Corporate responsibility more than just a bolt-on, says construction boss

A responsible approach to paying firms in its supply chain is crucial at Gus Robinson Developments Ltd

Dan Robinson, chairman of Gus Robinson Developments
Dan Robinson, chairman of Gus Robinson Developments

One of the region’s leading development firms has backed The Journal’s Pay Fair campaign.

Gus Robinson Developments aims to be a force for good in society, running a renowned apprenticeship scheme and, through the Gus Robinson Foundation, giving back to the communities in which it works through sustainable philanthropic initiatives.

The firm, which employs 100 people, also invests heavily in its staff, and places a heavy emphasis on the merits of prompt payment to suppliers.

“We think of ourselves as very good payers, and have no bad debts at all, but if you’re not getting paid yourself, then it has a direct impact,” said chairman and chief executive Dan Robinson, who took over the business following his father’s death in 2011.

“Good, professional businesses can go bankrupt because of problems with cash flow; here’s a trickle-down effect. We always do our best to fulfil our promises, but, if for some reason we can’t then we will communicate that clearly.

“That’s essential - it’s a basic courtesy.”

Gus Robinson Developments’ current turnover lies at around £20m, but the firm, which recently won a Business in the Community Big Tick, hasn’t always had it easy, having gone through what Mr Robinson describes as some “horrendous” experiences during the recession.

When he first took over, for example, the company was on the verge of bankruptcy as it was owed hundreds of thousands of pounds in late payments.

This wasn’t, Mr Robinson explained, a matter of temporary problems with cashflow but of “thoroughly corrupt directors” taking significant sums of money out of their businesses while they still faced major debts.

“It really damaged us badly, having a major impact on our cashflow,” he recalled. “But it provided me with an interesting insight into business ethics - or the lack of business ethics in these cases.

“It was a shock to the system, but we were aggressive in terms of reducing our debts, and restructured the business while continuing to try to do business the right way. We were keeping an eye on the long-term, rather than just trying to make a quick buck.”

Business ethics, Mr Robinson said, had been “deeply ingrained” in him through his upbringing and his background the military; having been a fighter pilot in both the RAF and the US Airforce, he has experience leading teams in the most demanding circumstances.

“In that situation, you have to lead by example,” he said. “Similarly, I truly believe that to be taken seriously as a business, all you really have is your reputation.

“You may get away with falling below the expected standards once or twice, but people see patterns in behaviour. In the long term, you need to behave ethically if you don’t want to be laughed out the room.”

He believes small businesses could be aided by the creation of a simple “avenue of recourse” that would not land affected firms with such prohibitive legal fees that it defeated the point of taking action.

Naming and shaming the worst offenders, alongside initiatives like The Journal’s Pay Fair campaign, could also have a positive impact, he said.

Through our Pay Fair campaign, The Journal is encouraging North East companies of all sizes to take a responsible and ethical approach to paying firms within their supply chain.

We are asking them to sign the Business Ethics Pledge created by the North East Institute of Business Ethics, thereby agreeing to join with others to discuss the value of business ethics and to work with each other to transform their working environments for the better.

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