Q&A with Remi Suzan, Gratte Brothers Ltd Managing Director

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  • Building Services & Engineering

Following the recent news that Remi Suzan has been appointed the new Managing Director of Gratte Brothers Ltd, we sat down with the man himself to learn more about his career, what he believes are the biggest challenges the industry faces today and his aspirations for the business under his leadership.

How did you get started in the industry?

Like most 16-year-olds, I had no idea what I wanted to do when I left school. A visit to the career advice bureau resulted in being told “You can be a policeman or an engineer” which are quite contrasting roles! I chose the engineer option, which led me to complete a Mechanical & Public Health Apprenticeship. Later in my career, I moved to the consultancy side, completed a degree and then built my way up at Robertson & Partners and Troup Bywaters + Ander, before joining Gratte Brothers as Mechanical Design Director in January 2004.

It feels like you have quite a rounded understanding of the industry then?

Absolutely! The first six months of my work life were very much on the tools. I visited sites throughout my apprenticeship, undertaking all the survey work and really getting stuck in. I was therefore able to bring a lot of contractor knowledge with me when moving to the consultancy side and this really allowed me to highlight the needs of the contractor within the consultancy world. A jump back to contracting sometime later, where I am now, rounded off my knowledge, providing a full-circle perspective. In essence, I try to bring balance, understanding everyone’s corner and cutting through the tensions that can sometimes occur on both sides. Ultimately, we’re all looking to achieve the same goal!

“Under my leadership, we will continue to build on our reputation, striving for the highest quality standard, which we are known for.”

What are your main drivers now, as Managing Director?

Gratte Brothers has maintained an excellent reputation over the past 78 years, so I’m not looking to make any radical changes. Under my leadership, we will continue to build on our reputation, striving for the highest quality standard, which we are known for.

Growing talent within the company is a big driver at the moment. There is a lack of emerging talent within not only construction but the wider engineering world currently and this is something we all need to be prioritising. To combat this, we’ve developed an in-house graduate training programme, which is currently in its third year and is supported by our apprenticeship programme.

I also plan to build our engineering competency across the business of which new building regulations and Construction Act compliance are the main basis. This ties in nicely with the continued digitalisation of our construction processes, which our Digital Innovation Team heads up and which is something I have worked on throughout my time at Gratte Brothers.

The continued growth of our prefabrication process is another key focus. I’ve been a huge advocate for off-site solutions, having helped set up our Chelmsford facility and grown our capabilities so that we now deliver around 60% of our building services solutions off-site. Our goal is to one day build 80 to 90% of the components required for our projects off site so we will continue to work on engineering bespoke solutions for projects that incorporate as much off-site design as possible. The improved safety, programme and sustainability benefits make prefabrication a huge asset. It also allows us to maintain cost neutrality and importantly, I know that our teams enjoy working in these facilities.

Gratte Brothers staff working on a pre-fabricated unit in one of the Gratte Brothers off-site facilities
In the future Remi sees up-to 80% of all Gratte Brothers Ltd work built off-site at our facilities.

The sustainability benefits of prefabrication also support the Journey to Net Zero initiative and goals we have in place as a business.  Our journey to net zero is one we take very seriously as we research and assess to find the right solution for ourselves and our clients.

Finally, as a building services division, we are looking to diversify our portfolio. We have an incredibly strong presence in the data centre market, and our work has gravitated more toward principal contractor positions as of late. Our portfolio moving forward will start to include more framework projects, whilst assessing opportunities in carbon-focused retrofit works. Of course, we will do so whilst continuing to deliver project for our repeat clients, whom we’re lucky to maintain such long-term relationships with due to the high standard we maintain.

What do you see as the main challenges ahead for the industry?

The need to ensure emerging engineering talent is certainly a front that everyone must be active on. This can feel more difficult with the increasing demand for speed to market we see across the construction landscape.

I also think the adoption of BIM will continue to improve, but enabling BIM to work across the industry so we have a powerful and fully functional platform will be key.

A push to deliver sustainable solutions will also be a big challenge for every business and one which we all need to be prepared to face. At Gratte Brothers, we want to formulate the right solution that will have a long-lasting positive impact – we won’t consider short-term solutions. This is where intense work with our supply chain and our internal processes will be key as it will allow us to better understand and reduce the embodied and operational carbon of projects.

What can the Gratte Brothers staff expect from you as a Managing Director?

I think they can expect a strong leader but also someone who is very much a member of the team! I’m very process driven so if I don’t understand how something can be achieved, then I’ll never be comfortable accepting the requirement and passing it off to someone to deliver. For me, what is important is that everyone is conscientious and always tries their best and if mistakes are made, that they learn from them, it’s all I can ask of someone!

Years ago, I had an electrical engineer who made a mistake when sizing a UPS. Therefore, when it came time to commission the project, the UPS didn’t work as the engineer had forgotten to apply power factor to it. It was a big problem, a half-a-million-pound problem to be exact and when it came to light, the engineer handed in his notice the next day. I refused the notice on the basis that this engineer had just been through a half-a-million-pound training course, and they were now a better engineer because they’d never make that mistake again! This electrical engineer didn’t end up leaving and is now a director at that same company!

Do you have a final message?

Everyone at Gratte Brothers is already doing a great job so that makes my job easier! I’m inheriting a business with fantastic teams that I’ll only look to support and develop further and what helps is that I’ve worked with everyone for over 20 years, so the relationships and the trust is already there.

It’s undoubtable that we have grown in the last year, so it’s been great to see our teams grow and I’m grateful to everyone who has joined the business and helped us maintain our great reputation.  I am always conscious of the work that we bring in to ensure we manage our capacity closely and protect our staff from being stretched too thin. This applies to subcontractors too, as we rely greatly on them, and we have to make sure that we allow them to deliver the best end product for the exciting and significant projects we have to come.

Remi is one of our many fantastic individuals who form the Gratte Brothers Ltd leadership team. You can find out more about the Senior Leadership Team here and learn about the people who are driving our divisions forward.

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