CICIND – Voice of the Governing Body

7 Jul 2014

Zenith’s Business Development Director, Darren Smith, has recently written an article for the CICIND report following the successful meeting held in Venice, Italy. The paper’s focus considers how many of the companies in the specialist access industry have embraced the need to adapt to new market conditions. We have featured the article below.

Voice of the Governing Body.

Companies within our specialist industry face diverse challenges which are unique to our times. Identifying the obstacles in the business environment and then forming a cohesive strategy, will make the difference between success and failure.

Diversification in the Steeplejack Industry.

The Oxford Dictionary defines diversification as – “late Middle English (in the sense ‘show diversity’): via Old French from medieval Latin diversificare ‘make dissimilar’, from Latin diversus, past participle of divertere.” Although the origins of the word suggest ‘not alike’ as being at its root, generally in the business community it has come to signify to ‘enlarge or vary a company’s range of products or field of operation.’

With the onset of de-industrialisation in the western world, there has been a significant decline of labour intensive industries in a number of countries. However, at one time, this traditional manufacturing base with its reliance on large scale production proved to be the birth place of the steeplejack industry. Large brick chimneys at once dominated the metropolitan skyline which provided an every ready source of employment involving new construction, maintenance, repair and demolition of industrial chimneys. A unique set of skills were developed to carry out these demanding tasks. Modes of operation were standardised with national trade organisations overseeing training and compliance. Historically, the access methods utilised in the steeplejack industry were adopted and adapted from skills perfected whilst inspecting and maintaining church steeples. As de-industrialisation advanced, the subsequent traditional customer base of the steeplejack declined. In order to survive economically, companies have been forced to look at new markets to secure a consistent source of revenue. Whilst for some, there has been a reluctance to look for opportunities elsewhere, others have grasped the new reality and have adapted accordingly. In addition to diversification, the identification of core competencies has enabled companies to strategise into the future.

Authors, C.K. Prahalad and Gary Hamel advocate that ‘core competency’ is pivotal in the way a company succeeds in an evolving business environment. To fulfill its criteria the following three factors are observable –

  1. It is not easy for competitors to imitate.
  2. Examples of It can be reused widely for many products and markets.
  3. It must contribute to the end consumer’s experienced benefits and the value of the product or service to its customers.

In relation to the first factor, specialist access requirements within the steeplejack industry eliminate traditional alternative methods either from a ‘know-how’ perspective or from a purely economic paradigm. The second factor demands the foresight of practitioners within the industry to identify where the application of skills can be effectively applied. Finally, the service provided must, in the long term, be a credible and valued service. Success, therefore, rests with those companies able to utilise their core competencies in diverse applications. In addition, to enhance the customer experience, a total in-house approach is preferable.

With multi-layer contractors, poor communication and self-interest are often at the root of issues in the work place. Those companies which are able expand their skills to offer a full range of services, provide a complete portfolio often favoured by clients. Today it is not unusual to find ‘chimney’ companies having several divisions ranging from Civil and Structural Engineering, Flare Stack Services, Stonework, Refractory, Steel Fabrication, Rope Access, Scaffolding, Aircraft Warning Lights, Lightning Protection and Property Maintenance. What challenges lie ahead?

Not only have we seen a rationalisation taking place within the steeplejack industry as detailed above, but in addition, many companies have expanded their field of operations beyond national boundaries. A pragmatic approach to globalisation will prove to be a contributing factor to the long term survival of companies.

In conclusion, we must recognise that in industry very few things remain the same but what never changes is the ability to anticipate and to adapt to the new market place. Diversification, core competencies, a comprehensive portfolio and an embracing of globalisation remain the foundation blocks to a viable and successful company.



Prahalad, C.K. and Hamel, G. (1990) The core competence of the corporation, Harvard Business Review (v. 68, no. 3) pp. 79–91.



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