By Sarah Davidson

      Money Editor


Scotland-based Graeme and Leanne Carling set up United Capital in 2019 with a mission to decarbonise Britain’s existing infrastructure. i spoke to the couple to find out more

Scotland-based Graeme and Leanne Carling set up United Capital in 2019 with a mission to decarbonise Britain’s existing infrastructure.

How did the business start?

As a couple, we have been in business for many years, we specialise in consolidating fragmented markets, much like we have done in the private residential housing market.

We had identified the building services and facilities management sector as one that suited our model of buy-and-build investment.

We were on the lookout for a platform business, one with enough of a profile that we could leverage visibility in the sector to acquire further businesses operating in the same industry.

In late December 2018, we heard rumours that one of Scotland’s Top 500 businesses, McGill, were in trouble, and we met with their accountants on New Year’s Day, although no progress was made.

A couple of weeks later, we happened to be in a meeting at the same hotel where the employees of McGill were told that the business had entered administration.

Our lawyer, who we were meeting with, was able to engage with the appointed administrators immediately, and about six weeks later, we had concluded the deal to acquire the business.

What is the USP?

The building services industry is responsible for as much as 40 per cent of carbon emissions globally, so there’s a lot to be done if organisations and countries are going to meet their zero-carbon obligations.

Many of the solutions you see and hear about in the news are focused on embedding sustainability in new-build infrastructure, but our group companies are focused on decarbonising the existing infrastructure in this country.

We have brought together a group of companies that are perfectly positioned to collaborate to provide sustainable solutions and deliver the largest Government eco-infrastructure contracts.

Few groups have the scale, strength, and resources to pivot as quickly as United Capital. Our size gives us the capacity to reskill our workforce towards renewables, to refocus on decarbonising existing infrastructure, and to do it all at scale.

How has the business evolved?

United Capital was launched with a clear vision, to acquire the best regional building services and facilities management companies, to create a group with scale, stability, and industry clout.

Initially, we were targeting growing group revenues, through acquisition, to £300m, though we underestimated the opportunity in the market, and increased this target to £500m within six months.

The biggest evolution in the business was in the focus on decarbonisation and sustainability.

Though all group businesses were active in delivering renewables work, it wasn’t a primary focus for any of them.

In response to the growing green-movement, and opportunities in the sector, we instructed the complete refocus of all group businesses towards sustainability, and set a new vision for the group, to lead the market in decarbonising the existing built environment.

Have you received investment?

To grow at the speed with which United Capital have, investment is essential.

We work with a number of great international partners to provide the necessary resources to achieve our goals.

Moving our head office to Canary Wharf in London, and setting up a UAE office, was, in part, to facilitate access to investors.

How has Covid-19 affected things?

The Covid-19 pandemic changed almost everything, apart from our determination to achieve our goals.

In the early stages, our Board of Directors stepped up to support the operational parts of the group, ensuring they were following the latest guidance and aware of any, and all, available government support.

In Scotland, restrictions on the building services sector were more extreme than the rest of the UK – overnight almost all our group contracts stopped.

Not long after the beginning of the pandemic, the opportunities started to become apparent.

Many business owners were now considering an exit, and our pipeline of acquisitions jumped to well over £1bn, as sellers recognised the value and stability of being part of a bigger group.

Our business has adjusted to working under Covid, and it has forced a complete review of standard operating procedures and forced us to find new, innovative, and technology-led solutions to ensure operational efficiency.

What are your future plans?

Our pipeline of acquisition deals is growing, and we have several deals due to complete in the first quarter of 2022.

United Capital will continue to pursue our vision of being the leading decarbonisation business focussed on the existing UK built environment, whilst supporting our group companies to reposition themselves in this marketplace.

We will leverage existing and newly acquired group businesses to challenge for the biggest public sector eco-contracts.

We are hugely optimistic about 2022, our team are motivated by the challenges we set ourselves, and committed to achieving our goals.