandvik Saws and Tools UK, Addis Group Ltd and Imperial International Limited.  I also maintained a 15-year involvement with BHETA, the British Home Enhancement Trade Association, the last two years as President.

At heart I am still a marketer and hold a master’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Bradford Management Centre. In total I have spent over 40 years in Sales and Marketing and Senior Management positions after starting my career as a Marketing Graduate with JCB.

What has changed most in the industry over your career?
I have seen a tremendous amount of change during my 9 years in the building materials sector.  For example, there is a definite move towards larger merchant groups now, with funding for mergers and acquisitions coming from venture capital and we are also seeing a huge increase in digitisation and the use of online and mobile platforms.

But the biggest changes have been brought about in response to the Covid crisis. For the first time the whole construction industry came together through the Construction Leadership Council to work with government and coordinate the industry’s response. I sit on the CLC and quite honestly the profile of the building materials sector has never been higher both with government and within the wider construction industry.  Our sector is also at the forefront of the CLC’s ConstructZero initiative, to meet the government’s net zero carbon targets by 2050, which we cannot achieve without the innovative products and systems BMF members are developing.

What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
Without doubt, the last 18 months and being able to support the industry during the biggest crisis it has faced in decades.  When the prime minister announced the first lockdown there was total confusion.  We were being told to stay at home, so what on earth did that mean for our members’ businesses?  The actions we were able to take, particularly within the CLC taskforce, and the information from government that we could then relay to members helped get them up and running in the shortest possible time. The BMF has continued to support them as we have gone through every subsequent stage of lockdown and now recovery which is bringing its own problems in terms of product availability.   I am extremely proud to be nominated for this year’s Outstanding Leadership Award in the Trade Association Industry’s first ever Covid Response Awards.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry?
Be focused, be flexible and get the best possible training throughout your career. Also strive to the very best in your chosen position and career. I never started out with the ambition of becoming a CEO but always wanted to be the very best that I could in each of my roles and by doing this I found myself promoted to the next level.

The BMF recently merged with the Institute of Builders Merchants, which now operates as a separately managed brand of the BMF and has ambitious plans to professionalise the industry.  The IoBM is an independent accreditation body with a structured framework for Continuing Professional Development from apprenticeship to the boardroom, we are working to grow membership and, eventually, achieve Chartered status. This would be a great way for anyone in our Industry to strive to be the best.

John Newcomb, CEO, BMF

What advice can you give leaders when managing businesses and teams through times of uncertainty?
People are your greatest asset, so make sure you have clear and frequent communication across the business.  Good communication breeds confidence and prevents unnecessary speculation and rumour.  It’s important to be visible and available, to listen to concerns and provide answers.  This goes a long way to restore confidence and calm the business.

What do you see happening in the future for the Builders Merchants sector?
These are exciting times for construction with a government pledged to build back better, and to make the UK a leader in zero carbon technology.  The building materials sector has a central role to play here, and I am very optimistic for the future. Merchants have always played an important role in the Supply Chain, but I don’t think they have ever been in a stronger position than they are now in being seen by both the Construction Industry and Government as a vital part of the Construction ecosystem.

For more information on how GCS Associates can help your business recruit the best talent in the market, contact us.

e: enquiries@gcsassociates.com
t: 0161 660 2548

Meet The Team: Rebecca Hildage, Office Manager, GCS Associates

Tell us about your career so far?
I worked for a Financial Services company in Altrincham for 8 years within the finance dept, gaining my AAT accounting qualification there. I then went on to an Assistant Accountant role for a Technology company then moved into a Executive PA role as I wanted to gain experience in other business areas and widen my skill set.

Around 6 years ago I become Cash Manager withing the inflight entertainment industry with a Global multinational dealing with cross currency bank accounts. I finished with the company in September 2020 and gave birth to my daughter in October 2020 – I had a lovely maternity leave with her and here I am today.

Why did you join GCS?
I was impressed with the wording in the job advert, it wasn’t run of the mill, it was interesting and quirky. When I googled the company, I was impressed with the passion that came across when perusing. I initially spoke with Tony on the phone and then came in to meet with Mike who gave me an overview of the company along with what the role would entail.

I got a great feel for the place. The role is flexible;  it fitted in with my childcare and travel needs so I was happy when Mike called and offered me the job. I’m looking forward to getting stuck in and improving processes to save the company time and money.

What’s your role at GCS?
My role is primarily admin and accounting work. I will be responsible for liaising with debtors/creditors, managing the financial accounts and many other office management duties. I will also be reviewing all processes and making improvements/automating where needed.

How you help clients/ candidates?
I wouldn’t say my role directly helps clients/candidates, however, by taking work and admin off the sales team this then feeds through to allow more time to help clients and candidates more efficiently.

Rebecca Hildage

What kind of projects are you working on at the moment?
I have begun working on an accounting system and have also started streamlining our internal processes. I have many more projects in the pipeline which will improve efficiencies internally.

What do you do outside of work?
I love running – it clears my head and allows me to gather my thoughts and refocus. Socialising with family and friends, I’m very close to my family so I’m happy the lock-down’s have ended and we can socialise properly once again!

For more information on how GCS Associates can help your business recruit the best talent in the market, contact us.

e: enquiries@gcsassociates.com
t: 0161 660 2548

Meet The Team: Tony Llewellyn, Commercial Director

Tell us about your career so far?
I can’t really remember doing anything other than recruitment! My mother tells me my early career was in the RAF followed by a stint in financial services – but maybe she’s just covering for me?

Why did you join GCS?
I was impressed by Mike Parry’s integrity and enthusiasm for the business and his passion for the clients he’s working with in the building products sector. For me, it is important to be working in a business where I feel I’m making a difference and one where I can utilise all the skills and experience I’ve picked up over many years!!

What’s your role at GCS?
As Commercial Director, I am responsible for the opening of our new office in the East Midlands and the continued growth thereafter. I am still dealing with select clients too, some of whom I have know for many years and some new ones that generally come through word of mouth and referrals.

The majority of my roles are executive positions in either the building products industry or the food manufacturing sector. However, most executives have highly transferable skill-sets and so the sectors I work in can vary immensely, I’ve even been asked to place a CEO in a Veterinary practice in the past… the brief was to find a strong ‘commercial’ leader who could double the turnover in a five year period –  I believe he did it in three.

What kind of roles are you working on?
Most of the roles I am asked to work on are highly confidential.

What I can say is that I’m also working with some highly talented executives at the moment, assisting in their search for a new challenge. Leaders that are either transformational leaders and ‘turnaround’ specialists or business builders; highly experienced at increasing the EBITDA through innovative ideas and processes. I also have some very talented Sales, Operations and Finance Directors that currently work in either the food manufacturing or the building products sectors and are looking for a new opportunity.

Tony Llewellyn, Commercial Director

What’s the market expectation at the moment?
There are multiple vacancies at some levels but very few at others. People are surmising that Brexit is to blame for a lack of candidates, others that the pandemic has caused people to migrate away from certain roles and who are not now prepared to return to them.

There is still some uncertainty in the executive market but we are seeing an improvement already with a lot of investment being considered by both business groups and venture capitalists.

At GCS, we are always happy to go that extra mile for our clients and candidates – sourcing the best talent and helping people further their career is what we do!

For more information on how GCS Associates can help your business recruit the best talent in the market, contact Tony.

e: tony.llewellyn@gcsassociates.com
t:  07809 433 882

Meet The Team: Chris Whitlock, Executive Consultant, GCS Associates

Tell us about your career so far?
I have spent almost all my career in Timber and Building Materials. I joined Malden Timber in 1984 as a graduate trainee, then spent 14 years with Travis Perkins, followed by 13 years with Saint-Gobain where I held two Managing Director roles.

I then spent two years as a freelance operator including an enjoyable year in the global Telecoms industry with Colt – which was my one excursion away from Builders Merchants! I then spent happy three years at Harlow Timber as Managing Director.

I have spent much of the last three years as a freelance operational contractor, specialising in relocating businesses and opening new branches in the wider materials industry. I also work as an Executive Consultant for GCS Associates.

Why did you join GCS?
I was introduced to GCS through a mutual acquaintance in 2020. My involvement with GCS grew through many discussions with Mike Parry about the market, clients, and candidates until, ultimately, it made sense for me to become a member of the team.

What’s your job/ responsibilities/ specialist sectors at GCS?
I assist the GCS senior team with governance and growth planning, and with client and candidate relations. I usually spend a day or two a month at both our Altrincham and Loughborough offices.

What are you working on at the moment?
I am working on management recruitment for a materials supplier’s new branch programme – strictly confidential, at the moment!

What’s the market expectation at the moment?
Building materials has experienced a double boom in the last year – both in terms of volumes as home improvement spend has rocketed, and in value as material cost have soared across the board. This has led to a very active recruitment market, and an extremely busy GCS recruitment team!

Chris Whitlock, Executive Consultant

Tell me about how you help clients/ candidates?
I engage with both clients and candidates- many of whom I have worked with in some capacity, at some point. I assess opportunities and partnerships for both sides.

Anything else to share about yourself?
I grew up and still live in Leicestershire – stunning countryside, a great city, and one of Britain’s best kept secrets! I have two fantastic grown-up children and a very supportive wife who continues to enjoy her long career in Marketing and who generally despairs of me not having a marketing bone in me!


e: enquiries@gcsassociates.com
t: 0161 660 2548


In November, we created The GCS Pledge with the aim of helping at least 21 people back into work for 2021 by supplying our recruitment services for free.

We are proud to announce we’ve now placed 10 people back into employment, just in time for Christmas. We created The GCS Pledge because so many talented individuals have lost their jobs due to COVID-19, and we’ve not only had support from our client base but from the Builders Merchant Federation who have helped promote this great initiative.

Our 10th placement was for Gap Group. We found Lee Justice a new role at Gap Group and he’s even been able to start his new job before Christmas. Lee commented;

“I’m really pleased to have found a new role at Gap Group and to start before Christmas is fantastic. Being made redundant was a huge concern as I’ve never been out of work before. I wasn’t used to it and you start worrying about so many different things, especially with Christmas coming up. I’m so grateful to have been part of the GCS Associates initiative, The GCS Pledge 21 for 2021, has got me back into work and eased those worries, pure and simple! Thank you GCS!”

Established in 1969, GAP Hire Solutions is the UK’s leading independent equipment hire company.  Lee joins the businesses 600+ employees who work across 140 locations across the UK. Lisa Davidson, Recruitment Advisor at Gap said,

“We are so pleased to be involved in the GCS Pledge. This is a great initiative from GCS who are giving up their time and resources free of charge, helping people who’ve lost their jobs due to COVID-19 get back into employment.  We’ve recently employed a candidate as part of the pledge.

We’ve now got a good person into the business and the pledge has helped someone back into employment in time for Christmas.  It’s a fantastic initiative and Gap Group are proud to support it to help as many people as possible back into work in 2021”

A big thank you to Gap Group and all other businesses that have supported the pledge and enabled us to get people back into work. We are now looking to 2021 and helping more people back into employment. We need a minimum of 11 more placements to hit of pledge total.

If you would like to be part of The GCS Pledge and use our recruitment services, completely free of charge, please get in touch. Together, we can help get as many people as many back into work in 2021.


e: michael.parry@gcsassociates.com
t:  0161 660 2548


Senior Leadership Interview Series 2020: David Young on Managing in Time of Crisis

Could you give us an overview of your career within the industry?

I started my career in merchanting with Wolseley UK, completing their graduate Sales/Management Programme. I was fortunate enough to run my first branch while still half-way through the course. From there I held several area and regional roles in sales and operations, eventually moving to Trading Director for the southwest for Build Center. I then moved to Drain Center and ran this brand nationally for a few years. I left Wolseley after 19 years and joined Bradfords Building Supplies as Business Development Director, becoming MD a year later and then CEO in May 2019.

What are the most important values you demonstrate as a leader?

Always a difficult one to answer yourself, as I suppose it is how I am perceived that is more relevant. In terms of values that I feel are important; I am who I am and I don’t try to be anyone different. I don’t believe in politics at work – I am direct, straightforward and respectful. I care about the business and everyone associated with it. I am committed to ensuring the business delivers long term. I trust everyone to do their job, and work hard to create the space for them to perform. I suppose good leadership is ultimately about making promises and sticking to them. Anyone can promise the world, but it is all about delivery.

How has your business adapted to the new working ways since COVID-19?

Prior to the first lockdown we had worked hard on a new operating model, minimising personal contact. When lockdown was announced we were well placed, however we continued to tweak the model. The key was clarity of communication. We were very clear and used basic and consistent messaging and constant reinforcement. The team have adapted well especially in the early stages – others were closing around us and the team quickly aligned and believed in what we were doing and the way we were doing it. We continue to evolve the operating model using technology as a key driver.

How have you managed and motivated your teams during this uncertain time?

The key has been regular contact with all levels of the organisation. Daily updates from me to all staff, regular conference calls and MS Teams meetings with the branch management estate and daily calls with the senior management team and Group Board.

We recognised that our employees were representative of the UK population as a whole.  Understandably their initial reaction to the pandemic and lockdown, was one of fear, and we had to balance the prerogative to stay open from a commercial perspective with the understanding that we were dealing with a workforce ranging from terrified to fully engaged.

The crucial element was consistent reinforcement of the key messages around hygiene, social distancing and latterly face coverings, and ensuring that we gave our staff the tools, procedures, equipment and support to be able to work as safely as possible. The business quickly understood the rationale for staying open, supporting the local self-employed customer and key public sector projects.

The Builders Merchant Federation have been superb and the letter from Alok Sharma at the end of March really helped settle the nerves of the workforce. Crucially this pandemic has bolstered local team spirit that is such an ingrained part of Bradfords culture. We know that all our teams feel more cohesive now than they did back in March. We have also seen an extension to this regarding their relationships with the local building community.

How do you lead through change and difficult times?

With clarity! I tried to be as visible as I could, ensuring I witnessed first-hand what the business was going through. I kept close to a few branches and customers and this really helped me get a good understanding of the challenges we were facing. The Senior Management Team have been superb and our daily meetings ensured we were aligned and informed with the most up to date information. This allowed us to make some very good decisions. Inevitable we made mistakes but reacted quickly to address them.

How much has COVID-19 impacted your talent acquisition plans?

We were very fortunate as we had spent 2018 and 2019 building a management team – this was the first year of a full team. So, in terms of talent acquisition at a senior level, the timing was perfect. What is clear is that we have a well-rounded team, each bringing their own skill set and specialism. However, the pandemic has provided opportunities for growth and we are bolstering the team in supply chain, logistics and eCommerce.

We have recruited during the pandemic, increasing our workforce by 10%, however one area that has been impacted is our Fast track programme – developing new managers of the future. Due to the pandemic constraints this programme has been delayed until 2021. The apprenticeship programme has also been impacted due to the lack of face to face training. Remote training is all well and good but the ability to deliver the volume of training programmes has been affected.

Tell us about Bradfords’ future plans?

We are very excited about the future. The pandemic has been a roller coaster and has taught us so much. In management terms I feel we have been through 5 years of decisions in 6 months – so for all of us at Bradfords it has been an unbelievable learning experience. There are plenty of opportunities for the business – the way people buy is changing and I think we are well placed to maximise every channel in the future. Supply chain has never been so important – not only with the pandemic but also with Brexit and other Global challenges. Having a robust supply chain is essential and the pandemic has shown us that ours is fragile. Some supply partners have been superb, but others have struggled to adapt to the fast pace of change.

Developing our people has always been key but the pandemic has taught us the need to have a flexible, more rounded workforce. We have redesigned our plans for effective people development and these launch in Q1 2021.

Our communication channels have also been stretched in the last 6 months. A radical review sees the development of a communication hub, bringing all communication into one place, easily accessed by all. This will be key to ensuring better, clearer, more detailed and consistent communication in the future.

Our IT systems have been an enabler to growth during the pandemic and further investment here will help us offer a better and more efficient service to all our customers. Investment in eCommerce will continue at pace to ensure we are offering all customers an easy route into Bradfords to browse, design, shop or manage their account effectively.

We have been fortunate enough to invest during the pandemic – the workforce has grown by 10% and our service proposition is expanding. The future for Bradfords is a bright one. We have had the backs of our customers for 250 years – and we are not going to stop now.


e: michael.parry@gcsassociates.com
t:  0161 660 2548


GCS Associates launches The GCS PLEDGE, with the aim to help as many people as possible, who were made redundant during COVID-19, to get back into work.

During COVID-19 many of our friends, colleagues and peers within the Construction, Building Supply & Hire sectors have been affected by redundancies. At GCS, we have spoken to so many talented individuals who are now actively looking for new roles, and we’re committed to supporting them by providing our recruitment services for free.

As recruitment specialists within these sectors, we are making a pledge to help, at least, 21 people who have lost their jobs due to COVID, back into employment.

We’re counting on you to help us.

If you have a vacancy within your business please get in touch to see how you can get involved.

We guarantee we can find the right talent for you
GCS Associates have 15 years experience recruiting withing the Construction, Building Supply and Hire sectors.

You will be supporting the many people who have lost their jobs
Its an unprecedented number.

We wont charge anything for our recruitment services
We’ll act as your recruitment partner; shortlist CV’s and present the best possible candidates for your business.

“The BMF is pleased to endorse GCS’s initiative ‘The GCS Pledge’ – 21 for 2021′. Its a great initiative which runs in parallel with the CLC’s Construction Industry Talent Retention scheme, of which the BMF are a founder member company. We all know people are our most important asset and I encourage all of our members and associates to get behind these initiatives”

John Newcomb, CEO, BMF

Lets stay COVID resilient together.


e: michael.parry@gcsassociates.com
t:  0161 660 2548


As part of our 'Leaders in Construction' interview series, Michael Parry shares his thoughts on the changes COVID has had on our industry and the huge impact on recruitment.

Tell us about your career in recruitment for the Construction and Building Supply sectors?

In 2007, I decided to take the plunge and set up a recruitment business focusing on Construction & Building Supplies. We had one overriding aim: to provide a genuine, informed & consultative service, building long-term working relationships based on trust.

A lot has changed over the years. But what remains a constant are the people.  It is a great industry in which to work.  I have made some great friends over the years and it has been great to see their career development during my time working in construction sector.

This year has definitely been the greatest learning curve for me personally and I think the sector is definitely going to be stronger for it as well. I’ve have a lot of aspirations for GCS moving forward and I am looking forward to seeing what 2021 brings.

Since COVID-19 how have you seen the hiring market change?

Pre- Covid, we were in a ‘candidate’s market’ in my opinion.  Since Covid, there is certainly an argument for there being a shift to an ‘employer’s market’ as despite the furlough scheme, unemployment went through the roof in those early months of lockdown.

Clearly, some sectors continue to remain devastated by the actions taken to combat Covid-19 but the construction and construction supplies sector have bounced back extremely well.  Once back open, trading reports have been incredibly positive.  So as quickly as jobs disappeared, they reappeared.

Although we don’t really know what the future looks like, things are back where they were.  There is still a large amount of people victim to Covid-19 redundancies – these are people we genuinely want to help if we can – so watch out for our initiative – The GCS Pledge.

How has the second lockdown differed from the first in terms of hiring trends?

From our experience the hiring trends in the sector due to lockdown 2.0 have not been affected.  We had a few fall outs and a few more requests for remote interviews but the message is clear from everyone – we are open for business!

What roles and skills are in-demand?

Within the Hire sector, engineering roles have always and remain highly in-demand.  If there are any CAP’d Powered Access Engineers reading this, please get in touch!!

Succession planning is critical to any employer so attracting the right senior level talent for our clients is always going to be important.

Michael Parry, Managing Director, GCS Associates

How have you changed your business to adapt with the changing nature of hiring and recruitment since the pandemic hit?

Thankfully we have always embraced technology and video technology, especially when it comes to interviews and presenting our candidates to clients. So, there hasn’t been much change on this level.  Investing in technology will also be high on our agenda and this is going to be more prevalent moving forward.

We aren’t one of the huge corporate agencies, so we are relatively agile which I feel is important in the current climate.  Within reason we have been able to whether the storm relatively unscathed.

Corny as it may sound, during lockdown when recruitment was, shall we say, not a priority, we saw it as an opportunity to give a little back, get to better know our clients and the industry we work in.  In was a good opportunity to develop those relationships and speak about non recruitment issues.

What I have personally taken from this is how important communication is; within our own team, and with our candidates and our clients.

We genuinely listened to our network, and now, in addition to recruitment we are now expanding our service offering with value-add services such as complete recruitment outsourcing, employer branding, executive search and training solutions.

How are you seeing your clients adapt their businesses to the new working world?

Firstly digitisation. The Builders Merchants sector and perhaps the wider Construction Supplies sector for a long time has rightly or wrongly been maligned as being slow to embrace change.  The events of this year have meant businesses have almost been forced to embrace change and see it as an opportunity to modernism and improve their business.  And from what I see this has been a great success.

Secondly operational change.  Covid-secure operational practices are now in place and new habits are being formed – both in terms of working practices for our clients and new buying habits for their customers.

There were also supply chain issues which I understand may persist, so forecasting will certainly be something the suppliers and distributors will be looking at.

What advice can you give to organisations who are struggling to recruit talent at the moment

Give us a call.


e: michael.parry@gcsassociates.com
t:  0161 660 2548


Key appointment as GCS invests in new services and specialist recruitment technology...                 

GCS Associates, providers of specialist recruitment solutions to the building materials, construction, technical and engineering sectors, has today announced the appointment of Chris Whitlock in the newly created position of Executive Consultant. In this role, Chris is focused on developing GCS’s presence within the Builders’ Merchant marketplace, growing the GCS team, client base and service offering.

With over 36 years of experience within the merchant industry, Chris has held various Managing Director roles with a distinguished record of driving change towards improved profitability, compliance, and governance, and in building best-in-class teams.

Chris joins GCS during a period of growth and service diversification, with an increased focus and investment on Executive Search, in-house training, and Recruitment Technology.

On his appointment, Chris, commented:

“This is an exciting opportunity to take a great business to the next level. Throughout my career, it is always my aim to place a high value on a collaborative and innovative workplace from which a company can achieve its goals. GCS already has a great culture & reputation for first-class recruitment services, and I look forward to working with the talented team to expand GCS’ reach and service offering within the Builders’ Merchant industry”

Chris Whitlock, Executive Consultant

GCS Managing Director, Michael Parry said:

“GCS has experienced great growth during uncertain times over the last year, driven by our commitment to high quality service levels as much as our specialist market focus. We are committed to continually supporting our clients by investing in new recruitment technologies and furthering our in-house training offering.

I am delighted to be welcoming Chris and know he brings the values, skills and experience to help GCS on our journey to become the go-to recruitment company in the build, construction and engineering sectors.”


e: michael.parry@gcsassociates.com
t:  0161 660 2548