Strong foundations

A versatile and trusted construction specialist, Athena Civil Engineering’s focus on building long-lasting relationships has led it to become one of Yorkshire’s fastest growing companies

For almost ten years, Athena Civil Engineering has been providing its diverse range of services to Yorkshire and the rest of the UK. Based in Leeds, Athena is a full-cycle construction company, with the ability to take a project from the design phase, through to commission. Despite enjoying sustained growth over the last decade, Athena has never lost sight of its honest, uncomplicated, founding values. Today, as strongly as the day the company was established, Athena vows to deliver all its civil engineering products safely, on time, on budget, and to the highest possible standard.

Looking back on 2019, it is clear to see that the company’s approach to business is still proving fruitful. “We finished 2019 with a turnover of £37 million and a big market share,” Managing Director Jonathan Hotham states. “Mainly we’re delivering that through Yorkshire itself, so it shows what kind of concentration of work we’ve got.”

A Yorkshire company from its inception, Athena has played a key role in bringing employment and investment to the region. Its efforts were recently recognised when it was named on the Yorkshire Fastest 50 for 2020, a list of the county’s best performing, fastest growing businesses.

When asked how the company has managed to achieve so much in a relatively short period of time, Jonathan insists the growth has been natural. “We haven’t done anything really aggressive, no big external borrowing or anything like that,” he says. “It’s all come through retained profits. What the company sells, we put back in. Of course, we structure our overheads accordingly. We recently streamlined the operation a bit so that now we have a plant department, a buying department and a haulage department, and that way we know we’re never going to be hung out to dry. As far as investment goes though, we haven’t taken any large sums of money out of the company, and instead, we just keep reinvesting to supplement our growth.”

New technologies
A large portion of the reinvestment Jonathan alludes to has recently been directed towards purchasing new plant. This means that, alongside the company’s fully accredited workforce and management team (including SSTS, SMSTS and NEBOSH certified personnel), Athena boasts a state-of-the-art fleet of plant, including excavators ranging from 1.5 tonnes to 38 tonnes.

“We’ve invested in a lot of new plant, machine control, and GPS systems,” Jonathan reports. “We are fully behind these new technologies and we are always trying to utilise the increased efficiency of modern plant. For example, now we’re finding these T4 and T5 engines where you’ve got reduced emissions and better efficiency in the fuel consumption. It all adds up and gives us a bit of an advantage in the market.”

there is one defining factor in Athena’s success, one thing that sets the organisation apart from its competitors, Jonathan suggests that it lies in the way the company builds relationships. “Our client base is mostly repeat customers. We’ve got relationships that have been built over many years. I think that makes a big difference,” he asserts.

“Our goal has always been to develop relationships and to stay close to clients with whom we’ve built a relationship of trust. Sometimes people move to different companies and we can offer them the same package. The way we operate with suppliers is similar – we’ve always been good payers to them and as a result, we work on improved terms. It’s a long-term strategy that helps us grow in a more organic way than just picking up as much work as we can and seeing what makes the most money.”

Returning customers
The diversity of Athena’s skillset, and the wide variety of services the company can offer, has enabled the business to branch out into different markets when the demand arises. “We’re a multi-faceted company,” Jonathan maintains. “We’ve diversified because of financial factors, pulling away from commercial, industrial builds, where clients aren’t looking for repeat business. Due to the make-up of the housing market, people actually want to build a relationship.”

With a customer base consisting largely of blue-chip organisations, Athena’s return clients include a number of national and multinational developers. “Most of our work is in the restaurant or housing sector,” Jonathan points out. “We’ve worked with companies like Barratt Homes on multiple occasions and we’ve done a lot of housing schemes. It’s a rewarding model because the long-term repeat business we’ve had from these clients means that they’ve grown with us.”

Leading reputation
One of the more unusual projects upon which Athena has worked is the construction of the Kirkthorpe Weir Hydropower Scheme. As a company that prioritises sustainable practices and is committed to the prevention of pollution, Jonathan and the team were proud to be associated with the project. Working alongside Eric Wright, the £5.3 million scheme was completed in 2016. The largest low-head river hydro plant ever built in Yorkshire, it uses the flow of the River Calder to generate 2.3 million units of carbon-free electricity a year.

Projects such as Kirkthorpe have helped to forge Athena’s industry-leading reputation, and the relationships the company has established in the housing sector have proved increasingly beneficial in recent times. “Last year, in 2019, there was still some uncertainty in the market after the worry about Brexit and that kept things a little contained, but we still had repeat customers who pushed for expansion,” Jonathan explains. “People’s confidence in larger projects seemed to increase. The same clients who were doing 50 house sites were suddenly doing 100, 150, or even 200 houses.”

The upturn in business is certainly a positive sign for the company as it heads into what could be a challenging second half of 2020 for the industry. Understandably, Jonathan stresses the importance of remaining level-headed in the face of what lies ahead. “Sustainable growth is the target,” he says. “We want to maintain a model that is profitable. It might be the wrong time to talk about it, with all the factors currently affecting the market, but eventually we want to branch out into other sectors and see what becomes profitable. Come what may, we will be focusing on maintaining our market share, building our customer base, and looking after our existing, long-term clients.”

Athena Civil Engineering
Services: Road and sewer construction, groundworks and civil engineering