Robin Whitehead

Unpack the successful expansion behind BGEN, one of the UK’s largest engineering firms driving the energy transition 

From a small electrical contracting business in the Northwest, BGEN has grown to become a successful international business working with some of the world’s largest blue-chip companies, like BAE, AstraZeneca, and ExxonMobil. Having undergone a management buyout (MBO) from East Midlands Electricity in 1994, the business has since experienced rapid growth, expanded its services and capabilities, and earned a positive reputation for its consistent high quality and reliability. 

“We’re 106 years old this year and it’s been a century of evolution,” opens Robin Whitehead, BGEN’s CEO. “Over the years, we’ve established a strong, loyal customer base including many of the world’s leading organizations. Through organic growth, we’ve strengthened our self-delivery offering within our core competencies – mechanical, electrical, instrumentation, control and automation (MEICA) – as well as extended our capabilities and geographic reach by expanding our existing services into complementary market sectors.  

Building on success 

“The most recent evolutions following the MBO in 1994 are the creation of two key subsidiaries – BES and BFP – to grow our presence in the life sciences and food sectors, respectively. Most recently, we underwent a total rebranding to BGEN in 2021, adding the strapline ‘next generation engineering’ to reflect the breadth of our capabilities, as well as our strategic focus on energy transition, sustainability, and digitization. 

“Although the former brand, Boulting, was strong, it restricted our reach in terms of existing clients’ perceptions and our breadth of services. It was a turning point in our history as it gave us the opportunity to re-market ourselves, and reaffirm who we are, what we offer, and how we deliver. This way, we can reach out to potential new clients as we diversify from our roots as an electrical contracting business towards embracing our ethos of next generation engineering.”

Today, BGEN operates 14 locations across the UK, including regional offices and three off-site manufacturing facilities, as well as a new expanded site in Derby. “We previously occupied a small office space in the region, but we quickly outgrew the facility and have since secured an instrumentation framework that required a local product assembly and test capability,” Robin reveals. “Due to the growth in the volume of work we deliver in the area, including a long-term framework with Severn Trent Water, we relocated to larger premises in Derby in December 2023.” 

Reflecting on the company’s growth, Robin continues: “Of course, our growth hasn’t happened by chance; it is credit to the considerable time and effort our amazing teams have invested to strengthen our management and delivery capabilities. While there are several factors that have contributed to our growth, it primarily comes down to a combination of customer confidence, increased proven capability, and the successfully managed delivery of our strategic intentions. 

“Over the last five years, for example, we’ve specifically targeted certain major projects in the UK based around our core competencies. With a strong foundation of existing long-term client projects and frameworks, this approach has not only seen us receive a number of awards but has also enabled us to build positive relationships to hopefully secure more repeat work in the future.” 

Driving the energy transition 

From such working relationships, BGEN has recently won a significant project that could in fact be the largest in its history. Although the details are limited, Robin reveals that the major four-year contract is for an electrical installation package at Hinckley Point. “A key area of focus for us has been the UK’s energy transition, and we’ve been working towards securing this project for around four years by demonstrating the capacity and resources required to deliver the scheme,” Robin recalls. 

“As the works are centered around the installation of industrialized electrical and instrumentation packages, the project directly aligns with our traditional skills and capabilities. Additionally, BGEN established a nuclear division back in 2010, which included heavy investment in our systems, people, and procedures to build competence in a highly regulated market. The division has successfully delivered several projects in the nuclear sector, in both new builds and refurbishment or upgrade schemes.”  

It’s all about our people 

On a more personal note, Robin, who started his career as an apprentice electrician, has carried his passion for training and development through to BGEN. “I’ve worked my way through various job roles, and I came to BGEN to help launch a data communications capability around digitization and technology,” Robin recalls. “I then became part of the management team and was invited to join the executive team as CEO around three years ago. 

“I’m not alone either; many of our leaders have similar routes of starting as an apprentice and working up to operational management. I even completed an MBA during my time at BGEN, so it is our support structure that enables people to progress from apprentice to CEO like I have done. It’s helped me be a better leader too, as having a ground level understanding of what it takes to deliver these projects, not only manage them, helps me to constantly appreciate the hard work of every single member of our team.”  

The future 

As our conversation draws to a close, talk turns to the future of the business, including its sustainability goals. “We set out a strategy to reach Net Zero by 2035, with a first step of reducing our emissions by 25 percent by 2025,” Robin states. “I’m proud that we have already reduced our emissions by 37 percent, but we recognize it will be harder as we go further in our mission. 

“We’ve recently brought supply chain in-house to work closely with suppliers on reducing our Scope 3 emissions too. We’re simultaneously helping them on their own journeys by providing low-carbon alternatives to traditional manufacturing, assembly, and project delivery strategies. 

“Moving forward, we’ll continue to monitor market intelligence and steer our capabilities towards complementary sectors and opportunities, whilst also delivering services around our technological, digital, and environmental objectives,” Robin concludes. “We are well positioned to deliver our current strategy with regards to the growth in the UK’s energy transition, as well as assist our clients’ own carbon reduction initiatives and investments.”