In 2004 Neil was a main Board director of McAlpines,when the opportunity arose for him to acquire the pipeline services operation of Northumbria Water. Using his modest savings and a pile of debt, Neil turned the business round from loss making to profitable and in 5 years paid off the debt and accumulated some capital. In subsequent years Fast Flow Limited went into building and maintaining big gas pipelines for the National Grid and others and into maintaining housing stock for Housing Associations and others. Fast Flow Group turned over approx £80m in 2016 and expects to turnover approx £100m in 2017 and is a leading mid-market asset maintenance company operating in the UK support services and infrastructure sectors. Neil is the founder, chairman and ceo of the Group
Conlon Construction was founded over 50 years ago by Neil's father and his 4 brothers. The company has a picture taken in 1956 of their first Tipper Wagon parked outside their lodgings in Tang Hall Lane,York so although most of the recent growth of the business has been over the Pennines, the early roots were in Yorkshire. They played a major role in the construction of the M6 in the 1960's during which time they consolidated their efforts onto one company. They are now on more than 15 Framework Agreements with many of the local authorities throughout the North of England, especially related to educational buildings, with over 75% of turnover being generated through partnering rather than competitive tendering. This collaborative approach to their business has helped to double its turnover and profits during the recession and Conlon now has sales of approx £50m. It is well placed to accelerate its growth over the next five years and part of this plan is to grow its Yorkshire business of which Neil is the MD.
While researching for his MPhil at Sheffield Polytechnic during the mid 80s, Neil became involved with a local law firm and developed a conveyancing system for them. On completion of his Masters, Neil formed Solicitec (later renamed Visualfiles) to further develop and sell legal application software. The company grew to become the UK’s largest legal software specialist and was purchased by Lexis Nexis in 2006. Neil continued to work for the US parent company as VP of Information technology strategy until 2008 when he formed EW Development LLP with his previous business partner Mark Woodward with the aim of providing early stage investment and development advice to Yorkshire companies. Through EW Development, Neil has made a number of investments in fields as diverse as Drug research (Retrogenix Limited), Fine Furniture design (Neal Jones Furniture), High efficiency lighting solutions (Carbon Reduction Technology), Software (Intuitive Business Intelligence), Construction (Oaklands Properties Limited) and a French restaurant (Le Box, Boston Spa).
After reading economics and accountancy at Sheffield University Neil spent the first 10 years of his working life at KPMG in Sheffield and London. In 1987 Neil joined Woodhouse and Rixson before it merged with Johnson Firth Brown to create Firth Rixson plc, the international aerospace business. Neil was Group FD from 1994 with a wide responsibility including mergers and acquisitions in the US and Europe, the most significant being the takeover of Aurora, Firth’s major competitor in 1999. Firth Rixson was a listed company until 2003 when Neil led the public to private transaction which saw the Company being acquired by US Private Equity House, Carlyle. The Group continued to grow and be acquisitive, becoming the world’s leading supplier of seamless rolled rings to the aeroengine market. Neil “retired” after leading a successful exit for Carlyle in 2006. After “retirement”, Neil was part time FD at AES Engineering for 5 years until 2012. He was Master Cutler in 2012/13. He now has a portfolio of private, public and third sector NED and Trustee roles. He also chairs two small start up companies.
Neil has spent 25 years in various parts of the food production industry. Neil started as a trainee miller and baker with Rank Hovis McDougall (RHM) before moving in to sales to small shops and finally selling to multiples for their in store bakeries. After RHM, Neil became Sales Director of Danone, a French food business then MD of their Irish subsidiary before moving to Wm Jackson in Hull as MD of their Yorkshire pudding business Aunt Bessie's. Neil took Aunt Bessie's from £75m pa sales to £150m pa sales in 4 years adding several new products such as roast potatoes and chips on the way and launching a new range of food supplements under the David Beckham brand. Neil's final job was as MD of Fleurets UK which is an E4.6 billion French farmers cooperative.
Neil has built three IT companies from scratch into multi-million pound businesses. He launched Apertus Systems some 20 years ago, followed by Luminary Solutions in 2003 and his current company Bluesmith Information Systems in 2011. Both Apertus and Luminary were sold to U.S. multinationals for substantial sums. Bluesmith's principal offer is bespoke software development services, and Business Intelligence in the retail sector. They number Virgin Media, Morrisons, QPC and Oliver Wyman amongst their clients. A former IoD Director of the Year Award winner, Neil is a serial entrepreneur with a passion for early growth businesses, having invested in a further six Yorkshire-based start-ups.