The story of Whitestar, so far.
Back in 2000, when John English founded the business that became Whitestar, clients often thumbed through the Yellow Pages to find an electrical contractor.
In fact, John remembers that one of the company’s most loyal clients (they still work together today) found them exactly that way.
As Whitestar embraces a new brand going into its 23rd year, we thought we’d trace our story, from one person in 2000 to 34 employees in 2023.
We’ll start with founder, John English.
Answering the questions: John English, Whitestar founder
How did Whitestar begin, John?
I was in my twenties when I founded Whitestar. I was keen to develop relationships, take on more responsibility, so I left my employment on a Friday and started the business (Total Cabling Solutions as it was) on the following Monday!
Although my title was Managing Director, I assumed the roles of sales, marketing, finance, operations, IT and so on. As with anyone who starts a business, I did everything from start to finish.
Not everything ran smoothly in the early days. I was promised several contracts if I left my job and started up on my own. It didn’t work out like that.
When I did leave, no-one came with me and my anticipated sales vanished. The start-up life was even tougher than I imagined. I had to learn a lot, sharpish!
What’s different now for you since you started Whitestar?
It’s certainly been quite a journey since 2000. Starting the business was a risk, no doubt. Our current success was no way guaranteed. Time was precious. I took no holidays for the first seven years running the business (I’m trying to make up for it now!)
Now I’m in my forties, my grown-up children are currently touring Australia, and I’ve had more time to reflect on how the business has changed.
Over the years, as we started to employ people they took on roles for me, allowing my position to develop into more of the role it is now. My current title is Managing Director. Eventually, I hope that senior management will run the business without me.
What’s changed for the business over the years?
Some things have stayed the same. Our location, for a start. We based ourselves in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, and our HQ is still here today.
Our core business is broadly similar too. We’ve always specialised in data and electrical cabling, but what’s different is the size and scope. Right now, 34 employees provide data and electrical installation for business clients all across the UK. It’s not just me any more!
2018 was an important year, as we amalgamated with another company – Cable Dynamics. As I mentioned, our original name was Total Cabling Solutions – we only became Whitestar in 2020.
Together, we had 47 years of realworld industry experience. Even though our goals and services were similar, our workplace cultures were different. That meant we had to work hard to create one unified business.
Tell us about a recent project.
We’ve worked with London Business School since 2015. With 26 buildings near Regent’s Park in London, it’s one of the world’s largest and most prestigious business schools. Some of those buildings are historically important.
All in all, we test and maintain over 4000 electrical circuits, 3000 emergency lights and more than 15,000 electrical devices. It’s a big responsibility to look after student, staff and visitor safety like this.
Obviously London Business School thought we’d risen to the challenge, because they renewed our contract for another five years. They also appointed us for the complete electrical renovation of a new building.
LBS trusts us because, in the time we’ve worked together, they haven’t experienced a single electrical incident. That’s because we identified and rectified any issues before they caused problems.
You can read more on this project, and what London Business School says about Whitestar, by clicking here. [link to case study]
What kind of technology changes have you seen over the years?
Technology has evolved beyond recognition since I started, and we’ve always tried to keep pace.
We train apprentices every year – they bring youthful energy to the business.
Our services evolved with the tech too, which prompted this brand refresh in 2023. Our new visuals reflect our values better [internal link to values].
I can sum our values up simply like this –
- Always do right
- We love it
- We triple check
- We care
- We look forward
To be honest, we’d outgrown our existing branding. We were already competing with big companies and are ambitious to grow. This rebrand feels like a new chapter for all of us. It’s a fresh start that the whole team can get behind and feel attached to.
Have your core values changed over the years?
Broadly speaking, no. We’ve still got that same focus on putting people (clients and employees) before profits.
Everyone’s talking about brand purpose in marketing circles now. To me, that’s been a powerful motivator since the start.
I’ve always believed in keeping clients for the long term. Doing the right thing always mattered.
We would rather have a happy, engaged workforce than make huge profits at the expense of staff wellbeing.
Tell us about the biggest misconception in your industry.
That’s easy. It’s got to be the number of times we have to explain “no, we don’t work in your home.”
Lots of people think all electrical contractors are the same. In fact, commercial and domestic teams are distinct specialists in their own right.
We’re commercial experts, which means we don’t provide cabling or electrical services in people’s homes. We specialise in large and complex projects, predominantly, although not exclusively, in education, public services and healthcare. If your project involves large or multiple sites, complex requirements and tight turnarounds – we’re in!
So what’s next for Whitestar?
To sum it up – growth. We plan to add to the team, so that Whitestar can serve even more long-term commercial clients, and continue supporting our long term relationships – it’s where we can add most value to our clients.
The management team also has ambitious plans to introduce a profit-share scheme for all our employees which is exciting and motivating for us.
Any industry predictions?
We’re all about helping clients become fit for the future, so our own business is no exception.
I think we’ll see rising demand for electricity, fuelled by market growth in electric vehicles. Businesses will have to respond by reducing electric energy in as many ways as they can, such as utilising smart emergency lighting. I anticipate we’ll be helping clients make that a reality, so they can make savings both financially and environmentally.
We’re aiming for a carbon-neutral future too, just like the majority of our clients.
What’s your number one tip for a business considering commercial cabling?
It’s really simple and applies to lots of questions in life.
Watch out for quick fixes.
Just like any hardware purchase you make for your home, remember that old saying – “buy cheap, buy twice”.
Cost-cutting solutions could easily mean your business ends up paying over the odds in the long run.
Careful investment will be more sustainable and save your business money in the years to come.
Team talk: inside Whitestar
Obviously the MD is full of enthusiasm for the business, but does the team feel the same?
Here’s what they’ve got to say about working at Whitestar.
“Whitestar is a family company, where it feels like the team wants the best for everyone else. We help our colleagues as much as we can and always try to be there for each other.”
“Whitestar is one of the best places I’ve worked, because of the great colleagues I work with.”
“Working at Whitestar is exciting, challenging, and rewarding. We’re all working towards a common goal that’s bigger than ourselves. It’s the difference between good and great. At Whitestar, we’re a great team.”
If you have a question for John or the Whitestar team, get in touch