The past three decades have seen the AKD family expand and prosper – and founder Keith Miller and managing director Keith Groom are now looking forward to an even brighter future
Every anniversary is worth celebrating, but reaching your 30th is extra special. Just ask the team at Edinburgh-based Member company AKD, who hit that milestone in March.
“It’s fantastic,” said Keith Miller, who founded AKD back in 1989. “There have been ups and downs along the way, but we’re really proud of how the company has grown and prospered.”
From modest beginnings AKD has become a major force in Scotland’s electrical industry with customers across the UK.
The firm’s origins lie in Keith’s own computing background. He set up AKD all those years ago when he noticed increasing demand for computer cabling. “It was a burgeoning market and each manufacturer had its own system,” he said. “So if you were operating an IBM system you had IBM cabling, and if you had an ICL system you used ICL cabling and so on.
“There was a major development when AT&T produced the premises distribution system (PDS), the first structured cabling system. That helped bring uniformity. Meanwhile, companies were installing small networks, so we were also doing ethernet cabling.”
Of course, AKD had to employ electricians to install the cabling. As the firm’s workload increased, clients began to ask if it could undertake electrical work to support those cabling systems. Gradually, the nature of its projects changed to the extent that cabling is just one small part of the wider electrical work AKD carries out.
Now based in purpose-built premises in Danderhall, near Edinburgh, the company’s first location was in more humble surroundings; St Mary’s Workshops in Leith, a former primary school. “We were there for around five years before we ran out of space and moved to Peffer Place in south Edinburgh,” said Keith. “Thirteen years ago we needed yet more room, so we upped sticks again to our current base in Danderhall. And we’ve since added our other locations in Glasgow and Crewe.”
Like many firms, AKD faced a struggle in its early days. That wasn’t helped when, a year after it was set up, the UK was hit by recession. Keith noted: “The big plans we had were put on hold. But every firm has highs and lows and we’ve faced other challenges over the years.”
The first important breakthrough came when the company secured a major customer Keith had been chasing for some time. He revealed: “They were a large distribution firm with approximately 96 sites across the UK, and we had to convince them that AKD could do the work they needed done. Luckily, we eventually won them over and they became a source of regular work for a number of years.”
After successfully establishing itself there was a significant development six years into AKD’s story when the current managing director, Keith Groom, joined as an electrician. In fact, he joined at the second time of asking, revealing: “I knew Keith M’s right hand man and was offered the chance to speak with the firm. At the time I was quite happy where I was. However, around six months later I was asked again and this time I decided to have a chat. I was told how the company wanted to develop and where they saw me fitting in. I didn’t think twice and joined within a week.”
Although he came on board to carry out electrical work, ‘Keith G’ soon made his mark in other ways, by being proactive in expanding the work AKD was carrying out for two national companies. His progression was swift. First, he was appointed contracts manager, then operations manager. And, after joining the board in 2003, he was made managing director in June 2017.
Keith Miller’s founding ethos for the company was based on the belief that success depends on having happy people. He wanted it to be a place where people want to come to work and he worked hard to create the idea of the ‘AKD family’.
In turn, Keith Groom – who shares his namesake’s passion for Hibernian FC – has followed that example. He said: “I’ve always been keen to make sure the company remains approachable and friendly. We like to think our people can come and speak to us about any topic. And no one gets shot down when they put forward a suggestion. In fact, some of the ideas suggested by electricians and others through the years have saved us money and generated new business.”
No firm’s progress can be measured in straight lines. That’s as true of AKD as anyone else. Another of its great leaps forward came when long-standing client, Dulux Decorators Centres, mentioned its concern about the
carbon footprint generated by AKD staff travelling to service its sites.
Keith Groom said: “I suggested we open a base near their head office in Manchester and employ local people. That received a big thumbs up and our Crewe office was established with Damian Parkin at the helm.”
Damian’s recruitment shows how AKD has managed to attract exactly the people it needs to take the company forward. “When we were opening at Crewe we had several candidates that we eventually whittled down to two – neither of whom were Damian,” explained Keith Groom. “I was subsequently on business in Birmingham when my phone rang. It was Damian; he’d spotted our ad and asked if we’d concluded our interviews. I told him, ‘Yes, but we’ve not made a final decision.’ He replied, ‘You still have to meet me’.”
The pair agreed to conduct an interview – at Sandbach Services on the M6. “Notably, he had the determination and initiative to phone the office and get my mobile number,” said Keith. The motorway meeting went well and Damian impressed again at final interview in Edinburgh. Now, ten years later, they have no doubt they made the right choice. Damian has made a significant contribution to AKD and become a director of the firm.
As well as having the right people AKD’s success is founded on its approach to projects. “We’re competitive when it comes to tenders and we are very careful about the contractors that we work with,” said Keith Groom.
“The secret is in forming positive relationships, adding value and giving clients the help they need. Many end clients don’t have staff to manage projects and fully understand the scope of a major electrical project. We use our experience and expertise to future proof their business so they can expand or contract efficiently and effectively.
“That approach has tangible results. Among other achievements AKD has enjoyed long-lasting relationships and become preferred supplier for a number of national companies. Often, once we’ve completed a project, the end client will come to us directly for future work, with the approval of the main contractor.”
The net result is that the firm is in a very good place as it celebrates its 30th anniversary. Keith Miller noted: “Having opened our Glasgow office just over two years ago, with commercial manager Barry Hunter overseeing things, we have three thriving locations. We’re always on the lookout for new work of course,
and our future will be dictated by the market. We’ve reached a ‘sweet spot’ where we have 55 staff and a £5 million turnover, as well as the necessary flexibility to react to market conditions. We’re proud of the support network we’ve built for our clients, and we’re in command of where we want to be.”
Looking more widely, Keith Groom said he’d noticed a sector trend that could best be described as ‘a race to the bottom’, with a high number of projects focusing on cheapest price above all else. “That’s not our approach – we complete projects within budget, but we also put the emphasis on high quality. We’re determined to maintain the best possible standards.”
Having had roles at SELECT, Keith added that he’s hoping the UK Government will take steps to support the industry in the years ahead. He said: “Specifically, I’d love to see movement on items such as payment terms, where SMEs often struggle to get paid in good time for the work that they do.
“People in our position will always say that cash flow is the one thing that you can’t predict – but you do know exactly when wages and salaries have to go out and when bills, including tax, have to be paid. We need government action that will give a little more cash flow certainty to businesses like ours.
“We’re also backing SELECT’s efforts to get protected title for electricians. The key is to make sure it’s well policed, if and when it’s granted.”
With its roots in computing, AKD is well prepared for future changes in technology. It is already an Office for Low Emission Vehicles approved installer and has recently made the decision to install an electrical vehicle charger at its Edinburgh office.
Reaching the 30th anniversary inevitably prompts thoughts about the future as well as the past. For Keith Miller, there’s the realisation that retirement is on the horizon. “There are no specific plans right now,” he
said, “but I suspect it won’t be far off.” Whenever he decides to go, his colleagues know that he’ll always be on hand to give guidance and advice if it’s needed. And, of course, he’ll always be known as the founder of AKD.
Meanwhile, although Keith Groom reached his own personal milestone on 16 May, reaching 50, he’s looking forward to taking AKD forward. “The most important thing is that we remain strong and create a good legacy for Keith,” he said. “The future is exciting and it’s important to ensure we enjoy, and rise to, the challenge.”
The AKD name revealed!
If you’ve ever wondered about the meaning of the initials ‘AKD’, Keith Miller has revealed the truth – it doesn’t stand for anything! He said: “When the firm started we had to quickly come up with a name so we simply mixed up the initials of me and my business partner at the time.”