Jim Maker - Kingswear Darmer & Entrepeneur
Jim Maker - Kingswear Darmer & Entrepeneur
He left school without any qualifications or ambition other than to be a hard working farmer but Kingswear entrepreneur, Jim Maker, went on to make a fortune running several highly successful businesses.
During his business career which went from launching a steam cleaning business to running four limited companies in the industrial field and becoming a director of the Newton Abbot-based Midas Group, Jim somehow managed to hide the fact that he could not write to all but his secretary.
He was branded ‘thick’ by bullies during his school years, which he says were ‘hellish’ but unbeknown to Jim or anyone else, he wasn’t backward, just dyslexic. Sitting in the lounge at Home Farm, where three generations of his family have lived before him, Jim, 67, explained: ‘Nobody ever talked about dyslexia, nobody ever said to me you’ve got a learning difficulty. In those days you just left school thinking you were stupid.’
Just like his maternal great-grandfather, grandfather and father, Jim was destined to become a farmer at Home Farm, or so he thought.
After leaving school at 15, Jim was working full time at the 87-acre Home Farm (which today extends to125-acres).
‘I always wanted to be a farmer. My great grandfather, Tom Bulley, was here in 1875. When the owner, Mr Seale Hayne, sold up in 1904 my grandfather’s brother, Charles Bulley, bought the farm.’
The farm passed to Jim’s grandfather, William, who he describes as ‘quite a character.’ ‘In 1947 when he died there was no money and my grandmother, Blanche, was forced to sell the farm to the Jones family and we moved back as tenants,’ he said.
‘I grew up here as a potential farmer, I was put on the tenancy by Mrs Jones when I was 21.
‘Education gave me nothing but living on a farm gave me the ability to work hard.’
Nine years after starting paid work at Home Farm, Jim was still earning just £2 a week. ‘Dad didn’t know much about wage increases and it got to the point where I simply wasn’t earning enough money to go and play, so I also jobbed around the local farms driving tractors and milking cows.’
The changing point in Jim’s life came in 1967 while he was working at Newton Abbot stock car track, where he met speedway promoter, Trevor Redmond. In the same year he met his wife, Louise, who he married in 1969.
As Jim wanted to earn more money he began working part-time for Trevor running stock car events in Newton Abbot and Cornwall.
In 1970 Jim became a director of Trevor’s company, Auto Speed Circuits. ‘Meeting Trevor gave me an awful lot of confidence. He believed in me where nobody else did. He would leave me in charge of running the whole show.’
During this period, Jim was also busy building up his own companies starting with a steam cleaning business in 1969. He ended up owning four limited companies under the umbrella of Makers, all of which involved the cleaning and protection of buildings, plus a 50 per cent share in another firm, Maker Coatings, with friend Colin Bower.
Aware of his own limitations, Jim was able to accept and appreciate help from others throughout his career.
‘My inability to write was, in the early days, supported by Louise and so it didn’t hold me back. I was able to overcome my shortcomings by other people’s ability to do it for me. I think that’s been the thread of my life throughout – the help I’ve got from people. I have been successful because I have been aware of my limitations.’
Perhaps because of his self-awareness and a knack of knowing what makes people tick, Jim was able to spot the strengths of potential employees and gave them free rein to develop their skills.
In this way he attracted highly skilled staff and kept their loyalty by giving his regional directors, who headed his four regional offices, 20% of the net profit to share among the staff.
Jim said: ‘We took on a lot of highly motivated staff that wanted to prove their own worth in an organisation that actually gave them a sense of ownership.
‘Because I had good staff behind me it gave me the ability to look for new activities in our business which always put me one step ahead of the competition. You’ve got to have quality people around you and I had top quality.’
Top quality to Jim did not always arrive armed with handfuls of qualifications. Unsurprisingly, education was not always the deciding factor. ‘People can learn the basics in most things,’ he said. ‘In our business, a lot of skills are common sense skills. If you’ve got that and you can talk to people you can get by. I did. You need education but you definitely need the balance between education and common sense.’
Jim’s business enterprise took off in around 1983 when he secured a job in the regeneration of London’s Elephant and Castle. ‘That started a journey that would eventually take us all around the world.’
Three years later the chance to buy Home Farm arose so Jim agreed a merger of Makers with Midas Construction to release some capital, keeping back two companies under his ownership.
I wondered what Jim senior made of his son’s success. ‘Dad could never quite believe what I did, really. He thought I must have been a con-man! They were of a different generation. I was pretty stupid at school. I think everyone thought that, including him.
‘But in fairness to dad and mum, they were great parents and I had a great childhood, and they taught me to work, but I don’t think they understood – we’re talking about the ‘50s when nobody knew about dyslexia.’
Another breakthrough came in 1993 when Jim’s company Makers Industrial joined forces with Norwegian Concrete Technologies to patent an electrochemical concrete repair system, which went global. ‘We became recognised as world experts in the repair of concrete. We started doing a lot more prestigious and bigger jobs.’
The joint venture work won many awards, including the British Industry Award for Technological Merit, plus civic awards for repairing historic concrete buildings.
Jim retired from the business world in 1997 when the Midas Group was sold to Galliford Try. Amazingly, throughout his demanding career he never stopped working with his dad at Home Farm, always returning at busy periods to help with hay making and corn gathering.
A farmer’s son at heart, Jim still works at Home Farm today, alongside Simon Ashton who tends the sheep. His career was ‘interesting’ and enjoyable, but Jim said: ‘Sadly, becoming successful you do lose a lot of basically good people because, for some reason, a bit of a barrier grows up.’
Jim is close to his three sons, Daniel, 40, Grant, 38, and Luke, 31; their wives and four grandchildren who all live locally. Daniel is a successful businessman in his own right, running a sports equipment business from Paignton alongside his two brothers.
Jim would like to give something back to society and is currently in talks with Lympstone Commando Training Centre about setting up a support network for the carers of injured Marines.
‘I would just like to get involved in something that would give back to somebody else,’ Jim said.
Interview by Ginny Ware
First Published July 2012 By The Dart