History of AES
Advanced Electrical Services started life in 1986.
Over the years, we’ve built up quite a reputation for expertise and innovation in the field of electrical contracting with a varied client base many of whom are still regular customers now.
“AES is now entering a new and exciting period in its development. Determined to grow and determined to continue delivering true value in an ever changing market place.”
Lee Johnson, Managing Director
Many of our customers have been with us for years – but what do you really know about the company? Here we take a little peek into its history.
How AES started
In 2016 AES celebrated 30 years in business. But the man behind the foundation of the company, Graham Spooner, spent almost 20 years working underground as a charge hand electrician for the National Coal Board before rising to the role of business owner.
“I worked at a variety of pits, including Wakefield and Pontefract and thoroughly enjoyed the work,” Graham explains. “But the 1984 miners’ strike hit hard. It set family against family and, because of the length of time it went on, it was hard to go back to work when it finished.”
Having initially been turned down for voluntary redundancy, Graham suddenly received a letter saying it was available if he wanted it. The catch? He had just 48 hours to decide either way.
“I didn’t have another job to go to so it was a major decision to make,” he says. “But I felt that I had it in me to do better. As I’d always enjoyed running projects, I thought I could do this in another industry.”
Foot first – your electrician isn’t as good as me
Decision made, he soon wore out his shoe leather going from door to door. A lot of determination and a little cheek helped him along the way.
“I began by knocking on doors, saying: ‘I’m an electrician.’ If they said: ‘We’ve already got one’, I would say: ‘Well, not as good as me.’ It was that determination and enthusiasm that got me through the door in a lot of places.”
Another example was when he was offered a salaried job after answering an advert for an electrician. “I explained that I wasn’t looking for employment, but that I would come in until they took someone else on,” he says. “I ended up working for them on and off for around 10 years.”
A little help from my electrical staff
Once things began to snowball Graham needed help. “My first employee was Mark Lee – he was taken on in March 1986 and he’s still with the company today. He began as agency staff; he did a neat, tidy job and got on with things, so I gave him a job.”
To start with, Graham took care of the breakdowns and Mark looked after the installation work. “At the time, a lot of companies didn’t have any records or drawings of the machines, some of which dated back to the 1940s. You’d open them up and the insides looked like spaghetti.”
The next engineer to join the firm was Neal Clarke, who helped with both breakdowns and installation for many years, before finally leaving to set up his own business.
Getting the electrical work right from the start
Although the company has expanded over the years, the customer-focused approach remains as true today as it did almost 30 years ago.
“My approach was that the company was going to be run properly from the start – we owed as much to the customers,” Graham explains. “Working underground taught me that you have to rely on other people. The electricians working with me had to do the job right and take pride in what they did. If the work wasn’t up to standard, it would be done again. In the end, a company is only as good as the worst electrician that works for it.”
Taking a professional approach also extends to attitude and dress – engineers are expected to be polite and smartly turned out.
Setting up the Advanced Electrical Services office
Located in the West Yorkshire market town of Ossett, AES has been at its current premises since around 1999, after moving from a rented space in an old church.
The building, now converted into offices and workshops, was originally a pumping station, with a pumping shaft in a nearby field. “The shaft was used to pump water from Shawcross Colliery; it was capped when the mine closed,” Graham explains. “As an apprentice, I’d been down in a bucket to help maintain the shaft.”
Little did he know that 20 years later he would be setting up in business on this site – and that 30 years later the business would still be going strong.
Passing on the baton
“Around 1996, there was a knock on the door: it was Lee, who lived opposite the office,” Graham says. “He said: ‘I’ve come to be an electrician.’ I asked him what his expectations were and he said that he was keen to learn. He was just 18 years old but he came with the right attitude and even used my own sales tactic – knocking on doors for an opportunity.”
Lee Johnson’s story
Lee takes over the story: “I grew up over the road and played rugby with Graham’s son. At the time, I was straight out of school and although I wasn’t the most academic of kids, I had ability. The world of work was completely alien to me, it was a shock to the system, but I realised after a month that I really liked the variety.”
After a trial, Lee was taken on as an apprentice. “It was a steep learning curve and a strict environment but I picked things up quickly and it was a great company to learn in, with some really good people,” he says. “I absolutely loved it.”
At that time the business employed Wayne, Neil, Mark and Pete, with support from subs, and had developed a good customer base in the local area, including Bibby, Sutcliffe Rubber Company and Proctor & Gamble, as well as textile companies and a small amount of domestic work.
The challenges of an electrical business
Like any business, there were peaks and troughs, including the challenges of cash flow and of winning and keeping clients. “There was no grand plan,” Graham says. “We worked from day to day and didn’t expect the business would carry on for this long. But the company has always looked after itself over the long term. We won some really good contracts with a leading butter company and other food manufacturers, including people who turned me away when I first knocked on their door when I was starting out.
“Breakdowns always brought in new work, as companies would see what we did and order new from us, although some companies preferred to have their tried and tested machinery mended.”
New electrical engineers and new technology
Over time the work snowballed, gathering momentum with new clients coming on board, along with new staff members and new technology. AES was making a profit, but with banks unwilling to lend, Graham eventually invested his pension to grow the business.
One major milestone was moving to the company’s current premises around 1999, with more space, offices and parking. “It was a better set up and as a company we started to come into our own,” Lee says.
Meanwhile, Lee qualified as an electrician after three years and stayed on at college to complete a C Course for an additional two years, paid for by Graham. Now working with Neil on the breakdowns, he discovered he was good at problem solving. Left in charge while Graham went on holiday to New Zealand, Lee made sure that the company was not only still there when his boss got back, but busy and thriving.
“I really enjoyed being in charge and making the decisions,” Lee says. “I started taking over more of the day-to-day running of the business, but eventually I decided I wanted to work for myself.”
Graham continues the story. “One day Lee came into my office and announced that he was leaving. When I asked what he wanted to do, he said he wanted to be sitting in my chair.”
After some thought, Graham suggested that Lee might want to buy the company. Once the seed was planted, it grew to fruition, although it took several years to get the company valued, work out the financing and set the wheels in motion.
In 2010, Lee and his wife Gill took over the running of the company, after a short handover period. Graham is now enjoying his retirement with a share of a yacht in Greece and a holiday home in the Lake District.
“I could see that the business was going to be in good hands and would carry on,” says Graham. “Lee has the same attitude about quality and there’s a very low staff turnover. The company has evolved to the next stage.”
Advanced Electrical Services – into the future
While the standard of work remains a top priority, a number of financial and operational controls have also been introduced, including networking the computers and developing a more strategic approach to marketing.
“Advanced Electrical has been here for 30 years and I’d like to see it still here in 30 years’ time, as a successful, well- respected company,” Lee says. “We have a great staff and have brought in some really good new people, and I want the business to be sustainable so that they have job stability.
“The core of what we’re about is being good at what we do, offering value for money and being straight with people,” he continues. “Those values are still as important now as they were when Graham started up.