Flowcrete: Dawn Gibbins

The award winning female entrepreneur tells us how she broke into a male dominated industry

Dawn Gibbins wanted the builder’s bum banned. Not because the ubiquitous crack in the trade offended Veuve Cliquot’s business woman of the year, but because back problems so prevalent in construction concerned her. It was also a nifty way to promote the selflevelling fast-laying commercial floor screed her father created.

The woman who set up international commercial floor specialists Flowcrete in 1982 with her inventor father has changed the rules in a conservative and macho industry. Her methods and constant innovations have brought a considerable amount of recognition and generated a £25m turnover.

But it wasn’t until 1990 that the company really took shape. Its growth up to then had been decidedly modest following the contract it secured with Mars on formation for a sugar-resistant floor. Gibbins’ father Peter was a man with a reputation as an innovator, but not someone who realised the value of his work. “We spent years just saying ‘yes, we can do that’,” she says, with Flowcrete apparently flattered by attention from household names.

Like many small businesses Flowcrete was R&D oriented and vastly undercharged for its services. But it’s a mark of the company’s work that Mars, among many other blue chips the world over, is still a client. A £40,000 turnover in 1982 rose to £600,000 in 1985 and finally the landmark £1m in 1990. But the progress wasn’t enough.

Confidence was a bit of an issue. She had overcome a fair amount to get as far as she had, especially to avoid making gender or age a big deal. “I had to learn to become more confident and self-assured,” she says. “Setting up your own business – my god does that improve your confidence in a male-oriented business.”

Getting credibility with banks for a £100,000 overdraft and gaining acceptance on site from architects were early hurdles as was the blokish atmosphere on sites and in offices the industry over. “You have to ignore all the sexual inuendoes and pictures of naked ladies in the cabins,” she reasons. “Besides, I don’t mind beautiful women on walls, and the women put up their own stuff too, so long as it’s tasteful.”

She finally bit the bullet when her husband screamed at her one weekend that she was unstructured and too spontaneous, she claims. It was the jolt Gibbins needed. She decided knowledge is power and enrolled at business school and on a series of short courses, including time management to give her the much needed structure.

Incredibly, the company only got its first business plan eight years in, as part of the process for securing a SMART award. One of the first key moves of Gibbins’ new approach was to recruit her husband from Shell – a man with responsibility for £28m of the corporation’s money and a £5m marketing budget. At Flowcrete he got a £50,000 ad spend.

She also gave the company a specific mission – to be the UK’s leading flooring company. Six years later it was. The bar has been raised now and it competes for the title on a world scale. To achieve this she recognised her strengths in HR, marketing and product innovation, tasked her husband with international dealmaking and radically changed the culture. No longer do long hours necessarily mean productivity. More important is a positive attitude. She has ensured new staff share her ethos by extending the probation period from three to six months and employing psychometric testing, another of the courses she did in 1990.

Fortunes have changed dramatically. And while she’s now happy with her 200 staff, it hasn’t gone unnoticed that the 25 person team in Asia has outperformed the 75 in Europe and 100 in the UK on the company’s bottom line. Asia added £750,000, Europe brought £300,000 and the UK achieved £600,000. This confirmed that the business model has evolved to such an extent that the UK base now carries baggage despite a constant war on waste. This means one thing to Gibbins. “1990 was a key stage for us. I feel we’re on the cusp of another evolutionary change now,” she asserts. “I feel I’m on a launch pad. We can be the world leader.” And so it continues. D


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