Underpinned by a ‘team spirit’ philosophy of continued improvement, honesty and integrity, this year sees Baxall Construction celebrating 60 years of business. 

We’re driven by innovation; it’s been in our DNA right from the start,” says Malcolm Clarke, Managing Director and Chairman of Baxall Construction. 

A previous NFB Chairman and currently on the board of the South East Centre for the Built Environment (SECBE), Malcolm is a well-known industry figure with a reputation for driving positive cultural change. Having joined Baxall in his late-20s, Malcolm and the team have evolved the Kent-based firm into a highly successful SME delivering design and build, refurbishment, facilities management and whole life support services to private and public sector clients across London and the South East.  

Currently numbering over 90 staff, Baxall’s sweet spot is the £1m to £20m education, high-quality residential, community, health and commercial sectors. Sustainability and carbon reduction are high on its agenda: the company is on target to deliver two of the DfE’s first Net Zero Carbon in Operation schools in the South East and has completed four estate decarbonisation schemes for the Met Police, with more in the pipeline. Buoyed by its NFB Heritage-Approved Contractor mark the team is also tackling ever-complex heritage schemes including the recently completed restoration and refurbishment of Grade II-listed Cawthorn Building for Tonbridge School, with whom Baxall has delivered 27 projects over the last 30+ years. 

 Looking at Baxall’s timeline it’s clear that quality, attention to detail and a motivation to ‘do difficult’ have remained constant throughout its 60-year history. Established in 1964 by John and Audrey Exall, the family-run building firm grew and developed from its base in Paddock Wood into a main contractor then a design and build contractor. When John and Audrey retired in 1990 the business was taken over by their sons Nigel and Jonathan Exall who became joint owners along with Malcolm.

“As an agile SME we’ve developed our skillsets in sync as the market has evolved, from small extensions in the early days to the multi-million-pound projects we now deliver. Cultural change is naturally quicker and easier for smaller firms, and being more flexible and responsive than the larger Tier 1s adds value for our clients,” says Malcolm.

The team soon established a reputation for adopting pioneering solutions having spotted early on the advantages of Modern Methods of Construction (MMC) and collaborative working (BIM). Baxall delivered its first MMC project in 2014 for client East Sussex County Council, and its first ever BIM-enabled project (also on behalf of East Sussex County Council) was completed soon after. With its strapline ‘Buildings Built on Teamwork’ and the company’s genuine commitment to employee engagement, Malcolm adds, it was a natural move to become an Employee Ownership Trust (EOT) following the Exall brothers’ retirement in 2020, a decision that continues to drive business performance while having also secured the Investors in People Platinum award.

The themes of innovation, teamwork and collaboration lie at the core of Baxall’s evolution from a design and build SME into a ‘whole-life solutions provider’ for the built environment. Officially launched in 2023, the ‘Baxall Playbook’ is the response to what Malcolm sees as a “broken and fragmented industry” which has for too long been unwilling to adapt and modernise. Taking inspiration from initiatives such as the Government’s Construction Playbook and the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) Playbook, the ‘Baxall Playbook’ is essentially a blueprint for its integrated solutions underpinned by the golden thread of early and collaborative engagement with clients, stakeholders and supply chain. 

“In the design phase we prioritise cost-effective and sustainable solutions that embrace energy efficiency, occupancy comfort and long-term maintenance, all within the client’s budget. Using advanced modelling and simulation techniques we optimise building designs before the construction stage to identify and mitigate any ‘buildability’ issues while exploring opportunities for improvement.” This collaborative approach progresses into the construction phase to streamline risk management and ensure the highest quality, on-time and defect-free deliveries. 

As testament to the success of this approach, all 11 projects Baxall completed in the last 12 months were handed over with zero defects. “We’ve shunned the industry’s traditional siloed approach and have set out to create a better, more efficient way that works for everyone,” explains Malcolm. “By fostering partnerships and long-term working relationships we’ve created a sustainable model for the future.” 

And it’s a business model that is certainly paying dividends. Robust cash reserves, diligent financial management and a refusal to ‘chase turnover’ ensure Baxall is securely placed to weather the current economic and geopolitical turbulence. Furthermore, the company has already secured £41m in second-stage negotiations for 2024/25 with a 5-year business plan targeting a 20% per year average turnover increase towards £80m, with a minimum 4% profit margin. 

Hitting these ambitious growth targets means expanding its delivery teams through employing additional staff who share Baxall’s values and ethos, as well as promoting from within. Cue Baxall Academy, the company’s award-winning approach to training staff from apprentice level through to future leaders. This holistic approach to CPD not only develops employees (and supply chain) to their full potential but also contributes to Baxall’s very low churn rate.

The company has made significant investment into upskilling staff via a continuous training partnership with CIOB (29 employees have progressed through the scheme over the past five years) and over 80% of its technical staff are FCIOB, MCIOB, ARB or MICE qualified. Baxall’s leaders – current and future – also undergo advanced training via the Innovative Future Leaders Programme (IFLP), an intensive 12-month programme developed by SECBE to upskill managers to embrace senior leadership roles. To date, five senior employees have ‘graduated’ from the IFLP; two are mid-way and the latest cohort commenced in January. 

Looking ahead, Baxall maintains a laser focus on continued improvement with zero intention of resting on past successes: “You can only keep progressing if you’ve got aspirations to be better than the best and are prepared to keep raising the bar,” says Malcolm. This ‘team spirit’ philosophy of honesty, integrity and striving to be the best is the foundation of our core values and make us more than a mere company – it makes Baxall about our people and governs how we do business, from the smallest to the largest task.” 

In the same way Baxall proactively championed MMC and BIM over 10 years ago, the team is now embracing artificial intelligence in the form of Oculo helmet-mounted cameras to remotely view, track and share site progress with project stakeholders. This desire to deliver genuine change is further embedded in Baxall’s Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) which connects Baxall with the University of Kent to solve a strategic challenge: using AI to optimise the building environment. Working with a PhD Data Scientist the 24-month KTP is in its final stages and using remote smart sensors to measure variables such as temperature, CO2 and humidity, along with occupant surveys. 

“By analysing this data, we can optimise a building post-construction to create the best possible conditions for occupants’ health, wellbeing and performance in both the short and long term, and use this knowledge to improve the briefing of future designs,” says Malcolm. It can also identify areas for energy savings and carbon reduction to ensure design intent and efficiencies are realised. This approach supports the decarbonisation programmes Baxall is currently delivering for public sector clients including the DfE and MET Police and ties into Baxall’s plans to expand its facilities management capability. 

“As a ‘positive industry disruptor’ we’ve established an environment of high-performing and ambitious teams with the right skills to deliver a modern, net-zero built environment,” says Malcolm. “If the measure of intelligence is the ability to change, that’s the mantra we should all be adopting to successfully tackle climate change.”