“Just 14 years ago I was an electrician on the tools. Now, here I am, running a company and employing 30 people.”
This week, I’d like to talk about Jamie Sanders. He is someone who embodies all the qualities I respect in a leader: ambition, integrity, and determination. He is a true self-made man, and has created a culture of honesty, hard work, and empathy at Leeds-based facilities maintenance firm Barwick.
Jamie didn’t have the easiest start in life but, through hard work and skill, he has built a successful career, recently rising through the ranks to become the boss of Barwick, which boasts some seriously impressive clients, from Pandora to Stonegate to B&Q. Here’s his story.
“I was the middle child in a family of five. We grew up with nothing, living in a council house. I don’t remember having aspirations back then. No one in the family had ever been to university. I came out of school with poor results, but I wanted to earn so decided to work on site. When I found out that the highest paid trade was an electrician, that’s what I decided to become.
“I was 19 when my first child was born. I was an apprentice, on minimum wage. Then my second daughter was born 18 months later. Becoming a father gave me the drive to better myself, and really knuckle down.
“In the third year of my apprenticeship, the company I was working for went bust. Luckily, the boss there was great friends with Dave Costello, the founder of Barwick, so I got a job there. There was no interview. I just left my old company on the Friday and started at Barwick on the Monday. When I came out of my time, I was soon running teams of eight electricians, helping on major fitouts for the likes of Comet.
“I was there for seven years when I decided to set up my own company. Things went well for a while. I had my own team and was building up a client base. Then an unscrupulous customer failed to pay me £20,000, leaving me and my business high and dry.
“In 2010 I spoke to Dave at Barwick, and he offered me a job as an engineer. Six months later, he offered me the contracts manager position. He told me then that he had always hoped I would take over the business and, today, I am the boss and retain the majority shareholding.
“When I rejoined the business in 2010, all the jobs were handwritten in a book, and highlighted in green or red if they were complete. It was horrendous. I implemented Excel but soon we were juggling four spreadsheets. It was a real struggle to stay on top of everything. When I saw the BigChange platform, I was blown away.
“We started using BigChange in 2021 and now we use almost every feature. It’s got everything we need in one place. Now that we have automated so many processes, I have more time to work on my strategy for the business. Historically, we have always been reactive, and it’s been hard to plan, and we were always chasing cashflow. Now, I have more control over how I want to grow.
“When it comes to being a leader, I’ve had no formal training. I have figured things out on my own and I’m always trying to improve and learn better ways of doing things. I like to support my team, and to give people a chance. I have often taken individuals on when they are going through a bad time. I have had tough times in my life and know the impact that a little financial help – even just a small loan – and emotional support can have.
“I’m glad that I had the experience of starting my own business – I learned some important lessons during those years. It was an itch I needed to scratch. And I’m incredibly grateful to my wife, Malisa, who has been by my side for 27 years now.
“I am really looking forward to all we can achieve with Barwick. We have the right people and technology in place, and I’m confident we have a great future ahead.”