Image of the gates of Liverpool Cathedral

David McLean

Oration

Presented by: Professor Frank Sanderson

David McLean, owner of David McLean Group, started his company in 1972, and in a little over 3 decades has developed the company from being a small local civil engineering contractor to the present multi-division national leader in the building industry with a turnover well in excess of £200 million.

David McLean was born in the Welsh village of Bagillt in Flintshire, in 1943.  

His mother and father separated when he was very young, and with his mother working as a nurse at Walton Hospital in Liverpool, David was brought up by grandparents Emily and Ted.

David went to Flint Central Secondary Modern School which he didn't like very much - he is dyslexic which obviously didn't help, and he wasn't that keen on sport either, although after being taken to see Everton when he was 11, he became a life-long Evertonian - an Evertonian who nevertheless was delighted when Liverpool won the European Cup this year. 

He left school at 16 and was taken to Coventry in search of a job in the motor industry - when this didn't work out, he was told in no uncertain terms by his grandmother, "Find a job!".

The job was as an apprentice bricklayer at W Bevan & Sons in Flint, but he got bored after a year of this and landed a much more lucrative job at the local steelworks. After 12 weeks on the blast furnaces, he had earned enough money to buy a plot of land. He married when he was 19, and built a bungalow on the plot and, much to the consternation of his wife, sold it before they had the chance to move in. From the profits, he built another house on the plot and this time, he did move in.   

By the time he was 21, he was working for himself and he has done so ever since. His first major purchase of land for building was an old potato field in his home village of Bagillt. Dismissed by other builders as a 'bog', David managed to build 46 houses on it.

At the start, he employed perhaps one or two other bricklayers and the odd labourer, whereas now he employs 600 backroom staff and little direct labour.

He remembers the long years and long days as a bricklayer, with no holidays - a life of hard manual work to get him to where he wanted to be, climbing the ladder one step at a time. He was told by a fellow worker at the steelworks, "You're not like the rest of us," by which he meant that David had an unusual drive and energy to be successful, someone who would never want to make a 2-hour job last 4 hours.

He was also inspired by his maths teacher who stressed to him the importance of gambling sensibly - what we would now call risk management. He has always had an eye for an opportunity and has always appreciated the value of innovation. In fact, the core values of his company encapsulate the philosophy which has brought so much success to David McLean: partnership, teamwork, innovation, and recruitment and retention of high calibre staff - with the benefit of enlightened HR policies and a focus on staff development on both the technical and the managerial front.

David recalls that one of his best moves was to set up an office in Liverpool 20 years ago in that it took the company to another level, from being a good local construction company to being a significant national player in the industry. 

Despite the Group HQ remaining in North Wales, on Deeside, and with David McLean himself living in North Wales, he regards Liverpool with great affection and considers it the unofficial capital of North Wales.

There have been many important projects in the development of the David McLean Group, often focusing on the regeneration sector in partnership with local authorities.  

These include:

  • Building the Toyota Engine Plant at Deeside
  • The Hamilton Oil Gas Terminal in North Wales
  • The Princes Dock Development in Liverpool in partnership with the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company
  • The national contract with Shell for the construction of all its petrol stations
  • The forthcoming redevelopment of the Liverpool Festival Garden site 

As the business became more successful, David began to have a life outside work. He took up sailing, but not for simple leisure like any normal person - within a short time, he was competing in Grand Prix races all over Europe and on the East coast of America. Now he spends his free time playing the occasional game of golf and in driving his 1935 Bentley in Vintage Car Races.

He has received public acknowledgement of his phenomenal success in business:

  • Liverpool Daily Post Welsh Businessman of the Year in 1996
  • Liverpool Daily Post Businessman of the Year in 2003
  • This year, Number 20 in the list of the Top 100 Most Powerful People in the NorthWest

David Mclean remains the key driving force and strategist of his highly successful company. From modest beginnings in North Wales, he has developed over 3 decades a construction company of national importance, and a company which has played and continues to play a very significant role in the regeneration of our city. 

We are proud to acknowledge David McLean for his outstanding achievements to date.

Thus I have pleasure in presenting David McLean, this most distinguished son of our region, for admission to our highest honour of Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University.