Retirement is not something that 61-year-old Balbir Panesar is contemplating – even though he has made room for more leisure in his life, particularly spending time with his grandson Sachin.
Indeed. as someone who turned a one-man electrical contracting business into an £8 million national operation employing more than 100 people, Balbir – ‘Panny’ to his friends – is contemplating new ventures now that he has handed over day-to-day running of PEC Building Services to his son Sohan.
He’s keeping details close to his chest for the time being but is also determined to continue playing a key role in the business he started in 1977.
Balbir now spends three days a week at the firm’s new London office in Mayfair contacting potential clients in the South East, where the recession in construction is less severe than in these parts.
“My focus now is business development. Opening the London office has been a good move and I expect it to produce new work within a few months. I’ve been heartened that. because of the high-profile clients for which we work, people are happy to talk to me.
“It’s an ideal role, enabling me to combine my love of socialising and meeting people with my commitment to the business. I can make the initial contacts and start off the process and we’ve appointed a new business development director who will pick up the details and pursue potential contracts.
“While PEC is doing well, there’s no doubt things are tough, even though I believe we’re over the worst. You have to take steps such as we’ve done to ensure work continues to come in. The recession has seen firms go to the wall and we took a decision to try and step in and win work where that has happened.”
Balbir, who became the first Asian-born president of Bradford Chamber of Commerce in 2007, is conscious that in building up his business he missed out on spending time with his two children and sacrificed holidays to focus on work.
He is more relaxed now, in the knowledge that the PEC business is in safe hands.
“I started planning five years ago for the time when I would take a step back. I hoped that Sohan would one day succeed me, but it was not a shoe-in. He joined at the bottom after working elsewhere and worked his way up until he became a director. His appointment as managing director was made by other board members and I was not involved.
“I’m pleased with the way things have worked out and believe that the management team I appointed and nurtured is doing a good job. It means that I am free to look at other business opportunities as well as my role at PEC.”
The son of a carpenter who came to the UK in 1963 from India via Tanzania, Balbir was born in Dar es Salaam and arrived in Bradford speaking little English. He picked the language up at Cross Lane Junior School followed by Wyke Manor School.
He left school at 16 and started an electrical installation course at Bradford Technical College in 1967, initially full-time and later on day release for the three years while employed as an apprentice electrician by John Peirson Ltd.
After ten years working for Peirson’s, Balbir felt he had gone as far as he could in the company, and decided to strike out on his own.
PEC Building Services has grown from a one-man band working from a portable building into a leading shopfitting and construction company that refits, refurbishes and builds from scratch throughout the country, with a major client list including Magnet, Homebase, Kwik-Fit and the NHS and local councils.
Balbir retains his commitment to apprentices and this year PEC will recruit eight across several trades – its largest single intake.
“Having personally experienced the value of an apprenticeship I do all I can to promote training. I took on my first apprentice after the first year and PEC now has electricians, plumbers, joiners and decorators going through various stages of training and we take on apprentices every year.”
After moving to offices in Garnett Street, Bradford, in 1996, PEC built its present £2 million headquarters on the Euroway estate in 2003, which enabled the firm to have an in-house manufacturing division.
In addition to leading national names, including most recently Bradford-based Morrisons, for which PEC is working on the creation of the first two of the supermarket’s Kiddicare children’s goods outlets, the company has also expanded into international business, producing and installing display stands for electronics giant Sony, including at the Bayern Munich stadium for the Champions League soccer final.
Balbir has won a string of awards over the years, including an Institute of Directors’ Special Achievement Award, an Association of Colleges National Gold Award and a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Yorkshire Awards.
But he is particularly chuffed with the Telegraph & Argus business personality prize.
“I’m really proud to have been recognised in this way. It is a great honour and I think more of this should go on in Bradford. I would like to thank the T & A for doing a great job recognising success.”
The award reflects the many achievements of this quietly spoken yet determined individual with a droll sense of humour.
“I still enjoy getting up and coming to work, I always have and will continue to do so as long as people feel I’m doing a useful job. There will be more holidays in the sun to make up for lost time, though.”
And indeed, Balbir is on holiday as you read this.