“Every day’s a school day”

Remembering Nick Williams

David Nicholas Owen Williams, or ‘Nick’ as he liked to be known, was the founder and driving force behind what became known as the Resource Family of companies. Following his sad passing in 2022, his Estate has been administered as a ‘Family Office’. This term, more frequently used in the USA, refers to the management of the financial and investment side of a successful individual or family.

During his lifetime, Nick Williams created around 50 to 60 businesses and through them, literally thousands of jobs. The impact of his work on families, individuals, and the prosperity of people in locations where his companies operated has been on a scale that is both rare and remarkable. His story deserves recognition as the legacy that he has left will continue for years to come.

Nick Williams was a true force of nature. His ingenuity, determination and drive not only led him to extraordinary financial success, but in the process, secured financial independence for many of his business partners and teams. He had very high standards and equally high expectations.

He was awarded an OBE for Services to Business and Charity.

He quietly supported dozens of good causes.

He was astute, compassionate and fiercely loyal.

He was forthright in his approach and held strong opinions but always encouraged others to make their case if they disagreed. He had an approach that could be described as one of ‘radical candour’.

Nick believed strongly in words of encouragement, recognition for great work, enquiring about family, sharing a story, acknowledging a milestone, making an introduction. Nick had a knack of knowing when to be generous precisely at the moments that mattered most in people’s lives. He helped family, friends and those working alongside him through exceptional acts of generosity at times of trouble.

Nick attributed all his achievements to the teams he built around him. He firmly believed in pulling together groups of people with different, but complementary skillsets, often acknowledging the collective ‘brain power’ in whatever team gathering with which he was involved.

So how did this son of a butcher in New Quay, West Wales become such a force of nature with so many achievements to his name?

Nick was born in New Quay, Cardiganshire in 1947 and was the youngest of three boys, his older brothers being Hywel (a PE Teacher) and Boyd (also a Teacher but eventually the Head of IT for Dyfed Council). He was the son of the local butcher, ‘Jack y Butch’ (who went on to become a Liberal Party Councillor for Aberaeron and eventually Chairman of Dyfed County Council) and his wife Ceinwen. Jack believed in community, supporting those in need of help and hard work. This approach and personal philosophy was instilled in Nick from a young age.

As a proud butcher’s son, Nick always prided himself on knowing how to cut a joint of beef (or any other meat), barbecue a cracking steak and do mental arithmetic perfectly after having to count change when serving behind the counter in the days before electronic tills! His lifetime love of counting every penny and “keeping things tidy” also started behind those shop doors.

Some would say that Nick’s entrepreneurial career began when he was 9 years old. By then, his parents owned some land in front of their family home. It became a small car park and he would advertise it as somewhere for the tourists to park up and enjoy a snack on their visit. His slogan became “Pick Nick’s for picnics”. He could park a row of cars perfectly in order to maximise capacity and income… something from which the storage businesses in Wentloog Corporate Park has always benefited!

Whilst in school he was known to ‘make a few bob’ by cleaning leather shoes belonging to other villagers and family members “the old-fashioned way”. Brush on the wax polish, use a separate brush with some elbow grease to polish it off and then buff to a shine. This became a lifelong habit for him. Looking after things of quality and repairing them when needed. He cleaned all of his shoes nearly every weekend, whether he’d worn them or not! He didn’t believe in a ‘throw away’ mentality, and it was obvious that this mindset, which helped to underpin so much of his commercial outlook, began when he was still very young.

Education

In 1965, Nick was awarded a Sports and Academic scholarship to attend Millfield School where he met his lifelong friend (Sir) Gareth Edwards.

Gareth had been born in the Swansea valley and had shown great promise at all sports but in particular, football, rugby and athletics. His PE teacher, Bill Samuel, had contacted the Headmaster at the renowned private school, Millfield School in Somerset, to see if it might be possible to find a scholarship place for a young man of exceptional athletic talent who lived in Ceredigion and who was making waves on the athletic circuit. Bill was tenacious, and after months of letter writing, he secured a place. Bill became aware of another extremely talented athlete, a certain Nick Williams, and he felt Nick too was worthy of a scholarship.

Gareth recalls hearing about Nick from the Welsh Athletics trials taking place in Neath. When he met Nick, Gareth remembers “a shy boy, quiet and taking everything in”. After Nick had been accepted to Millfield, Gareth went to meet him to give him a bit of an introduction as to what to expect, because they had come from similar Welsh backgrounds and the environment in Millfield was nothing like anything that Nick would have experienced before.

Around that time, there was a final Welsh Rugby trials being held at Old Deer Park in London, where Gareth and Nick were both on show. Both were picked to play and that is where their friendship really started. In the holidays, Nick invited Gareth down to stay with him and his parents. Gareth recalls having a really nice few days in New Quay, and when he was due to go home, was surprised to find that Nick was driving him back very early in the morning to allow himself time to get back to open and do a shift in his fathers shop!

Gareth believes that Nick’s early grounding working for his father gave Nick his commercial instinct which combined well with his natural business acumen and his huge work ethic.

Nick enjoyed his time at Millfield, but this was only for one year. The headmaster wanted Nick to stay on for another year to be ‘Head Boy’ but this wasn’t to be. As prefects, one of the privileges was being allowed to smoke a pipe. Nick and Gareth had many conversations, lying on the sofa, smoking their pipes, about going into business together after school (a sports shop was mentioned frequently) until Nick suddenly announced that he had decided to apply to Cardiff College of Education to train to be a PE Teacher. Gareth decided to follow suit.

Whilst at college, Nick was a Welsh International Rugby Player and Sprinter under 19 and went on to represent Wales in Senior Level at Athletics. He also played first class for Cardiff Rugby Club and Glamorgan Wanderers Rugby Club.

One of Nick’s lecturers at Cyncoed was Lynn Davies, who had not many years earlier become Olympic champion in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Lynn first met Nick when he joined Cardiff College of Education in September 1966. Lynn had just commenced his role as a lecturer in Physical Education, so both Nick and Gareth were his students for the next three years.

During that time, Lynn got to know them very well, both being very talented sportsmen and Lynn still being a competitive athlete, so they spent many hours training together and despite the difference in ages formed a friendship which continued over the years.

Nick captained the Athletics team for two years and demonstrated the outstanding leadership qualities which his fellow students respected and which he carried through into his working life.

Lynn recalls fondly how they later in their lives, they trained for, and ran, the London Marathon together and raised money to support up and coming young Welsh sportsmen and women. Lynn considers Nick to have been an outstanding leader at college and then later in his work, through the many companies he created steering his businesses through tough and challenging times.

One of Nick’s longstanding colleagues recalls that his father had offered Nick and his brothers a loan to help kick off their careers – and Nick had invested in a house for students (which he occupied and rented the rest of the rooms), followed by further student housing as the opportunity arose. This was far from risk free, necessitating near 100% mortgages with the Hibernian Building Society but Nick ploughed ahead, and made a success of his investments.

Early career

Nick had a brief spell as a PE teacher at Mostyn School (now Mary Immaculate) in Ely, Cardiff before starting his entrepreneurial career in 1971 in Steel Stockholding with a business partner by the name of John Hunt. Nick’s previous success in student accommodation provided the capital required to form his new partnership. Nick quickly saw the opportunities in front of him as a lesser shareholder in the company known as ‘Capital Trading’. This was at a time when the possibilities around pre-coated steel were becoming evident for ongoing uses in white goods and the building envelope. Capital Trading had concentrated on the steel stockholding business. Nick’s natural business nous had led him to the belief that they ought to also operate under an additional identity (Brunel Steel) selling ‘non-prime’ steel, so that the reputation of Capital Trading wasn’t tainted in any way by the lesser product.

In 1977, a young man by the name of Paul Hannah became involved in the fledgling company. This was because Paul had been asked to prepare the accounts by his employers, Watts Gregory, a local accounting firm. Paul remembers a young Nick, around 30 years of age, full of dynamism, full of energy and driven to succeed. It was clear to Paul that although Nick was in partnership with an entrepreneur slightly older than himself, Nick possessed a set of unique qualities that set him apart from others. Paul would spend perhaps a sixth of his time working with Capital Trading, doing Nick’s business and personal accounts, and they quickly developed a trusting relationship. This was pivotal for the next 40 years with Paul working closely alongside Nick providing a much-needed financial perspective. Paul eventually became Chairman of most of Nick’s businesses.

Paul recalls Nick being a character, sometimes mischievous but more often than not, up for a laugh. In those early years it was ‘work hard, play hard’. Paul believes that Nick was very much finding his own way at that time, both in terms of accounting and in how he could best run the business.

One of Nick’s qualities that became evident at that time was his ability to put together a team. At this stage in the life of Capital trading, the Board comprised John Hunt, Nick Williams, David Horrocks, Steve Phillips, John Hiscox.

In 1979, Nick met Dave Salway, and together they set up Euro Commercials in 1980, and around then Nick bought the Maltings, a large dilapidated former malthouse out of administration. Around that time Nick also met Bill Walker who they sponsored to start up EuroClad, a business making steel cladding that was to become a huge success story, and Mike Ford who was tasked with setting up Eurobond Laminates.

As well as these four businesses, Nick also acquired a company in Pontypool called Macwards which was a slitting operation for his products. Paul recollects that Nick, when asked why he had bought Macwards, responded by saying that when weighing things up, he had taken all the financial records home for the weekend to get a feel of the business. Nick realised that there were no credit notes involved, quickly coming to the conclusion that they must be doing a good job!

Nick and John Hunt knew that they should diversify a bit more out of Capital Trading to grow market share and were aware that pre-coated steel was very much the new technology of the moment.

Paul recalls that around this time Nick was formulating his vision for the company’s growth plans, so he pulled himself out of being Managing Director of Capital Trading and inserted two colleagues in his place – Steve Phillips and Dave Horrocks. Nick was now able to give some focus to the other fledgling businesses.

Consolidation: the 80s and 90s

Nick realised that he needed to have a central function for accounting etc and this was the birth of his later established management company – ‘Resource ltd’. Paul recollects the family feel that was indicative of the businesses at this time. By way of example, Nick and Paul used to go running at lunchtimes – sometimes with other colleagues – and then return to the office refreshed and ready to tackle the important issues. Over the years from 1982 onwards, Nick boosted his team, with the arrival of executives such as Mike Rees, Tom Marples and Tony Phillips.

As the companies began to develop, Nick came to the view that his plans for growth differed from that of his original business partner, John Hunt. It was time to split the businesses, and so over a period of years, his key lieutenants spent a lot of time and energy dividing the businesses. John Hunt held on to Capital Trading, Brunel Steel, Macwards and an investment in a coal mine called Glenn Colliery. Nick took control of all the other companies.

In 1986, Nick acquired Wentloog Corporate Park, and a couple of years later acquired another company to tackle a new market for video recorders and microwave ovens – ‘Euro Pressings Ltd’. Various new companies and investments followed, amongst them, Micross (an IT company), Eurobond Doors (industrial steel doors), Isoclad, Euro Quality Cladding (Ireland), Sips and SipCo (a joint venture to manufacture structural insulated panels), and Fixing Point (a construction fixings company).

Not every business went to plan. There were some extraordinary bumps in the road which required all of Nick’s considerable tenacity and business acumen to overcome. The team that he had assembled around him came into their own on these occasions…

There were other investments too. Colleagues remember Nick as someone who was always willing to give someone a chance, no matter what their background. He backed a number of individuals who had good ideas that had the potential to scale, many of which became very successful. Some failed, but Nick was very sanguine about those that didn’t realise their potential. Nick invested in a fair amount of property as his businesses developed, always mindful of diversifying, as the prospect of recession was never far away. Nick had witnessed five or more periods of economic hardship, learning to act decisively if a recession was likely, even though he felt any personnel casualties very personally.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Nick’s success became well known across the South Wales business landscape, and also further afield amongst those who were involved in the industries where Nick’s companies had a presence.

Outside interests

During this time, Nick was asked to Chair the Board of Cardiff & Vale Enterprise, a key business organisation that led the strategic way forward in how Cardiff should develop, both in skills and in infrastructure. His no-nonsense approach was an antidote to the slow grinding movement of other business groups that didn’t have the ability to galvanise the public and private sector.

Following this, he became Chairman of the Welsh Sports Aid Foundation, raising vital funds for sports in Wales, and then also Chairman of Common Purpose in Wales, a global leadership organisation devoted to developing leaders across the public and private sectors. During this time, he also sat on the Council of University of Wales for nearly a decade.

In 2005, Nick was awarded the OBE for Services to Business and Charity.

Country pursuits

Nick had a genuine affinity for nature and the countryside, perhaps borne out of his early years working in his father’s butcher shop. His knowledge of country matters was not inconsiderable, and together with his friend, Gareth Edwards, he enjoyed many years of shooting game at some of the most well known estates in the UK.

Nick was not an advocate of shooting for shooting’s sake. He believed that good management of the countryside required careful management of the land. This was something that he felt passionate about, and when in later life he bought a country estate in North Yorkshire, he spent a great deal of money investing in the rural landscape. He purposely reduced the volume of game birds being shot to reflect his view that whilst managing game for shooting and fishing provided motive and money to diversify habitats, it was equally important to make the rural economy sustainable. In this way he thought, farms, woodlands and rivers would become better places for many plants and animals in addition to game species.

As usual, Nick put his money where his mouth was! He was a committed member and trustee of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust from 2016 as well as its first chairman in Wales, and a generous benefactor to a cause where policy was dictated ‘by the science’.

When Nick passed away, Teresa Dent, the Chief Executive of the GWCT wrote to say how considerable Nick’s contribution to the GWCT had been over many years. She emphasised what fun he had been to work with, how committed he had been to the cause, how keen he had been to develop new income streams through ‘monetising the science’ and how determined to help put the charity into a better place for the future.

Philosophy

Nick worked with many colleagues over his illustrious business career, and many of these folk have memories of him that serve as a reminder of the character that was David Nicholas Owen Williams.

Too many tributes have been paid to Nick since the sad news of his passing. There are simply too many to include all of them here. Steve Phillips, a colleague who worked for Nick from 1973, summed up Nick’s commercial approach as being “the combination of senior management teams who understood the market, products and processing, and with good people skills, combined with Nick’s indefatigable drive and energy led to his businesses becoming hugely respected in the industry for their reliability, honesty and customer relationships.”

As was outlined at the beginning of this note of reflection, Nick’s inspirational approach to those who worked for him was to encourage them, recognise hard work and explain his decision-making rationale through compelling stories. He was a unique entrepreneur with an incredible track record of success.

Nick’s proud legacy lives on through his family, through his many businesses held within the Family Trust and through the thousands of people whom he positively impacted over a five-decade career.

Rest in Peace, Nick.