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PROFILE: Ben Cockcroft of the AC Group

By janwooster  |  Posted: May 12, 2014

PROFILE: Ben Cockcroft of the AC Group
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Q Where did it all start?

A I trained in Arboriculture because I loved being outdoors and worked for several tree surgeons, but very quickly I realised I wanted my own business. After learning a few harsh, yet valuable, lessons about who you should or shouldn't go in to business with I founded the first AC company, AC Landscapes & Treeworks Ltd with my fellow director Simon Ablett.

Q What does the business look like now?

A The last seven years have seen the starting company grow in to a group of five companies employing over 70 people.

We still have the original AC Landscapes and Treeworks but have expanded it from our Kingsteignton base to open new regional offices in Gloucester, Birmingham and a new head office for the Group in Pynes Hill, Exeter which we move into in May.

Alongside that we have a very successful Groundworks company adding new employees every week, AC Training offering Health and Safety consultancy and training courses locally and, finally, a garage!

The garage is the one that always makes people ask why? - but we were spending increasing sums on servicing our own growing fleet. So feeling a little 'entrepreneurial' I just thought we'd open our own! And inside of 12 months it is rated by the 'Good Garage Scheme' as the number one in the area. The only difference these days is that I get a little more time to think about our next opportunity.

Q Who helped you get there?

A Over the years I didn't really recognise the things I'd learnt from some of the people around me, but looking back I think you pick up good advice and habits from all kinds of people you meet.

As with so many small businesses starting out though, I guess you need to acknowledge the help and support of your family. My Dad had some really high level jobs across Europe when I was growing up and to be honest I think that inspired me to 'think big'.

Q Did you ever think about turning back?

A There were a couple of moments when you look in the mirror and ask yourself 'what am I doing' but that's just part of being in business. Getting in to work on a Monday morning and finding out your main client has gone bust owing you nearly six figures; that sort of thing makes or breaks companies (or people), but for me the survival instinct is just too strong. Having the conviction to carry on has just always been there for me.

Q What drives you on now?

A I genuinely just want to make AC Group the best I can. We are already becoming a market leader in some areas of the business and I won't stop until we can't grow or improve any more. I still get a buzz every time we create another job, get fantastic feedback from our clients or find and win new business -I'll never tire of that.

Q Did you think you'd ever make it?

A Honestly? - that would be a vain answer! I was always confident that I could grow a successful business but never had an image of what that would be.

Even now I make plans for the future but I know some of them will work and some won't. Some of the most successful parts of the business have been opportunities I've seized along the way.

We've managed to end up owning a very successful Groundworks and Construction business - five years ago that wasn't in the plan but now it's a key part of the business - you just never know. The important thing is to stay determined to succeed, be open minded and never give up.

Q Do you believe in luck?

A I do believe in luck, the problem is it comes in equal measures of good and bad. If you work hard, you'll get your fair share of good luck, but, in reality, I think we should all replace the word luck with 'opportunity'. If you're alert to the market and hungry for business you'll find more opportunities - the more you find the more you'll win.

Q What's your one piece of advice for a budding entrepreneuer?

A Never give up and keep going - if you want something badly enough you can make it happen - if you don't try, if definitely won't happen.

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