Ron Storer has served the FMB for the past two years as its National President. As he makes way for the Incoming President, Derek Bostock, Master Builder’s Nicky Rogers spoke to him about his term in office and his hopes for the future of the FMB and its members.
Ron followed his brother into the construction industry as an apprentice bricklayer in 1960. Ron said: “What was beneficial about my long apprenticeship is that I learned a trade thoroughly and got paid for it. In my final two years as an apprentice my employer was getting good work out of me at a lower rate that he would have to pay a qualified tradesman. For apprentice and employer it was a win/win situation!
“If we can get more work ahead of us we can employ more apprentices. We don’t want to get into the situation where employers take on apprentices and then six months later have to let them go because work has dried up, often displaced apprentices can’t find a new position so we lose them altogether. We need social housing and we need government support to get things moving again.
“It’s difficult to know what will happen to our members. I was talking to someone recently who set up a construction business in Liverpool in 2001 and so this last recession is the first time they’ve struggled to find work. They have known very good times and they haven’t had to search for work. Older guys have been through this before and know how to tighten their belts and sell their skills and services. Younger members will have to learn how to do that. Doing the actual building work is fine, but running a company through a recession is hard.”
Nicky asked Ron if he is sorry to be standing down, He said: “Yes and no. It’s been a great honour and privilege to be National President. It’s a lot of hard work and your home-based social life more or less goes for two years so it will be nice to get our friends back again. But there is no doubt that Jean and I will miss it.
“The last two years has been a commitment I have put everything into. Looking back, it might be that we have tried to do a little bit too much – if we are invited anywhere we generally like to attend, we have travelled the length and breadth of the UK. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed going to Branch functions because I meet FMB members and they are the most important people. They often say: “Because you are in Master Builder magazine so often we feel we know you.” And that’s what it’s all about. When this two years is over we will miss it terribly - all we have tried to do is to be ourselves and to remember that we are representing the FMB and it’s been fantastic experience. I couldn’t have done it without Jean’s support.
“There have been ups and downs – mainly due to the recession. Because I have been through it before, I know members are suffering as the banks have been difficult. I know what it’s like when the manager rings you up and asks when you are going to pay some cash in. I haven’t been able to do a great deal about it for members and it’s very easy to say ‘Oh I know it’s bad out there’ but I have actually lived through this before as a builder so I do know. And I survived. So in a way I hope I’ve been a positive role model for members. I still think it’s a great industry and I’m proud to have done 50 years now.”
Ron and his brother Bob joined the FMB in 1969, and Ron became a committee member almost straight away. Nicky asked Ron to explain and he said: “If you go back 40 years there was no Internet – if you wanted information you contacted your branch to get it.” In 1976 Ron became Chairman of the Wirral Branch. It was because his brother Bob was in the business as well that Ron was able to devote so much time to the FMB. “For most people in business it is hard is to be away from work for a day here and there – but if you’ve got a partner who is as equally interested and understands the benefits of membership, it allows you to go and do it while he runs the business. Without Bob, I couldn’t have done it – no question.”
Nicky had to ask Ron if there was anything he regretted about his Presidency, he said: “My biggest regret and greatest sorrow was the economy and I couldn’t do a lot about that, but more than that, my region in the North West used to be closely related to Northern Ireland – in fact it used to be classed as one region and when I became National President I promised to hold our National Conference in Belfast and I was sad that I couldn’t fulfill that pledge. In any other economic climate it would have been fine, but we took the only decision that was right and that was not to hold a National Conference last year.” The other great regret is that my brother who joined the FMB with me and allowed me to climb the FMB ladder didn’t see me get to the top. I can thank as many people as I want, but none of this would have happened without Bob.”
THE ADVENTURES OF THE NATIONAL PRESIDENT
Ron said: “My time as National President has been fantastic. In October 2009 we were invited by Northern Counties Regional Director, Barry Oliver to the Sunderland Branch dinner in January 2010 where I was to present an Illuminated Address to Barry Robinson, the Branch Secretary who had served the branch for 36 years. I accepted the invitation but we didn’t account for the weather…
“When we were due to go we were snowed in and all advice on the TV and radio was not to venture out. The easy option could have been to ring Barry and explain that we couldn’t make it because of the weather and I know he would have completely understood. But, I didn’t want to let them down. The weather was far too bad to go to work but a couple of days before the event I did venture out for a paper and spotted a National Express coach slide by, which said ‘Newcastle’ on the front of it so I rushed back to the house and checked on the Internet and found that a coach actually travels every day from North Wales, past my front door to Newcastle. We left the house at 9.00 am and got to our hotel at 6.00 that evening, in time to present Mr Robinson with his award.”
This shows what a huge commitment is required by the FMB National President. He is there to represent the FMB and to support each and every member, there is no doubting that Ron could quite legitimately have chosen not to travel in the depths of winter but his devotion to the FMB and it’s members is demonstrated by this story. Even the coach driver had his doubts!
Many of the events Ron attends to represent the FMB are covered in Master Builder magazine and he says the main benefit of this is that members have learned a lot about him and are happy to approach him to talk to. They know he comes from a trade background and that’s what makes his position so interesting and what makes him so accessible to members. He said: “Well you can only be what you are, you can’t try to change and the key is that when you go to any function don’t sit there with a face as long as a wet weekend. Very occasionally you might think it would be nice to be at home with your feet up but the last thing you can do is to let people see that. You have to be enthusiastic all the time – without that positive frame of mind the job would be very difficult.”
ADVICE TO THE NEW NATIONAL PRESIDENT
Nicky couldn’t let Ron go without asking him what he would say to Derek if he asked for advice, Ron said: “Just to be himself, people appreciate genuine people. Derek will have a very different presidential style to me, but that’s fine. Remember that humour changes from north to south - what is hilarious in Scotland could well fall flat on the south coast! To be the FMB National President is an honour and a privilege. Enjoy it.”
Toward the end of our conversation, Ron said: “I’d like to say a special thank you to Alison King, she keeps my diary, makes all my travel arrangements and acts as a vital link between me and everyone else!
“She’s a lovely lady and completely brilliant, sometimes she’s so efficient that you hardly notice she’s there which is how she likes it to be. Without her it would have been a much harder job.”
WHAT NEXT RON?
Ron has been an avid Tranmere Rovers supporter since he was a lad but his workload during the time he was National President made it difficult to get to every game – previously he never missed a home match. The team has struggled a bit without him and his non-attendance at matches has resulted in a bit of a dip. The new fixture list has been published now and has been transferred to Ron’s diary.
He has loved every minute of his time as National President and he has made the most of every opportunity. He is proud to say that the FMB is recognised and respected as the voice of the construction SME industry by outside bodies and Government – and its comments are greatly valued. Ron will remain active at branch level where he has always just been ‘Ron’. He will stay involved with his business but will semi-retire from that too, to spend time with family and friends who have taken a bit of a back seat recently!
As Ron was always a hard working builder, his presidency came at exactly the right time and should inspire others to aim for high office – he survived an earlier recession and was the right person at the right time.