Stephen Martin takes on the challenges of his new DG role

Stephen Martin on a construction site

As Stephen Martin takes up his post on 1 February, he discusses the tough transition from chief executive of construction firm Clugston to director general of the IoD in his first column for Director magazine

The outlines of the UK government’s plan for Brexit are slowly becoming clearer. The prime minister has said she will be taking us out of the single market, aiming instead to sign a “comprehensive, bold and ambitious” free-trade agreement with the EU. She has set out her stall, now we wait for negotiations to begin in March.

This makes it a testing, but also a very exciting time to pick up the baton as the new director general of the IoD. As members will know, a career in business often means taking on new challenges that disrupt your work or personal life. I write this surrounded by half-unpacked boxes in my new home outside London, having just moved down from Scunthorpe, where I spent the last decade as chief executive of the Clugston group, one of Britain’s largest family-owned construction and engineering firms.

I had a fantastic time at Clugston, and was lucky to work for a company which focused on the long term. I joined during the recession, which had been particularly hard for the construction industry, but the chair, John Clugston, and board were committed to ensuring the company not only survived, but came out stronger. Clugston was not the only company like this, of course. We heard plenty about the banks that had to be bailed out by the taxpayer during the financial crisis, but less about the legions of SMEs – many of them run by you, the IoD members – who struggled as credit and orders dried up.

You were the ones who rebuilt the economy over the last few years, getting us to the point where the UK was the fastest-growing advanced economy last year, with employment at a record high. The story of UK business since 2008 has been one of remarkable resilience. 

This means that, although there is understandable nervousness about what Brexit might mean in terms of tariffs or restrictions on getting the skilled workers you need, I know that your overriding impulse will always be to find the upside. The IoD will be here to inform and guide you, providing the support you need to function as a professional leader, as well as pushing your priorities for Brexit with the government.

The uncertainty will become a problem only if it deflects firms from their long-term plans. Ultimately, the whole country needs business leaders to be bold, especially if we are to deliver on the promise of new markets outside of the EU. 2017 is a new year, and a new start for all of us. Let’s seize this moment.

It was great to meet…

Lisa Stokes, as mentioned by Stephen MartinLisa Brown

founder, The Luxury Spa Edit

Having spent my career running construction and engineering businesses, I can’t say I have ever had my make-up done! But I was assured this is procedure for last month’s Director magazine cover shoot. The task of powdering my nose was down to celebrity make-up artist (and IoD Kent member) Lisa Brown who, as she was sorting out my hard-hat hair, told me about her luxury spa start-up. It took her two years of hard graft to work on the site – while keeping the day job – and the IoD played its part. She made great use of the Information and Advisory Service: our researchers helped her with industry trends and competitive insight to refine her business model and she used sessions with our legal advisers to draw up contracts for partners and create the wording for her T&Cs. I wish her every success.

This month I will be…

Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss

Now that my new job has made me a commuter, I’m looking forward to working through my bookshelf and this is first on the list. Ferriss conducted more than 100 interviews with a wide range of highly successful people, from award-winning actors to billionaire entrepreneurs and brings lessons from these conversations into one tome.

Bruce Springsteen, as mentioned by Stephen MartinListening to…
Bruce Springsteen’s Desert Island Discs

I’ve been a lifelong fan of The Boss and to hear him opening up to Kirsty Young about his depression was very moving. I hope that hearing the show encourages more people to be comfortable talking about mental health.


David Hockney, as mentioned by Stephen MartinVisiting…
David Hockney exhibition at Tate Britain

A fantastic artist and proud Yorkshireman. I love all his recent iPad art as well as his older work. This exhibition, which opens this month, is one of the biggest retrospectives ever curated by the Tate.


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About author

Stephen Martin

Stephen Martin

Stephen Martin is director general of the IoD. Prior to joining the IoD in February 2017, Martin was chief executive of Clugston Group, a role he held from 2006. While running the construction company, Martin appeared in Channel Four's Undercover Boss, assuming a new identity to go incognito in the business. Martin's career has also included roles at Westinghouse Security Systems, Amey Rail and twchief executive of Barhale Construction. He was made a fellow of the IoD in 2011. To read Director's exclusive first interview with Stephen Martin click the globe icon below.

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