Embrace change and constantly evolve - but hang on to your foundations

Talking secondary glazing with Meredith Childerstone 

On the eve of Selectaglaze’s 57th anniversary, we sat down with our Chairman, Meredith Childerstone, to look back on the company’s history, how the industry has changed – and where we need to go next… 

How have things changed since you joined Selectaglaze in 1972? 

First of all, the purpose of installing secondary glazing has evolved. When my father first started the business, his focus was on the acoustic benefits of installation because of his previous involvement in aviation. While that’s still an important feature, the business has evolved to concentrate more on thermal performance and security. We’ve developed a wide range of innovative glazing products, to fit all shapes, sizes and requirements.

And what hasn’t changed? 

Our commitment to quality – my father always said, “If you’re going to do something, do it well.” I’ve tried to instil this in everyone I’ve worked with over the years. Also, other fundamental values such as honesty in business and collaborating with clients – my father believed that business was all about people, and he valued his working relationships and that definitely hasn’t changed.  

You’ve always loved architecture. How has that influenced your work? 

I have always been particularly drawn to cathedrals. I would go on bike rides around the country, visiting cathedrals, admiring magnificent craftsmanship. You know, our built heritage gives us pleasure, links us to history and gives us something to talk about, feel good about.   My appreciation of architecture grew into passion thanks to my job. I have had an opportunity to see some of the most amazing buildings, including those that public aren’t allowed in. I respect it, it does something to your soul.  We always wanted to be involved with those that protect Heritage. Our association with organisations like Historic England or SAVE keeps us on our toes. We want to be doing the right thing – be involved in adaptations that the conservation community appreciates and accepts. 

So in a sense, a lot of our business is a marriage of the past and the future. Is that right? 

I suppose it is. For instance, take climate change. In the past 10 years we’ve seen a growing demand for thermal secondary glazing to reduce losses of increasingly expensive energy and for many a means of reducing carbon emissions.   Climate change presents a crisis which must be tackled each in our own way. Our clients increasingly call for energy efficient glass or high-performance sealed units all with the very best seals to reduce energy loss. And we are working very hard to reduce our own carbon footprint during manufacture and delivery by using a whole range of innovative measures which are audited through our membership with Planet Mark  Because we all need to talk about sustainability. And retrofitting existing buildings instead of demolition and rebuild can show major carbon savings and considerably extend their useful life.  We have passion, ability and sympathy for the buildings to do the right job and help others make the right decisions. We have developed a unique skillset over the years. We appreciate that every building is different and will require a bespoke approach. 

But that bespoke approach requires skilled people, doesn’t it? 

It always has, and it always will. We’re lucky to have built a team of skilled, passionate professionals – but we’re aware that there’s a skills shortage, especially in the retrofit industry. We want to play our part in helping to change that through training and apprenticeships. It’s all part of growing as a business. 

Because businesses need to keep moving forward, don’t they? 

Absolutely. One of the risks of being successful and as a result too settled is that you become too comfortable. You need to embrace change and constantly evolve. But we have done it carefully. We are not slow, for instance we have always been one of the first in the industry to embrace digital tools, but we are always careful in the way we move.   It’s important to hang on to your foundations because that gives you stability; don’t just grab onto the future. I have seen many companies over the years that did that – someone was quicker than them or it was the wrong future and they failed. We have more depth, more strength because we don’t rush into things without careful consideration and always hang onto our foundations.   I feel comfortable that we are a niche specialist but can perform really well in this market. We are leading, others follow. 

You’ve been with Selectaglaze for over half a century. What are your highlights? 

Becoming a Royal Warrant holder in 2004 was a huge acknowledgement of our commitment to quality and service. In terms of projects there are almost too many to choose from but stand outs include Birmingham Town Hall, the Supreme Court, the Port of London’s former headquarters in Trinity Square and the historic Banqueting House in Whitehall. All hugely challenging projects, but that last one was a real delight, with the opportunity to work on a Grade I listed building designed by Inigo Jones. 

And what about from a business perspective? 

I’m certainly proud of overseeing our transition to an Employee Owned Trust. When my father started the business, he had a commitment both to quality and to his people – and I think he’d approve of the move. It’s about doing business for the right reasons, not just to make money for shareholders. As an Employee Owned business, you’re beholden to your employees and your wider community.  

One last question. What would you say is the Childerstone legacy? 

I’m not quite ready for a legacy! Even though I take less of an active role at Selectaglaze, my passion remains undimmed. So I suppose if I can instil a passion for sustaining our architectural heritage that would be good.  And of course continuing the founding beliefs of my father – a commitment to excellent quality, and service.   



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