Written by: Richard Rosser Photography by: Rob Scotcher
Darke & Taylor are one of Oxfordshire’s leading electrotechnical specialists providing services and expertise to architects, building services designers, building contractors and property owners. Familiar local names such as Oxford University, Miele, Beard, Brookes, Alden, Symm, Oxfordshire County Council, Abbott and Oxford City Council are established clients and it was clear that Managing Director, Simon Newton, had a lot to be proud about when he visited B4’s studios to elaborate on the Darke & Taylor ethos and plans for their 60th anniversary.
B4: Surrounded by electrical gadgets here in the B4 studios, it’s a familiar environment. Maybe you could give us a little background about Darke & Taylor, what you do and what your role is?
SN: I’m a shareholder in the business and have just been appointed joint Managing Director alongside Graham Winstone, who has been at the firm since he was 16 years old. We are the two senior shareholders in the business. We have just started a succession process with the outgoing Managing Director becoming Chairman, so in our 60th year it’s been a year of change and laying foundations for the future.
Traditionally, we’re an electrical contracting business; we’ve been doing that for many years, but more recently we’ve become involved in a lot more technologies (what I call other cables) such as: fire alarm systems, security systems, IT, data network cabling, etc. So we’re starting to expand our offering of services, focussing not just on electrical lighting and power, but also other systems which have a cable on the end of them!
B4: It’s a big year for you isn’t it?
SN: Yes, Darke & Taylor are 60 this year. John Darke first started trading from Divinity Road in Oxford on 5th September 1958, and 60 years later we’re still here. His name’s obviously still in the company title, which is fantastic. We’ve got some celebrations coming up which kick off in June. Our staff forum has put together a charity fundraising event with a hog roast and a big raffle. Lots of our suppliers have been very kind: they’ve offered us all sorts of raffle prizes and so on, so we’re hoping to raise £2000 for the Electrical Industries Charity as well as celebrate our 60th anniversary, so that’s good!
B4: It must have been difficult running a business from Divinity Road – Not the easiest road to go up and down…
SN: That’s true. The firm has moved around Oxford quite a bit actually, as you can see from the mini timeline in this article.
B4: So you must have seen a lot of changes in your time, not only in the business but in the industry?
SN: Yes huge changes, mainly around technology including recent innovations such as LED lighting which was a huge change when it first came out being much more expensive than traditional lighting. Now it’s everywhere and is an established technology along with other low to no carbon innovations.
In addition to LED lighting we’ve been looking at electric vehicle charging, battery storage and we’ve got a successful solar PV installation business as well, which we’ve been operating for seven years now.
All of these technology changes have impacted our projects significantly.
Alongside technological changes we have moved a number of times and we’ve been through a number of rounds of succession. My father, David, was Managing Director, up until 2008 when we did a management buy out with Paul McNaughton becoming the new MD. Alongside Graham, I became a shareholder – more recently we have four new shareholders who have also been appointed as Directors to the Board. Exit isn’t on our agenda as we always want to keep the business within the employees.
B4: Being 60 years old and a traditional business, I’m sure there are a lot of values that you have held true throughout that period of time. Have there been any major changes or do you still maintain your original values?
SN: A lot of our values are around the people and the culture of our business. In a lot of construction
businesses, a lot of subcontracting agency labour is used, but we can really pride ourselves on the direct employment of our own staff. We think we can look after them, we can control the quality of the work we do and lots of people come back to us for repeat business because they say they like the way we go about doing our business. So at the core, that culture of investing in our staff and people is crucial.
We’ve also had an apprenticeship scheme for over 50 years and have won numerous awards. We are sponsors of the Oxfordshire Apprenticeship Awards now, so we’re very, very involved in the apprenticeship scene and that’s a really important part of us because 75% of our senior management actually came through our own apprenticeship scheme. That organic growth by bringing our own employees through the company, giving them that career progression hasn’t really changed. So while the technology changes, the progression from apprentice through to management in the company is something we really value.
B4: Talking about apprentices, obviously apprenticeships are key for lots of businesses and we’ve seen in the B4 network how many firms are favouring apprentices over graduates. I understand you have three female apprentices in the ranks.
SN: Yes we’ve been really fortunate. We actively went out to see if we could attract some females into our industry, not just on the office based side but as engineers and currently we have three great apprentices and we also have one who’s qualified. In fact, we’ve just qualified our second female apprentice, and that’s been really positive. We’ve had some great press out of that and they’ve been really great additions to our team. They bring a slightly different kind of ethos to going about the electrical work that we do. They’re really liked by our clients and our customers and and they’re really strong candidates, really passionate about training and learning to be electricians – it’s good to see some positive changes in what has traditionally been a male dominated industry. In terms of apprentices, we took on 15 last year and we take on anywhere between 8 and 15 apprentices a year so it really is an important part of what we do year on year.
I sit as the chairman of the Thames Valley Apprenticeship Ambassador Network so we’re very engaged with apprenticeships and our chairman, Paul McNaughton, actually sat on the trailblazer, which agreed the standard for electrical apprenticeships going forward. So apprenticeships has been a really big part of what we do as a business and something we’re very keen to maintain. We’re also very open to more young ladies who want to join us so please do get in touch for an interview.
B4: You’re obviously locally based but I understand your work takes you far and wide, but you’re keen to develop the work profile here in Oxfordshire.
SN: Particularly in the last ten years we’ve had a lot of success in the London high end residential property market, which is fantastic, but it is in London. We have to travel staff there everyday and we’re really excited about what’s happening in Oxfordshire. I think the Oxford to Cambridge corridor is going to be a massive boost for investment in this area and off the back of that we want to be providing services to the companies who are constructing and maintaining the buildings. We know we offer great service to the construction sector and we think there’s going to be a lot of building going on in our county and bordering counties over the coming years. So it’s a really exciting time for Darke & Taylor. I think it’s a really exciting time for Oxfordshire as well.
B4: With your new maintenance division, you’re expanding as well?
SN: We’ve always had a maintenance service in the background but it wasn’t core to the business. We now have a new maintenance manager who joined us just over a year ago and she’s been fantastic. Our thinking is now how can we keep a client for the long term rather than do a job and move on to the next one. We want to be there from the start and help our clients day to day. Services include electrical maintenance, five yearly tests and inspections which all commercial premises have to have, fire alarms, security maintenance and more. We have already doubled that side of the business and we have some really ambitious growth targets, so now there is a real drive to not just doing the installation but actually looking after it for our clients for many years to come.
B4: In your 60th year you’ve had some awards succes.
SN: Yes, the Electrical Contractors Association have an annual awards and we won one back in 2013 as Contractor of the Year. We decided, in our 60th year, we ought to have another go. We were delighted to be highly commended in the ECA Contractor of the Year Award and the ECA Best Energy Solutions Project of the Year Award so a great way to mark our 60th!
5th September 1958
Electrician John Darke started trading from 62 Divinity Road in Oxford with one apprentice installing pre-payment meters for Oxford City Council. Within 18 months the business had moved out of John’s home to a newly refurbished office and stores at 154D Cowley Road in Oxford.
The company became a member of the NIC EIC and the JIB, organisations it remains a member of and takes an active involvement in today.
David Newton joined the firm, working as an Estimator and, as a result of continued growth, the company moved to new offices in Avenue Lane, Cowley, Oxford. In January 1971 Darke & Taylor became a limited company with Messer’s Darke and Taylor becoming the Directors.
1st January 1973
Darke & Taylor furthered its ambitions and purchased Oxford based electrical contractor Hill Upton & Company. Hill Upton & Co. was established in 1890.
Darke & Taylor moved to its premises in Aristotle Lane off Kingston Road in North Oxford, where both businesses operated independently until 1980.
Hill Upton & Co was formally incorporated with Darke & Taylor Ltd, effectively doubling the size of the company and making it one of the largest electrical contractors in the region.
The company moved to new offices on a business park just outside of Oxford in Kidlington and the decade saw D&T progress further with development of its structured network cabling services, and the attainment of ISO14001 Environmental and CHAS and Constructionline Health & Safety Accreditations.
The senior management team undertook an MBO of the business, with Paul McNaughton becoming the Managing Director and David Newton becoming the Chairman.
Over recent years, Darke & Taylor has become an award-winning business, with success at both industry and local business awards, highlights including Contractor of the Year at both the ECA Awards and The Electrical Industry Awards, Business of the Year at the Oxfordshire Business Awards, and a number of awards for our Apprenticeship Initiative.
Darke & Taylor invested in and relocated to Radiant House (named after the early Hill Upton & Co offices in Oxford) in Long Hanborough, Oxfordshire.