Alan Pither left school at 15 with no O-levels and a love of gambling. By 20 he had six racehorses at Epsom, having made his money in the construction industry as a self-employed contractor. For the next few years he developed a pattern of working for six months and then partying for the rest of the year in destinations as varied as Marbella and Miami. But, at 24, he decided to ‘get serious about life’. ‘I went in one Saturday morning and gave all my racehorses to my trainer,’ says Pither, now 46. ‘I had wasted an awful lot of money and had a lot of fun. But that bit of my life was over.’ The next chapter of Pither’s life was Packman Contracts, founded in 1984 to supply and install ceilings, partitions and raised floors in offices and banks. Packman built up a reputation for itself in the London area and then expanded to Manchester and Scotland. The company recently won contracts worth £7m and £10m to fit out new headquarters for HSBC and Citibank at Canary Wharf in London’s Docklands. Such high-value projects have driven up the company’s sales by 201% a year, from £440,000 in 1996 to £12m in 1999. Pither’s achievement is much greater than this because he has founded a series of other companies in related disciplines, from carpentry to joinery. He is amalgamating these into a group, whose combined turnover he judges to be more than £50m. Pither attributes his success to an ability to build long-term relationships with clients, many of whom have been with the company for 15 years. He has focused on streamlining bidding procedures for new work, now that tenders have to be made for almost all jobs, even repeat business. Packman produces high-quality presentations packed with all the information a client needs, a service that has won the company business from firms such as Credit Suisse First Boston and Morgan Stanley Dean Witter. Finally, he always makes sure top managers are on site, rather than being ‘parachuted in’ when there is a crisis. Packman recently launched a joint venture with the German company Lindner, one of the largest interior construction firms in Europe. Planning a move into Britain, Lindner approached Packman, and the newly formed Lindner Packman will focus on large projects such as refitting shopping centres and airports. Packman Contracts is very much a family business, with Pither’s wife, two brothers, son and daughter all working for the firm. Pither plans to retire at 50 and now lives on the Thames in the village of Bray near Windsor. ‘I still take a boat up river for the horse racing now and again,’ he says. ‘But sometimes I’ll come away without even having a bet.’
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