Carrying on the legacy his father left has been a uniquely rewarding experience for Ged Mason, Group CEO of Morson Group. Our NED, Suhail Mirza, finds out the story behind the Morson name.
2016 was a year of national recognition for Ged Mason. He won UK Master Entrepreneur at the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Awards and was awarded an OBE for services to engineering and design. We meet at Morson Group's breathtakingly designed offices in Salford, Manchester, where Mason is at the helm of the business as Group CEO, but whilst Mason’s career as an entrepreneur has taken him around the world, his heart and the soul of the Morson business remains embodied within its local roots.
“I was born in Salford and grew up a few miles from here,” he says. "My late father, Gerry Mason, started the Morson business in very humble surrounds from our home in Eccles.” Today, technical, rail and engineering specialist Morson is one of the leading recruitment businesses in the UK (top of the rail and aviation lists in Recruitment International's Top 500 Report and in seventh position within the Report overall) with a world-class reputation. Its 2015 UK turnover was more than £750m, while its 2015 UK NFI was more than £62m. The Group employs over 1300 people, has more than 50 offices and operates across six continents. Through its three subsidiaries: Morson International, Morson Projects and Vital Human Resources, it has received numerous accolades, including the Queen’s Award for Export in 2012.
Mason was heavily involved in the design of the stunning offices; not surprising given his childhood ambition to become an architect. He explains, however, that his architectural aspirations were soon subordinated to spending school holidays working with his father, who began Morson in 1969 with six employees. In fact, his introduction to recruitment involved filing paper CVs and cutting out job adverts. After completing a business studies degree at Alliance Manchester Business School, Mason spent two years in Canada with Roan International before returning to the UK in 1986 to join his father at Morson, where he initially undertook some simple responsibilities. As he recalls: “Though
I started as 'brew boy'!, I eventually had experience in all departments to properly understand the business. The great blessing was to eventually share an office with my late father where I truly learned his principles of value-based leadership.”
In their article ‘Discovering Your Authentic Leadership’ (Harvard Business Review – February 2007), scholars Bill George, Peter Sims, Andrew McLean and Diana Mayer, highlight the importance of authenticity in effective leadership: “Authentic leaders demonstrate a passion for their purpose, practice their values consistently and lead with their hearts as well as their heads.” Mason concurs and refers to the core values of Morson (including integrity, knowledge and delivery based on excellence through performance) of which his late father was the embodiment: “My father taught me to never cut corners in business. He used to say we reap what we sow and hard work and honesty were not negotiable values.”
The delivery of excellence permeates the DNA of the business. The Group's service to clients has been rewarded with over 60% of clients trading with Morson International for over 25 years. For candidates, notwithstanding numerous economic cycles, Morson has never missed a payroll run in over 46 years. When Mason joined in 1986, the Morson business was well into its second decade. He focused on growing new geographies and verticals, devoting a lot of time to developing its now thriving rail business and also spending time in London growing the presence of the business. He recalls a very different recruitment world: “Today we are proud of our innovative technology platform (in which we have heavily invested), a huge contrast to those early days when adverts were in the print media and we used to drive people to interviews!”
Over time, Mason rose to more senior management positions and in 1997 became managing director of both Morson Projects (which provides multi-disciplined project management, engineering and design services across numerous industrial sectors) and Morson International (the specialist technical and engineering recruitment service). He became Group CEO in 2005 (facilitating other organisational changes which rewarded and recognised other directors in the business) ahead of its London Stock Exchange float. He says it had always been an ambition for he and his father to take the business public. The potential of the business had been recognised in earlier decades when it attracted outside investment from the likes of Barclays Bank and it eventually listed in 2006. A proud moment, Mason tells me.
The business has grown substantially both organically and through acquisition, including the noteworthy acquisitions of Wynwith Group and Vital Services Group in 2010 and 2013 respectively. Mason comments, “These were important deals not only commercially – they added scale and complementary opportunities with Vital having a strong presence in the blue-collar disciplines within the rail, power and infrastructure markets – but we were also able to save thousands of jobs through acquiring Vital from administrators." Morson Group was also taken private between these deals, through an MBO led by Mason: "Public equity markets have had a torrid time since the global financial crisis of 2008. Our share price seriously undervalued our business and we wanted to protect it and the opportunity to realise value for our staff and so taking the business private was compelling.”
Critical to Morson’s great success, Mason states, has been building a committed and united team. He believes the business' people are its greatest asset. This chimes with the George et al article from the Harvard Business Review cited earlier. In identifying key attributes of an authentic leader they assert: “Authentic leaders build extraordinary support teams to help them stay on course.” Mason agrees and until recently strived to ensure he interviewed all who applied to join Morson. It was his way to identify a common set of values. What's more, the support team he and his father developed is striking: “Loyalty and long service is the glue that binds our business and its culture as reflected in the character of our staff. Last year we were proud to recognise 24 people who had celebrated 10 years’ service, seven more who had 20 years’ service and two who had completed 30 years’ service."
One further area Mason highlights as a critical foundation for the long-term success of the business is the core value of being charitable. “We are a business built on strong morals,” he stresses. “My father’s faith gave him great strength and enhanced his natural determination to help others. He would often help those he knew were facing hardship and supported many charities.”
Morson continues the tradition of giving back and established its own charity committee in 2006. In addition to this, Mason is a trustee of a number of local charities, in particular, Manchester based Destination Florida, whose activities include organising holidays of a lifetime for children with life-threatening illnesses. Morson says, “It is a humbling and inspirational experience and I am always amazed by how positive and well-mannered all the children are despite their hardships.”
Outside of business, Mason and wife Soraya are proud parents to their two sons. He has a deep love of sport with interests ranging from football, rugby (he is co-owner of Sale Sharks), boxing and horse racing (owning several horses with Sir Alex Ferguson). Now approaching nearly 50 years since Morson’s inception, Mason is confident of the future and knows that he and the business have the strongest of foundations, honouring the great leadership of his father (who passed away peacefully on 24th July 2015): "In the eyes of my family, friends and colleagues my father was a legend, held in high esteem by so many. Morson’s standards today are based on the strong principles and core values he set for us. He ensured that integrity, quality and hard work are woven throughout the company’s fabric.”
To visit Morson Grou's website, click here: www.morson.com
This article was originally published in Recruitment International.