IN 1990, John Clough set up Eaga with a couple of like-minded colleagues. He had his own special reason to take the plunge, though even he never guessed Eaga would grow into the success it is today.
In June this year Eaga floated on the main market of the London Stock Exchange.
Within weeks it had been admitted to the prestigious FTSE-250 index of companies, and is now the leading green support services organisation.
Working with national and devolved governments, utility companies, local authorities and social housing providers, Eaga’s key focus is on protecting the environment, by cutting residential carbon emissions and increasing energy efficiency, and addressing social issues primarily through eradicating fuel poverty.
Since 1990 Eaga has helped lift several million people out of fuel poverty and improved living conditions and lowered fuel bills in some five million homes.
It now improves energy efficiency in over 1,000 homes a day and fits or repairs a central heating system every minute of each working day.
While Eaga is an important North-East-based plc, its path to the stock market was markedly different from that of most other companies – reflecting its unique story and John’s leadership style.
The first 10 years were spent as a non-profit distributing organisation, leading government-funded efforts to improve the living conditions of vulnerable families. In 2000 Eaga became an employee-owned partnership, adopting a structure very similar to the John Lewis model.
By 2004 expansion had begun to quicken following its first major acquisition and the way was clear for a successful and unique flotation.
Under Mr Clough’s guidance, however, the core values underpinning Eaga as a true partnership – treating all stakeholders including staff, customers and communities with integrity, respect and enthusiasm – remain at the very heart of the new Eaga plc.
The partnership approach has been carried into the plc environment. At float more than 51% of the company remained in employee hands and the largest single shareholder remains the Eaga Partnership Trust, which holds a 37% stake for the ongoing benefit of all Eaga employees.
While the North-East Business Executive of the Year recognises it, Mr Clough, like many other finalists is quick to point out that successful teams create successful businesses. But, what of the man himself?
Mr Clough grew up in Bedlington, son of a Northumbrian miner.
He was educated at Bedlington Grammar school and Newcastle University. As a National Coal Board manager in 1990 he was forced to shut his plant at Hebburn in South Tyneside that cost 330 families their livelihoods.
He also, he recalls, had a hand in the overall plan that led to closure of pits in the region. He promised himself he would create as many jobs in the North-East as he was compelled to cut at Hebburn. This he has not only achieved but fully exceeded, given Eaga’s success, growth and expansion. Mr Clough, a chemistry graduate, worked in the Midlands on coalfield planning until he returned to the North-East as number two at a plant run by NCB subsidiary Coal Products, which was “environmentally challenged”.
Though the new management team turned the plant around, the inevitable call came: it was to shut.
“I felt bloody awful that there were 330 families who were suddenly without an income,” he recalls. “I set myself the challenge then that if I could get myself back into a career, I would put the same amount of jobs back into the North-East economy within 10 years.”
His chance to do that came when he answered a local newspaper advert to assemble a small team of people to run what was then the Energy Action Grants Agency – an organisation which was to raise standards and improve the performance of government schemes based around providing home energy efficiency to those needing it most.
Mr Clough has more than made good his promise to those 330 families. He missed his personal deadline – but only by six months.
And now, thanks to three more acquisitions announced even as he was heading for his North-East Business Executive of the Year title, Eaga plc in fact employs more than 10 times more than the goal – some 4,000 people in all.
More than 1,000 work in the North-East – at a corporate headquarters in South Benwell (where jobs are badly needed in Newcastle) and in centres also at Jesmond and Gateshead – others operate elsewhere in the UK, and in Ireland, India and Canada. A £500m turnover, expected to double in three years, may double even faster than that now.
Mr Clough’s values and personal stamp are the essence of Eaga. His relentless energy in their application, and the enthusiastic response he gets from the partners, is critical in the company’s success.
A few hours before learning of his award at Newcastle Marriott Hotel, Mr Clough was watching Eaga’s sponsored race at neighbouring Gosforth Park.
Now he may wonder if his regional title is the first leg of a personal double. He will be up against media tycoon Rupert Murdoch’s son James for the Orange Business Leader of the Year Award in London on November 13. A sleeves-up executive with an MBE, John is married to Pauline. They have three sons and live at Hexham, where John says there are only three loves in his life: Eaga, fishing and Pauline.