John Wood, founder of Gateshead based construction company Tolent, announced in January that he will retire following the completion of the company’s current project at the Vaux site in Sunderland.
Wood, a civil engineer who founded Tolent in 1983 after leaving his position as contracts manager at Balfour Beatty, said: “I started with two joiners, four general operatives and me and sort of built it up from there. It was difficult in the beginning, but you’ve just got to be bold and nip your nose and jump off the plank.”
He continued: “We ended up doing a lot of little jobs really, the first year. We only turned over around £330,000 in the first year, then in the second year we managed to do a million.”
Wood picked out gaining a contract from Nissan, when the Japanese car company was first establishing its factory in Sunderland, as a watershed moment for Tolent: “We got a chance to do some work for the company who supply the seats there, working with the Japanese contractor Kojima. A few months went past and we got an invitation, believe it or not, to say would we be interested in building a new Japanese embassy in Picadilly in London.”
Tolent did encounter some hurdles in its growth, notably during an attempted expansion to Germany in the early 1990s: “We went to Berlin and that was an absolute unmitigated disaster. We nearly went bust.”
Wood acknowledged that he is pleased to see how far his business has come, but added: “it’s just like the football league, you’re only as good as your last game.”
Jonathan Walker, assistant director of policy, North East England Chamber of Commerce said: “John Wood’s business is a fantastic example of North East tenacity. To build a successful construction company over the substantial amount of time Tolent has operated is a great achievement given the challenges in the economic climate over the past two decades.
He continued: “His business has been part of substantial construction developments in the region and UK as a whole, including the current Beam project on the former Vaux site in Sunderland.”