Cornwall Group has just celebrated three years of our new structure, which has helped our business survive the most challenging period in our history, according to the Chairman of our company, Mark Mitchell.
In July 2019, We restructured Cornwall Glass’ operations to become three distinct companies operating under a group umbrella. Key to this decision was a strategy to prepare us for future growth.
While this has played out, we were also able to weather a series of challenges that could have left the original company structure overwhelmed.
On July 1, 2019, The Cornwall Group was formed so that our separate functions in the business could be better developed and managed: manufacturing, installation/trade counter, and merchanting. These have since been serviced by Cornwall Glass Manufacturing, Cornwall Glass & Glazing, and Mackenzie Glass respectively.
“As our turnover exceeded £20m in 2019, we realised we needed a new structure to handle the complexities that come with that size of business,” Mark Mitchell, Chair of the Cornwall Group, says. “By creating three separate companies, with separate boards, the incredible knowledge and expertise that our colleagues possess is enhanced.”
Unbeknown to Mark Mitchell, and other members of Cornwall group, a series of events would shake the country and push business leaders’ management skills to their limits.
“Barely six months into the new group structure, and we were hit with a succession of unexpected challenges, each of which you would only expect within a lifetime at most,” Mark says. “Covid itself was unprecedented, but it brought about lockdown and furlough payments – new ideas to most of us. We then faced glass shortages and an energy crisis, both of which are still causing problems within the industry today. Also, within the first year of operating as a group, we suffered a cyber-attack which knocked out most of our software and communication lines.”
While not publicised at the time, we were left open to a cyber-attack in May 2020, just as our colleagues were returning to work following the first lockdown, after our data backup service provider was targeted by hackers. Our Finance, HR and Production Functions were all widely disrupted for several weeks. The attack stalled much of the automated processes within our group businesses, which then required manual input.
“Overnight we were being exposed to things like forensic cyber accountants, the dark web, crypto currencies, and engaging with cyber criminals and no end of emergency software and cyber insurance specialists,” Mark says. “A truly horrid and paralysing period.
“Of course, we are now completely back to normal, and we have significantly upgraded our security to prevent anything like this again,” Mark says. “But this series of exceptional challenges proved that we had made the right decision to move to a group structure. We would not have coped as well if we were operating as one big trading company.
“The freeing up of decision-making, thanks to the smaller boards of directors, meant there was a greater focus and a faster reaction time.
“It’s a credit to the group that each board was able to manage all these events that were coming at us in an unrelenting manner,” he says. “It was non-stop.
“But the challenges aside, each board structure has a tighter remit, and our colleagues on those boards are concerned first and foremost with their businesses, so we don’t have glass merchants in Bristol worrying about trade counter investment in Penzance, for example.”
Our revised structure has also led to some interesting dynamics within the group. While business won at Cornwall Glass & Glazing can result in leads within Cornwall Manufacturing, it is not a given, and our trade counters are not obliged to buy from within the group.
“It really doesn’t make sense to impose those kinds of restrictions,” Mark says. “What’s the point of freeing up the business leaders to make decisions that are best for their company, only to then turn around and say that have to buy from a particular company? One, you are not trusting your senior leadership team, and two, you are stifling competition.
“What the group structure has given us is a great platform for growth, because we can react with more agility, and recruit the right people to make the right decisions.”
As a collection of focused enterprises, Cornwall Group has proved we can handle challenges thrown at us from unexpected quarters, but it has also prepared the ground for strategic expansion.
“We are already talking to a number of smaller glass companies about possible acquisitions,” Mark says. “We’ve got aspirations to expand our operations east towards London, and north towards the Midlands, and incorporate smaller business where the owners are ready to retire from everyday operations is one way to do that.
“And we are looking at business opportunities outside of the glass industry. Tom Julian has stepped up to the Group Managing Director role, and Kate Bunt has filled his old shoes as the new Finance Director. Together they will help the group broad to expand into new sectors, such as property, retail, and potentially leisure.
“Cornwall Group has proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is the best model for resilience and growth in the 21st century, and I’m looking forward to seeing what exciting new things can be achieved.”