Building Products speaks to Paul Lake – Managing Director, Saint Gobain Weber UK

Empty wooden floor deck at vacation home. 3d illustration of contemporary holiday villa exterior.

Paul Lake was recently named as the new managing director at Saint-Gobain Weber UK. In this regular Building Products feature – we talk to Paul about his plans in the new role and get his views on the current issues and trends shaping the construction sector.

Can you tell us more about your background?

I am Saint-Gobain through and through, with a passion for the high performance building products we create, promote, sell and see all around us. I started my career with the Saint-Gobain Group in 2001 at Saint-Gobain Ecophon as an area sales manager covering South West England. I held several senior roles before becoming MD in 2012. I then became managing director of Saint-Gobain’s ceilings businesses in the UK, Ireland, Benelux and South Africa.

Before joining Saint-Gobain Weber, I was sales director for British Gypsum for just over two years. As you can see from my history, Saint-Gobain really does support, encourage and equip those who want to stretch themselves and develop within the business.

What are your plans for your new role?

My first priority is keeping the whole team safe and ensuring their wellbeing. Everyone’s facing slightly different experiences throughout this pandemic. Last year, when I first joined Weber, we had colleagues coming back from furlough, but there were also colleagues who had worked throughout and had been doing so under very challenging circumstances. I am mindful not just of their physical health but also the team’s mental wellbeing. As a business, we are committed to creating a safe and supportive environment so everyone can thrive and perform at their best. I want our company vision ‘we care’ to really resonate and be felt by all our colleagues and our customers.

Next on my priorities is putting all our energy and resources into enhancing customer satisfaction, ensuring we continue to delight and be considered a truly trusted partner. Our customers are themselves facing all sorts of challenges as we move further forward into this New Year. I’m a strong advocate of putting yourself in your customer’s shoes; seeing everything from their perspective.

We need to truly understand our customers’ biggest challenges, add value with every interaction and work with them to find the most effective solutions. If it is important to our customer, it is important to us.

As I said, the vision at Weber is ‘we care’ and the team here live and breathe this. It means caring about people and the places they care about, and it applies as much to our colleagues as it does to our customers. There is also a clear line of sight between Weber’s vision and the purpose of our parent company Saint-Gobain: “Making the world a better home”.

I’m also focusing on growing the business, maximising all opportunities in an ever-evolving market place. Weber has a very diverse range of products and systems, and we want to continue to improve our offering through development of new solutions. We are constantly striving to enhance our knowledge and expertise across our many market segments, to enable us to offer the best possible support and advice to our customers.

What do you feel are the main issues facing the construction sector now?

As we adapt to the new realities of supply chain management post-Brexit, I think one of the most important issues is around ensuring the safe, sustainable and steady supply of building products to the many stakeholders who are working tirelessly to keep construction going.

Technical competence and addressing the industry’s shortage of skilled workers are also major themes, not just for this year but most likely for several years to come.

The Saint-Gobain Group was founded in France and operates globally – what is your take on Brexit and future opportunities?

The UK construction industry has seen lots of change over the past year. As it was impossible to predict the effects of COVID-19, it is equally as difficult to say how Brexit will impact construction over the long-term. Obviously, there are uncertain times ahead. But for me and the wider Weber executive team, we’re preparing the business for what we’ve all come to know as the ‘new normal’. Although we operate globally, Weber UK products are actually manufactured here in the UK. We have three plants, with a high percentage of materials coming from local sources, which helps to ensure that products are produced close to the markets they supply, and that product quality is maintained throughout.

Yes, things are different. But this also presents us with huge opportunities and new avenues to explore: our interaction with our customers; driving further efficiencies into our manufacturing processes; further enhancing the technical knowledge of our team; and developing exciting new products and systems to help our customers achieve all of their desired outcomes. We’ve shown how agile we can be over the last year in the way we have adapted to new ways of working and living. I want the team at Weber to evolve constantly, adapting to the changes we see in front of us. We must continue to act as entrepreneurs without fear of failure, learning quickly and adapting at pace.

Regarding skills – what are the challenges you face in recruiting the talent you need?

This industry has been discussing the impending ‘skills crisis’ for decades. It’s not just related to Brexit, but it could potentially intensify the problem as there are estimated to be more than 100,000 skilled workers in construction who have come from the EU that we risk losing.

This doesn’t necessarily impact on us, but it does impact on our customers. That’s why Weber is so committed to upskilling the industry through our Training Academy. We are also firm supporters of new initiatives like the Construction Leadership Council’s Construction Talent Retention Scheme, which is helping to connect employers with candidates – from apprentices to highly experienced managers – through to a free-to-use, government-backed portal.

How is tech and innovation improving the sector in your opinion?

The construction sector is a fascinating place to be right now, as it is going through nothing short of a technological and digital revolution. One of the areas that excites me most is around modern methods of construction (MMC) – Weber has entered that market with its new weberwall brick product which is a real game changer. It’s a lightweight brick effect product supplied on mesh sheets, in a range of highly realistic brick finishes. As a UK factory-manufactured product that falls into category six of the Government’s MMC definition framework, it is particularly suitable for applications where a housebuilder needs to achieve a high quality brick effect finish, without having to use specialist trades on site.

Innovation also comes from small, incremental changes that have a big impact for customers. Our R&D team is constantly working on new products to respond to these market needs or those they don’t yet realise they need. So, for example, Weber developed webercem spray RSF to respond to the health and safety concerns from specialist contractors. They often have to put themselves in a high-risk environment to complete projects, such as structural repairs to tidal defences, so wanted a product that would help to reduce time on site. We listened, acted and can now confidently offer this to the market.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I believe in authenticity, honesty and consistency. I value those qualities in my team. I want to be known as someone who is approachable, creating high challenge, high support environments. My preference is to create a workplace where the team is enthusiastic about solving problems because they know they are empowered to do so, in a safe, supportive culture. I also encourage life-long learning and curiosity, and not just about work. I’m a big advocate of audible learning and recently listened to Brian Tracy’s ‘Eat That Frog’, which is all about the notion that we are all very busy and can’t do everything, so get certain tasks done first. It helps to focus the mind and helps to stop procrastination.