Bentleys And Helicopters: A Wild Ride From Carpenter To CEO With Charlie Fitzgibbon | Ep. 269

Construction Genius | Charlie Fitzgibbon | Carpenter CEO


A carpenter becoming a CEO shows how resilience, ambition, and staying true to one’s purpose can lead to transformation. In this episode, we have Charlie Fitzgibbon, a former school-goer who initially didn’t want to go, who now works as a carpenter and runs a successful construction company, Edinburgh Construction. Today, he shares his journey with us, spilling the secrets to managing growth, overcoming recruitment challenges, picking your battles in the construction industry, and more. Tune in now and hear Charlie’s wild ride!

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Bentleys And Helicopters: A Wild Ride From Carpenter To CEO With Charlie Fitzgibbon

I wasn’t the best student and struggled in high school. I went to college, just about got my degree and went out into the world. To one degree or another, I’ve been relatively successful. For many of you reading, you might have a similar experience. My guest is Charlie Fitzgibbon. Charlie left school when he was fifteen. School wasn’t for him but he went to work on a job site as a carpenter and garnered over a decade of experience working internationally as a project manager and started his own company when he was around 25.

Charlie is the Founder and Managing Director of Edinburgh Construction out of the United Kingdom. We’re going to have a great discussion about his journey to being a business owner, what he’s learned as a business owner, and as a leader. The conversation is very insightful because it’s interesting where we all start in our journey and when we are on that path, but who we were when we were kids isn’t necessarily who we’re going to be when we’re adults. That’s encouraging for any of you who have children and any of you who are reflecting on your life’s journey.

Toward the end of our conversation, Charlie shares some very interesting insights into what motivates him, so you’ll want to read that toward the end. You will enjoy this entire conversation because you’ll hear yourself if you’re a business owner in Charlie’s story, his particular ambitions, particular drives, successes, and his challenges. Enjoy my conversation with Charlie. Feel free to share it with other people. I know you’ll get some tremendous insights here. Thank you as always for reading.

Welcome to the show.

Thank you for having me, Eric.

It’s great to have you. I want to kick it off. You are the owner and leader of your construction company and just had a leadership team meeting. What was the topic of conversation?

It was our Christmas event. We had all the guys into the office, guys and girls, I should say. We talked about leadership. We do it twice a year. We have a gathering like this. There are usually themes. We talked about leadership, what that means, how everybody can demonstrate leadership no matter what their job role is.

It’s not just one for the site managers or for the guys in the office. It’s how everybody conducts themselves. We believe in a collaborative approach. We don’t have site managers barking orders. We believe in working side by side, how leadership is horizontal and not just vertical. We talked about communication and how we can get the most out of each other by communicating with respect, fairly and active listening. It was an insightful day. We all got a lot from it.

Was that something that you developed the content for the day yourself or you came up with the ideas? How did you structure the educational aspect of it or the discussion aspect? What was your goal in bringing everyone together?

I didn’t do it all myself. We bring people in like keynote speakers for these events. We had Chapman Rupert, who’s a business consultant of sorts. He does a lot of work on communications. He works in motorsport in a very highly team driven environment. He was able to bring a lot of insights, and we did a few activities as well. We had a few fun activities. The guys in teams had to build the tallest tower out of spaghetti and marshmallows. It’s a lot of fun.

What we were trying to get out of it was construction is a difficult environment. It’s high stress and high pressure. There’s a lot of capital involved. Clients have got high expectations and we need to manage that. We could all think of situations whereby you could maybe circumnavigate some tricky situations with good communication and working together as a team. I was trying, if I could have one take out for the guys to go back to sites and feel like they can get through their solutions by working together and picking each other up versus getting into conflicts or arguments.

What’s the difference between good communication and bad communication then?

It’s different for everybody, and that’s the thing. We talked about how different people have different communication styles. Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all. A lot of it is about listening and understanding what the other person is trying to say, what’s their communication style and for you, as an individual, to adapt your communication to suit that. What you’re saying doesn’t fall in deaf ears.

We talked about how some people, myself included, fall into this category of very direct short format bullet point conversations. Whereas others, we find that rude and prefer lots of small talk, less of chit chat, this, that and the other relationship building. You get into the crux of the communications and other people like details, analysis, spreadsheets and comparisons. A lot of it is about learning how the other person works and listening.

What have you learned as you’ve grown in your leadership about how to listen to people?

It’s easier said than done. There’s a few techniques that I’ve learned. One thing that I try to do in a meeting is be the last person to talk. I try to let everybody else get their piece out first. Not only does it make people feel valued, listened to, and heard. It also aids the conversation because if there’s any decisions to be made, you want to have all the information first. That’s one thing that I’ve had to go through, just forcing yourself to have these habits. That’s one of them. Another one is taking a pause like don’t carry your frustrations. Particularly in construction where lots of stuff goes wrong all the time.

Don’t carry the bad energy from one situation to the next. Take a moment, take a breath, and take a pause. They say in construction, “The best choice people are smokers.” Not that I condone smoking, but the guys that go on smoke and have a break. It allows them to use and think things through. I don’t smoke, so I can’t rely on that, but I’ll have the equivalent to before jumping out with whatever.

A little nicotine to calm you down.

A time or a moment or a bubble, I have to think of it.

It’s interesting because as you were saying about the last person to talk, often for people in leadership, they feel like they have to be the first person to talk because that’s their job as a leader. When you’re in a room with some of your guys and gals and they’re looking to you to talk and you’re trying to be the last person to talk. How do you handle that situation?

You got to read the room a bit as well. Sometimes you do need to dig your heels. We’ve got plenty of people that if you let them, they’ll talk all day. You need to use a bit of measure and control with that as well. It’s just gauging people who want to express something. Have expressed it first and understand that. Maybe the last person talking doesn’t mean to sit there in silence, but you can ask probing questions if somebody says something.

Before coming back with your conclusions, you could ask questions about it to try and understand it better. Make sure you understand the situation. It’s not about shutting up and saying nothing. You need to be present to demonstrate that you’re in control, but it’s in concept. It’s more about making sure that everybody feels heard, listened to, and you’ve absorbed the correct information because things can get misunderstood, particularly when you’re in a high-pace environment.

Give us a little bit about your background because you started off as a carpenter in the field and now you own your own construction company. Tell us a little bit about your journey here.

Journey is the word. It certainly has been one, but I’ll give you the short story. Let’s go at 15, which is before you do any serious exams and career advice teacher is supposed to give me an application form for the local supermarket but the printer wasn’t working that day. I didn’t even get that and I was thrust out into the big bad world and landed in construction as many people do. I started off as a laborer. I enjoyed it.

I’ve always thought I had quite clever hands and enjoyed applying that. I liked the environment whereby you had to think things through and be a problem solver. You’re literally building something tangible that people enjoy. I fell in love with it. Taking it from there, I went through my apprenticeship as a joiner. As we would say in Scotland, “There’s a carpenter or a chippie.” My boss at the time was a big believer in giving responsibility and autonomy.

At a very young age, I was left, I don’t know why in hindsight. He trusted me to do it, but I was left to do a site manager job. We’re doing one particular job and the client had a project management firm looking after their interests, big multinational company who at the end of the job said, “Do you want to come work for us?” I did that, got a job with them, did a management program through them and client-side project management. I worked all over. I worked in America, South Asia, the Middle East, Australia, and in New Zealand.

They quite like young people who didn’t have families, had responsibilities, and were quite hungry. You’d just be chucked into an environment. We’re doing £100-million-plus projects, hotels, resorts, and townships. It was, honestly, the best opportunity I could have asked for because you learned so much in a very short space of time. I did that for a few years.

How old were you when you went to work and started traveling around?

I was young, so early twenties. It goes so fast. I must have been 20 or 21 when I started working in that role, then I started Edinburgh Construction when I was 25.

It’s interesting, so you left school at fifteen. I know, for many of the American ears, that may be a little weird. I know that in the United Kingdom, people typically leave school at sixteen. Fifteen is a year early. Why did you leave school? Was it not for you?

It wasn’t for me. I was about to turn sixteen. It was where my birthday landed. It was basically the earliest opportunity you have to leave school. I was out there and it was 2 or 3 months before my 16th birthday. It was coming. For me, I didn’t take school seriously. It was a place to have fun and muck about with your mates then inconvenience more than anything else. I always had it in my mind. I wasn’t the best at taking instructions from people and teachers didn’t see that approach as a healthy one so it was a win-win situation for all those involved that I decided to leave.

What did your parents think about you leaving school at that time?

They weren’t too excited about it to begin with, but my dad did exactly the same thing. At his age, my dad was an engineer at the merchant navy and he started work at sixteen. He couldn’t stop me. I was never good at taking instruction so I was going to do it anyway. They were happy. They went through their periods of thinking, “Oh dear, what’s he going to wind up doing?” As the year went by, they understood that it was for the better. I’d like to think they still think so.

You mentioned a couple of times that you weren’t very good at taking instruction. You go on to a job site when you’re fifteen. It sounds like you got the hang of it pretty quickly and got put in charge of stuff. How did that not taking instruction very well in school carry out over to the job site and as your career began to build? Was it because you were interested in what you’re doing that you were more open to that feedback? What happened there?

I think so. That’s exactly it. I respected the people that were giving me orders in that situation and they were doing things I wanted to learn how to do. For anybody with a trade, they know you don’t learn it overnight. It takes years of practice, learning, and paying attention. I quickly shifted gears because I went from a school environment where I didn’t find anything interesting.

Anybody with a trade knows you don't learn it overnight; it takes years of practice, learning, and paying attention. Click To Tweet

I didn’t care about paying attention to an environment where I thought, “This is cool. I could see myself doing this.” I shifted gear and I basically became a sponge. I shut up, listened, paid attention, and watched not just about how to be on the tools, but how the sites interacted, how the different people communicated with another, how jobs operate, how the materials arrived, and how they’re dealt with and the mythology around managing a site effectively. I said exactly, because I found it interesting, I learned to shop and I figured that, “I’m going to get the best out of this if I pay attention because these guys know a hell of a lot that I could benefit from.”

It’s interesting to think about it as we reflect on our own careers, then perhaps people that we’re working with kids, if we have kids. It’s just that idea of if someone is not showing interest in something or has behavioral issues. It may be because they’re not interested in what they’re doing. If you find out what they’re interested in and put them in that position, then their whole attitude, demeanor, and action all changes right there.

Some of my school teachers wouldn’t have believed how things went if they’d met me after that. School is not for everybody. It’s for certain people but not for everybody.

You reflect on who you were in school at your age. I know what I was like when I was your age. We don’t need to get into the details but to think that I’d be where I am now is something that is amazing if you were to ask my teachers. Again, that happens with a lot of people as people mature.

That’s it. You grow up, don’t you? You get serious about life or you don’t. One or the other.

As you started off in your career, at what point did you begin to think about, “I’d like to start my own business?”

It was a few things. Working in client-side project management was a real eye-opener because I was put in a position where I was lazing with our clients directly. A lot of our clients were developers, very successful, lots of money, and doing all their own things. We’d be running sites whereby the client would turn up in their helicopter or they’re Bentley, spend hours with you over the course of a three-year project. Smile, shake your hand, take some pictures then leave.

I thought, “There’s this whole world out there.” Going back to some of the traits that I talked about, I like autonomy, do my own thing and make my own decisions. I wasn’t the best employee. I still had that bit inside of me that thought, “I know best,” which is arrogance but it was there nonetheless. I always thought there’s a few things that I thought I could not do better but values that I held that I wanted to bring.

I wanted to materialize that and the vision I saw. It was always coming. I found the right time working in the job that I was at. I was getting a lot of experience in a condensed space of time, so I thought I was on a good platform to do something. I went for it and I thought to myself, “If we’re going to do something like this, do it when you’re young because if it all goes wrong, you can recover and you’ve still got plenty of time before you’ve got a family and commitments and all the rest of it.” In my head, it made absolute sense if I was going to have a crap of this, “Get on with it.”

Construction Genius | Charlie Fitzgibbon | Carpenter CEO
Carpenter CEO: If you’re going to do something like this, do it when you’re young because if it all goes wrong, then you can recover and you’ve still got time.


If you think about your timeline, you started working at 15 or 16 and you start your own business when you’re 25. That’s roughly a decade of experience. You see the wisdom. To a certain extent, there’s no going to university because let’s say you did go to college and you’re done by the time you’re 22. You might have a project management degree.

There’s another decade or so before you might have the chops necessary to start your own gig. At that point, you might have the wife and the kids which might hinder you. It’s interesting that you talk about it in that way, while you’re young and when you don’t have responsibilities other than yourself going out there and starting a business.

It made perfect sense to me. Also that experience of starting at the bottom and working way up. You see so much. The university experience or the college experience is fantastic for many people. I’ve now enrolled in university part-time later on in life to fill that education gap. I find so much benefit from being on the tools, shoulder to shoulder with the lads, and doing the job start to finish. Those experiences I believe is what shaped the way that I run the business.

When you started, did you start with your own money or did you get backing from other folks? How did you get going? It was very bootstrapped to begin with through the job that I had because I was traveling a lot. I wasn’t spending any money on anything. I was just getting paid. I did manage to build up a decent amount of savings there. I underestimate how much starting a business cost you. I had a bit of money to start with. I chopped in and we had some early success. One thing that I was doing at the very beginning as well as construction is we were buying flats and flipping them side by side.

We’re able to build up some retail profits quite quickly and I don’t spend a lot of money. I don’t have a materialistic lifestyle. I keep the profits within the business and I use that to grow then that got us so far. In 2019, I started working with a chap that I was introduced to, did a property background. Did a project or two for him. He was a developer of sorts. The relationship grew arms and legs, and at one point I said, “I like what you’re doing. Can I join you?” He came in. He bought into the business essentially.

He brought with him some equity capital. That gave us a new leg up and we were able to get motoring then. That enabled us to again grow profits more and we got access to different funding opportunities through that because we were able to scale it very quickly. Now we’re going through that process again, so we’re looking about bringing another equity partner into the business. We’ve had a few offers over the years, but I’ve pushed it back for the right time. We’re pulling the trigger on that, which again is going to enable us to take that leap forward and scale up.

This is one of the dilemmas that people have in terms of growth and control, as you said, it’s expensive to grow. That may require bringing in outside sources of funding. There’s many different sources and you chose the equity partnership route. The way you’re describing yourself, you’re very independent. I can appreciate that because I share that as well. What process did you go through when you were deciding to take on that partnership in terms of knowing that you would be ceding at least some control or simply because you’re taking other people’s money? How did that work for you?

It was weeks of deliberation in my mind for all the reasons you’ve just said but quite an ambitious chap. I’m quite sensible as well. I like to keep my feet on the ground. I’m a big believer in planning, looking ahead and trying to identify where you want to go and reverse engineering that. I figured I’m not going to get there by myself. It’s that old adage, if you want to go fast, go low. If you want to go far, go with others. I recognized it was a necessary part of the process.

Once I made that decision, it was about finding the right person because it’s like anything. If you’re going to have a significant person in your life, then you need to like them and be comfortable with that. It then became about finding the right person and the chap came in, we got on well, worked well together and complemented each other. He had a lot of experience as well. It’s completely opposite end of the spectrum to me. In his 60s, he’s been running construction and proper development businesses for 40 years.

If you're going to have a significant person or a partner in your life, then you need to like them and be comfortable with them. Click To Tweet

He brought with him not just capital but also experience. He was a good sounding board for me. He doesn’t tell me what to do but he acts as the devil’s advocate. He checks me but if it was somebody that was breathing down my neck or making a decision for me. It wouldn’t work. I needed to make sure I was comfortable with the person in such a way that I could still make decisions and run the business the way that I want to run the business and the way that I envision the business should be ran. I’ve managed to find that. It wasn’t a quick decision in finding the first person to put their hands in the pocket. It was a very deliberate and considered plan.

It’s interesting because you mentioned that this gentleman is older than you and has different experience set than you. That’s one of the challenges that some partnerships have that the partners duplicate each other too much. That leads to conflicts and perhaps, even a lack of appreciation of one another because one partner might say, “Why do I need you? After a period of time, I’m just as good as you at the things that you’re doing.” That can foster some resentment there.

It’s funny to say that because I had the exact same experience. I did make a mistake before were I did go into businesses with somebody who’s very similar to me. We didn’t commit seriously to one another. When I realized it wasn’t working, it was very easy to exit that situation. I tried a business relationship with somebody else, the same attitude as me and same perspective as me. It was a disaster. It was certain. It was, as I said, full transparency. I got to the point where I thought I was doing all the work for half of the interests in the upside.

I thought this is no good. It was also quite dangerous because you’ve got two people that are similar. You can very easily propel down a certain direction without someone to say, “Hold on a second, have you thought about this? Is this the best approach?” I’m a big believer in surrounding yourself with people who’ve got different ideas, different perspectives and different approaches to you because it forces you to think in a holistic way that left to your own devices you might miss entirely.

Construction Genius | Charlie Fitzgibbon | Carpenter CEO
Carpenter CEO: Surround yourself with people who have different ideas, perspectives, and approaches because it forces you to think in a holistic way that, left here on your devices, you might just miss entirely.


That’s interesting to explore. You made a decision to go into partnership after a period of time. You figured out that this was not the right fit. A couple of things, how long did it take you to figure out that it wasn’t the right fit? How long did it take you to do something about it?

I was quite careful in the beginning. I never signed on the dotted line. What we did is we decided to do a few projects together without the commitment of having the business 50/50 and all the rest of it. We were dipping our toes in the water. We did it for two years more because construction projects take time. It’s not like other industries where it’s very direct chain of events to produce a product. Once you start something and you’re committed to finishing it, you’ve got to see that out.

We did a few projects together. Partway through the first few, I realized that it wasn’t going to go anywhere but we had to see through what we’d started. I thought, “I’ll see these projects through to the end then just leave it at that.” We’re still friends. We still chat to each other and all the rest of it. There was no big blow ups. It was all above board and we said, “We tried and it’s not worked out.”

That’s good because sometimes, what happens is people dive in with both feet. They sign on the dotted line and they get married, so to speak, then when the divorce happens, it’s a pain in the neck. Having that trial period is a wise way of going about that.

I was very careful in that respect. I think about things deeply. I was very careful not to throw myself into a situation that I might regret.

Do you ever find yourself overthinking things?

Yes, that’s a common thread with business owners, isn’t it? It’s the laying awake at night, contemplating the day and the decisions that you’ve made. There’s different variants of overthinking. I’m quite a good decision maker. I can make decisions and run with it. In fact, that’s the only way I like to do things because once you’ve made the decisions, in case of execution. You don’t have to debate and deliberate things anymore.

I do think very deeply more in retrospect than before the event. If I’ll make a decision, then all my thinking will be afterward in assessing how did that go was the right decision or what would be different. I’ve had a bad one for lying in bed at night thinking about the week that’s going to past. Could I have done this any different? What if I did that? What if I made this decision?

Do you have a specific decision-making process that you go through?

Not particularly, but if I’m struggling with something, there are a few things. One thing I’ve learned is trust your gut instinct. I know it’s a cliche, but I very rarely regretted a decision that my instinct led me to make. I have regretted situations whereby I’ve felt an intuition, and I’ve gone against it for whatever reason and it’s came back to bite me.

I’ve learned to trust your instincts there for a reason. If I’m struggling to make a decision, there’s that classic one that, not to be flipping about it, but flip a coin and see if you’re disappointed with the answer. Someone told me that quite early on. If you flip a coin and see where it lands on, if your reaction is disappointment, you know what to do.

Trust your instincts: they are there for a reason. Click To Tweet

I try not to let decisions sit for too long. Sometimes, I’ll sleep on something if it’s got a big impact and there are no time constraints. The worst thing to do is not make a decision because then you just spin things out and a situation can get worse. You need to make your mind up and commit to it. That’s better than not doing anything at all.

It’s interesting when you talk about intuition. Can you think of a specific decision you made where you went against your intuition? Why did you do that? Can you remember the why?

I’ll leave the specifics out for reasons. I’ll be clear about it. Taking on certain clients, for example. I’m sure that’s one that many people could relate to. Sometimes, we get asked to tender for a project. We’ll go look at it and we know what space we do well and the areas that we did well and we know the areas that aren’t for us. We know what makes a good client, if that makes sense. That’s a bit of a blunt way of putting it.

It’s not. It’s fine. It’s perfect.

The nightmare clients, the ones that can’t make decisions or the ones that are going to exploit you or squeeze you. There’s been instances where we’ve taken on jobs because the project looks great. The size of the project fits our growth model. It might be a nice big job or something where you can see a lot of margin in or something that plays the skillsets of your team so you know you’ll do well but the client isn’t the right fit. Their personality doesn’t match. You can see some red flags that you think is going to be troublesome.

You do it because the project looks great. There’s not a single time that we’ve done that, but we haven’t regretted it. The other instance I can think of as recruitment. Hiring somebody and their CV looks fantastic. They’ve got all their right experience and all the right qualifications. They say all the right things in the interview but your instinct thinks that maybe the personality might not be a good fit or there’s something about them you can’t quite put your finger on it but you know it might not work. Sure enough, months later, you’re thinking, “Why the hell did we hire this person?” There are two examples that jump to mind.

It’s very interesting because both of those are people examples. On the one hand, you have the right type of project but it’s the wrong client. On the other one, you have the right technical skills but the wrong maybe cultural fit or wrong personality or something’s dodgy about the person.

People’s a tricky thing. If it wasn’t for people, business would be easier, wouldn’t it? Building buildings would be fine. It’s the people that make it interesting.

Whenever I’m talking with my clients in terms of the projects they’re taking on, we’re always talking about right client, project, and location. You’ve got to have at least 2 of those 3 if you’re going to make any money. If you only have one of them, then you better get ready to lose some money and have a lot of pain. It’s interesting just to think about are you clear on when you’re going to walk away and what’s going to cause you to walk away?

We’ve done it. We have walked away from projects. The times we’ve walked away quite simply is when a client starts to either not pay us or make excuses for not paying us. That’s the situation where if that happens, it’s never going to end well. As we all know in the sector, construction projects are incredibly cash intense. It’s all about cashflow. If you run out of cash, then you’re nothing. We walked away from two jobs because the client’s not respected our payment terms.

There have been a few which have been difficult, but we’ve persevered just for the sake of seeing the job through because you don’t want to leave something parked on. You want to see something through and feel proud that you’ve at least delivered the project. We know that whatever we do, we always leave a good job, tidy job, and good quality of work and all the rest of it. Nobody wants to leave something unfinished. If we can, we’ll persevere. You’ve made your bed, so you sleep in and so forth. The one thing that would make us walk away is someone not respecting our payment terms because that’s dangerous territory.

Construction Genius | Charlie Fitzgibbon | Carpenter CEO
Carpenter CEO: The one thing that makes us walk away is someone not respecting our payment terms because that’s dangerous territory.


Let me ask you, go back to the employee’s part. One of the biggest challenges I find with a lot of folks that I work with and these are all successful businesses. They have someone in their organization who’s not a good fit. Usually, it’s not necessarily the technical part of it. It’s the personality or the values. They’re slow to let someone go. I have to say to them sometimes, “If this person is still here six months from now, do I have your permission to yell at you?” It’s a joke but at the same time, I’m trying to make a point. Why do you think people struggle as someone like yourself in an ownership role or a leadership role? Why do they struggle with letting people go?

I’ve been there. I’ve done the exact same thing. It’s tough because for starters, recruitment is time-consuming and I don’t think anybody enjoys it. The thought of having to replace somebody comes with the baggage of, “I’m going to have to put adverts out, interview people and train somebody. I’m going to have to go through 3 to 6 months of them getting up to speed.” Nobody wants to go through that if they can help it.

It’s easy to fall into the trap. You got somebody in your team and there are a few elements that aren’t working. I’ve been naive enough to think that they’ll grow out of it or you’ll train them out of it, or they’ll get up to speed eventually. It’s a matter of time, correct training, correct conversation, and correct discussions they’ll be all right. If it’s a personality thing, you’re never going to change that. That’s there.

I agree with you wholeheartedly that if you know it’s not right, the best thing to do is cut it there and then, but it’s tough. It also has an impact on the rest of the team. If you’ve got someone an important role and in construction, it’s the rules dovetail into each other. You’ve got operations, commercial, finance, sales and marketing, everybody needs the other to succeed in what they do in their role. If you’re going to put a risk factor in there by removing somebody from the team, you worry about the negative impact that’s going to have on the rest of the team plan because suddenly, their workload is going to increase.

Their stress levels are going to increase because there’s an empty desk all of a sudden. Not physically because even if you brought someone in, it’s going to be 3 to 6 months before they’re up to speed and useful. It has such a wide spread of impacts that moving somebody can cause a lot of issues, but it’s important to remember that those issues caused by removing somebody is short-term but the issue of keeping somebody that’s not the right fit is a long-term issue. That’s the way I convince myself. It’s a little bit of short-term pain but it’s for the better good.

The one way you could look at it is that pain is unavoidable. It’s a matter of doing what you can to pick when you’re going to get the pain and how intense the pain is going to be.

We put one day off and get on with it.

One last point on this with the people thing. One of the questions I ask my clients when they’re having a challenge with a person is, I ask them this question. If they walked in and they said to you, “I have another job down the street,” what would you say? What I mean by that is they’re walking in and saying, “I’m resigning. I’m going to another company.” Would you say, “Great, I wish you the best? Or hold on a second, let’s have a conversation and keep you?”

It’s an open door for us. I find that if someone’s came to that conclusion, even if you can convince them to stay, you’re probably kicking the hand down the road because if they’ve got that idea in their head, even if they stay, there’s always going to be in their mind that, “What if the grass is greener? What if I did this? What if I did that?” We’ve got an open door. As long as everything’s been done dynamically, you’ll have our support.

If we get a phone call about a reference, you’ll have an honest and decent reference. We don’t hold anybody back. We don’t cause a scene. We’ve had it where people have left and came back. I’d rather keep the relationship good. Presumably, this is somebody that we respect and all the rest of it and does a good job.

I’d rather keep the relationship than serve it over whatever. I have convinced people to stay before and they leave anyway. It might not be that day. It might be in six months’ time or a year’s time or two years’ time. It’s going to happen. Once that idea is in their head, there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s better to let them do what they need to do. They might come back or they might not, but you’re on solid ground and you know where you stand.

The way that I use that framework though is let’s say you have this guy that you know you should let him go. The person I’m talking to usually say, “If he came in and said I’m going, I’d let him go.” I say, “You understand then what you’re saying about this person. How long are you going to allow them to be in the company with you?”

That’s it. It’s a great decision-maker.

You started your business as a relatively young man. How old were you when you started?


What’s been your biggest challenge from the point when you started the company to now?

There’s no end to challenges. Where did you begin and how long do you have? We just talked about recruitment. That’s a big one. Understanding your place in the sector is a big one. We started to do everything and being the biggest, baddest, and boldest of everything, then you become mediocre at everything. Understanding what you do well is hard.

Let me stop you right there because I do think this is one of the areas where people struggle. I’ve got crews, keep people busy, and I need to find work. How did you figure out, and how are you figuring out the best projects for you, the ones that you can nail and make money on?

We had an idea. For us, it was larger projects of good quality because those two things make sense. I’m a believer of larger projects. It doesn’t matter if it’s £100,000, £1 million, or £10 million or £100 million size of projects. Virtually the same amount of stress and headache in management goes into each of them. I’ve always thought, “Don’t muck about trying to do odds and ends jobs. Get on with it.” I’d rather do fewer larger jobs than multiple smaller jobs.

We understood that. The rest, to be honest, there’s been a little bit of trial and error. Doing stuff, learning from it like, “This isn’t quite for us. We’re doing some B2C stuff at the beginning, so doing primary residence and direct decline. We’ve realized that we prefer B2B, so we’ll work for developers, architects, surveyors, and for corporate clients because it matches our skillsets. We like commercial approaches rather than the romantic sweetening up relationship stuff. It’s not our personality.

We can do that. That’s not to say that we’re graph blunt builders but we prefer to work in the space where there’s clear objectives usually commercially driven. We know where we stand and we can move fast on that. We do better in that environment. That was something that we learned through doing stuff. We did some projects B2C and B2B. We do better at this. We’ve become better off and once you understand that, you can tighten the screws and examine, where we’re making the most margin?

We tend to do a bit better here than we do there. Let’s double down on that space. Again, going back to clients. What are the clients we like to work with? Is it smaller companies or larger corporates? Where do we sit? Understanding that, our clients values and did a match with ours. We had a rough idea to begin with. Mostly, residential-driven as well. Most of our projects are residential, but we do commercial projects.

We want to turn commercial and industrial stuff down but we tend to do more residential probably because they’re doing it. It feels right so you keep doing more of that. The bank balance looks good so you keep the commercial team happy and everybody paid. That’s important because we talked about about the quickest way to screw up. It’s to run out of cash so you need to make sure you’re on top of that and you’re doing projects that serve that purpose.

The quickest way to screw up is to run out of cash. Click To Tweet

Once we learn that, we decide to double down and triple down. Having said that, things have changed a little bit because I’m sure it’s the same where you are. In the UK, the environments change a lot over the past years. Maybe more in the UK where the economy is set. We had some interesting decisions made by our government post-COVID. I won’t get into the politics of it but it’s economy through a bit of a rollercoaster. Interest rates and inflation has shut off.

We’re looking to diversify some of our revenue models a bit more. One thing we’re doing now is we’re getting into public works. Getting onto the frameworks so we can tender for public contracts, which in the past, we looked at and thought, “Either it’s not worth the hassle or there’s not enough margin in it, but the bigger the business gets, the more I appreciate stability and diversification.” Not to have all your eggs in one basket and not to have all your baskets as the big exciting sexy stuff. You’ve got to have a few bread and butter things going on to make sure that if anything happens with your control, you’re stable as you can be so you can weather the storm.

I was chatting with one of my clients who does a lot of commercial work but because of the economy in the sector that he’s in, they’re looking at public works as well at the moment. If you had to start your business all over again knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?

The honest and annoying answer is probably not much because it’s through the mistakes that you learn. Mistakes, if you want to call it that, are maybe a necessary part of the journey. We’ll keep on making them. We’re not afraid of that. If we put that to one side and with the knowledge that we have, similar things we talked about, I’d focus on who I’m recruiting. I have made some mistakes and I’ve recruited people because I like them and they can’t do the job. I’ve recruited people that can do the job but I don’t like them or they don’t gel with the team and neither is a good combination.

Focusing on the vision and getting clear on that, the quicker you understand who you are and what your place is the better then you can smart up your marketing and branding, so you’re putting your best foot forwards into the sector. I’m a big believer in getting yourself in front of as many faces and people as possible because you never know where it might lead and all the rest. The quicker you understand who you are and where you sit in the market, the more capable you are of doing that.

Why are you not afraid to make mistakes?

That’s where you learn. They’re always going to happen. It’s always our control. You don’t want any catastrophes that will sink you or you don’t want anybody to get seriously hurt. Invite them. Every job we do, we have lessons learned. That’s guaranteed. One of the wonderful things about construction is it is a rabbit hole and you never master it. There’s nobody that has ever mastered it because it’s constantly evolving. That’s a given in life.

You’re going to make mistakes and if you accept that, then you can adopt the mentality. Let’s benefit from these things and learn from them. We’ve made mistakes and we’ll make plenty of more but I don’t see that necessarily as a bad thing. That’s the point where we learn, grow and when we can dial the screws in our business and become a better company for it.

What advice would you give to someone who’s been in the business like you were for about a decade and they’re thinking of starting their own company? What’s one thing they should do and one thing they shouldn’t do?

You need to manage your growth and your financial capabilities. If you want to grow fast, then your focus needs to be on cashflow. That’s what we learn very quickly as we’re at a very ambitious growth plan. Day one, I had to be thinking, “How are we going to fund this construction? We’re only paid in the rears and minimum a month.” Some contracts we have under 90-date term, so how are we going to fund that, which is difficult for young construction businesses because the high street banks aren’t interested. This is a high risk sector.

You need to get confident in how you’re going to cashflow and design your growth around that. It’s easy to be naive and to focus is the other thing. It’s okay to pivot and to adapt but don’t get distracted by all the shiny objects and the white noise. Focus and be prepared for some hard work. As anybody knows, it’s long days. Unfortunately, you’re up early and you finish late. You’ve got to be prepared for that and think about how that’s going to impact your life.

You prepared for that, as your home situation is ready for the impact because it’s going to take you on a wild journey. You need to make sure you’re resilient enough and you’ve got your home in order and everything like that or not. As long as your lifestyle matches then back yourself. Trust you as a decision-maker. If you’re second guessing yourself or you’re saying, “I’m not sure about this. I’m not sure about that.” You’re going to get off to so many false starts. If you’re going to do it, get behind yourself and back yourself because nobody else will do it for you. You need to have that confidence in your own abilities first and foremost.

As your business grows and you started off with your bags on as a carpenter, one of the challenges that leaders have is that sometimes they don’t feel like they’re working because they’re thinking they’re in meetings, making decisions, and giving directions but they don’t feel like they’re working. What happens then is they get stuck doing work that other people should be doing in order to make themselves feel better. How do you handle that going from being hands-on to being more hands-off and not micromanaging?

You just need to get real. If somebody’s got to do and it’s got to be you. It’s work. I’ve never touched the tools in years but that’s not what I’m here for. We’ve got guys for that. I remember like at the very beginning where you be in that limbo moment where you’re a bit on the tools and on the phone. I quickly realized that in those circumstances, I was doing a rubbish job at all of all of the above. You’re not productive on site because you’re constantly stopping because your phone’s ringing or you need to send an email or to measure it up.

You’re not doing good days work on the tools and equally, your business is suffering because you’re not giving it your full attention. For me, it was a very unemotional process. If you remove the emotion, you realize if I’m going to do this, this is what I’ve got to do. I then realized that working on the business, taking the meetings, doing all the administrative work, recruitment and hiring people. That’s far more exciting and far more of a day’s graft than being on tools ever is.

Maybe not physically but the mental strength that puts on you, which feels physical is far greater. I sleep quite well at night knowing that I’ve done a fair day’s work because it’s not for the faint heart of the night. I feel it. You need to get on board and forget it. It’s a mentality thing and realize that you are your most valuable asset and where is your time best spent.

You can hire people to be on the tools and do that but your job is to work on the business to grow it, bring the work in, build the relationships with the clients, the stakeholders and design teams and empower your team and provide leadership. That’s what your time is worth. Not being a trace person that you can hire for having any bucks in air and get on with it.

You said something that’s good. That’s not why I’m here. People who are reading, if you catch yourself doing something, whatever it is. You may not be on the tools, but you may be micromanaging a project manager and ask yourself, is that why I’m here? Is that the highest and best use of my time? If you can say no to that, then you know that you need to stop doing that and stay focused on why you are there. That’s excellent. Charlie, I appreciate your time. Let me ask you a big question here. Ten years from now, where do you want your business to be?

I want to be doing more of what we’re doing. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel but I’m unfortunately quite an ambitious chap.

Why do you say unfortunately?

It’s a bit of a curse, isn’t it, because I settled with nothing. You’re constantly pushing yourself. It’s not for the faint heart and it’s a journey. I say that maybe a bit tongue in cheek because I won’t have it any other way but it comes with a cost. If you want to grow a business to scale, it takes a lot of work and a lot of hours. That’s a curse that I live with and I’m happy to live with because I’d be restless and bored otherwise.

When you say you’re ambitious, what are you ambitious for?

Without getting too wishy-washy and hippy-dippy about it, one of the things that drives me is I’m a big believer in, I want to be the best version of me I possibly can. I find that the business arena is the best place to put yourself through the paces. There’s nowhere else in the world that will present the challenges that running and growing a business will. The personal weightlifting that you need to do to keep pace is a tremendous one. That’s why I do it. It’s a blanket statement that covers so many spaces.

The business arena is the best place to put yourself through places. There is nowhere else in the world that will present the challenges that running and growing a business will. Click To Tweet

Growing a business to me is it’s not about having the highest turnover in the UK or being the biggest but it’s about holding our values and seeing how far we can push that. We believe in quality, modern methods construction, proper well-being for our staff and having a good working environment. How far can I push that? That’s what I want to find out. We’re going to take that and deliver value to our sector. I feel good being useful. If we can add value to our sector and add value to our clients, I want to see how far we can take that. For me, that’s fun and that’s exciting.

What I’m curious about the kid who didn’t want to go to school and started working as a carpenter at 15, years later, how did you figure that out? Where did that come from do you think? What you just described because that’s more than, “I want to make money.”

To be honest, a lot of it was in my early part of my career. I worked underneath and was surrounded by some fantastically inspirational people. I had some good bosses that showed me what it means to be a good person. They showed me leadership and inspired me. I thought, “This is a good person. This is something. This is a good role model to aspire toward.” I put a lot of it down to being around inspirational people.

A lot of them were doing big exciting stuff, particularly on the client side of stuff. You’d be interacting and going for lunches with clients who are big business owners and on their A-game in their fields. Not just in work, but in their life. It’s inspirational. You get a taste for how far you can push life and you go, “We’re here anyway. We’re on this planet. You may as well have a crack on it in a spark to be somebody” Maybe at school, I wasn’t getting that same inspiration. I wasn’t being exposed just the excellence of life. I was very fortunate in the early part of my career to be exposed to that.

I appreciate you sharing that, Charlie. That was super helpful. I know you’re in Scotland, in Edinburgh. I’ve been to Edinburgh. I love the castles there. What I’d like you to do, if you can, is give the readers a restaurant recommendation in Edinburgh if they’re ever visiting because I know folks in the States come over to Scotland quite often.

You’re spoiled in Edinburgh, and I’ve got no affiliation. I don’t own any shares in the business. There’s a fantastic Italian place in the new town called Bar Napoli. It’s known but it’s not a top list. If you like Italian food, that’s a go-to. There’s a tiny little Indian place. It’s minuscule. They’ve only got one table in there called the Kasbah in Marchman. It is owned and run by a Pakistani family. The food is gorgeous. When you turn around the street, you can smell it. It’s like the old cartoons where you’re drawn into the smell. Bar Napoli and Kasbah would be my recommendations.

If you want some good food if you’re ever in Edinburgh, we’re going to have those two restaurant recommendations, the Indian and the Italian. That’s awesome. That’s great. I do appreciate your time here, Charlie. Thank you for joining me on the show. I do wish you the best.

Thank you for having me. I enjoyed it.

Thank you for reading my conversation with Charlie. We got those restaurant recommendations in Edinburgh, and I enjoyed that conversation. I love entrepreneurs. I love talking to them about their journey and how they got to where they got to. One thing that I’m taking away from this conversation is you’ve got to do the right types of projects for the right clients in the right locations. You’ve got to be very diligent to manage your cashflow and to build your people.

Do those three things, build the right projects for the right clients, make sure that you’re bringing on the right people into the right positions and manage your cashflow. You’re going to be pretty successful in construction. Easier said than done, I know, but you probably have some insights right away into what you can do to be more effective in your leadership role and to grow your construction business in a profitable way. Thank you for reading. Feel free to share this episode with other people that you think would benefit from it. I’ll catch you on the next one.


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About Charlie Fitzgibbon

Construction Genius | Charlie Fitzgibbon | Carpenter CEOCharlie Fitzgibbon is the founder and managing director of building contractor and property development company, Edinburgh Construction. He founded the company aged 26 after more than a decade working in the construction industry, having left school at 15.
This period included many contracts with construction company Turner & Townsend, where Charlie served as a project management consultant, travelling the world working on large-scale building projects in varied terrain and climates from New Zealand to Sri Lanka.
He later launched Edinburgh Construction, quickly building a team of considerable experience. Today, the company has a multi-million pound turnover.
Charlie sees one of his biggest achievements as guiding his company through the difficulties of Covid and high inflation, which smashed the construction industry, causing significant recruitment and supply chain issues.
He is a well respected industry voice on construction issues facing the UK today, including the complexities of planning regulations, the drive for sustainability in construction, the housing shortage, the changing rental market, and the responsibilities of builders over cladding.