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Apology for Rok ahead of new venture

The former chief executive of failed contractor Rok has apologised for his part in the firm’s demise as he launches a new repair and maintenance vehicle in the private residential sector.

Garvis Snook was speaking to Construction News in his first interview since the collapse of Rok, which had a £700 million turnover.

He said he understood the bitterness that continues in the wake of the company’s demise but insisted his new venture was about helping small companies benefit from his experience.

Mr Snook said: “There are things I would have done differently with the benefit of hindsight and I’m sure that is true of a number of my former colleagues.

“I’m saddened and there will be people who understand both sides and there will be those who feel damaged and hurt by it and feel unable to move on and I’m sorry there is not a lot that I can do to change history.

“Ultimately the business went into administration in the depths of the recession for a whole myriad of reasons which will become clear in the coming years but this is not the first business that failed in the recession and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

“Now I’m trying to use my knowledge and experience to help other businesses move forward.”

Mr Snook said he was still unable to go into the precise reasons why the £700m company was placed in administration as the process is ongoing. But he said he “would love to talk about it” if he could.

“There is clearly speculation and a lot of people have opinions but of course none of those people were actually in the centre of the storm that occurred at that time. Over time, I’m sure it will become much clearer.”

But Mr Snook said some of what Rok achieved was “very good”. He argued this was worth remembering as he attempts to launch his as yet unnamed new venture.

It will take the form of a consortium, initially launching with up to 12 partners coming together around a national brand, 25 per cent of which is owned by the 59-year-old Mr Snook.

Each partner - local trade contractors that between them cover the whole of mainland Britain - buys a stake in the national brand in exchange for minority shareholdings in the lead company (see box).

So far seven firms have signed up with Mr Snook, with a further two “in legal”. They vary in size with the largest turning over around £6m, each focusing on repairs, maintenance and improvement for private residents.

Despite the high-profile collapse of the company he led for more than 10 years, Mr Snook said he has not struggled to sign up new partners.

“With some of them it was simple and with some it wasn’t. There have only been two outright rejections and there have been some I have approached that I then decided the service they were offering was not good enough. It’s been an interesting exercise.

“Clearly there is some pain out there but I have not had a negative reaction from anyone I have approached.” The business will be based on local partners’ knowledge and customer service, complementing it with experience and a national brand.

Unlike at Rok he will have no institutional lenders to satisfy, having ploughed in much of his own capital to launch the venture, together with finance from a handful of private backers.

The consortium will meet regularly to agree strategy, with each owner getting a say. Mr Snook said there “will never be a large central business controlling them”.

He said: “Collectively they will have a majority holding whereas the lead company has minority control. Their percentage is based on the postcode and population areas they service.”

The grim market conditions into which Rok collapsed have largely persisted in the 18 months since its demise but Mr Snook is confident the sector is ripe for growth, arguing people would rather improve than move.

He also plans to target energy efficiency work through the Green Deal programme and exploring the microgeneration market.