Lead Interview: Lee Storer


Managing Director, Anglian Demolition & Waste Recycling.
Our lead interview in the TENACITY issue of Norfolk Director business magazine is Lee Storer.
Published in UK Director Magazines Summer 2024

In the footsteps of his father

 “I want to build a brand that will be around for a long time. I want to leave a legacy and that’s what I’ve been trying to create over the years.”

 Interview: Sue Wilcock | Martine Silkstone
Pictures: Warren Page, Pagepix

Lee Storer talks to Norfolk Director

The life of an entrepreneur can often be described as a roller coaster ride: full of highs and lows, excitement and fear, and sometimes turning you completely upside down! It takes courage and tenacity to ride it to the end and find success, and that perfectly describes Norfolk businessman, Lee Storer.

From an early paper round to founding Anglian, he has been through it all and taken each challenge in his stride.

He says: “I just look at it as a game. It’s like taking part in an obstacle course. What’s going to be thrown at you today? It could be quite minor, or it could be something big. Nothing’s plain sailing and you’ve got to have the ability to just deal with it. As a typical Gen Xer, I learned from childhood to be resourceful and independent.”

Where it all began

Born in 1969, Lee grew up in a terraced house in South London with two siblings and his parents. He describes the area as “a little rough” – he experienced the Brixton riots aged just 12 years old – but he enjoyed having lots of family living nearby.  

He remembers: “As ‘latchkey kids’, we’d come home from school and if mum was working, we’d just go to my nan’s house. It doesn’t happen so much now, families living close by and in and out of each other’s houses, but back then you had that support network around you all the time.”

As a child Lee’s days were spent riding his bike, making go-karts, helping his dad repair and spray cars outside the house, and riding the family ponies which were stabled 40 minutes away – a legacy of his grandfather’s days delivering coal on horse and cart.

He describes an “air of change” felt during those years and certain events stick in his memory – the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, electricity blackouts, Thatcher’s election – though time spent with his father, Ken, would have the greatest impact on the man he would become.

Lee recalls: “Dad (pictured below) was a real grafter with a variety of businesses, and during his time as a truck driver I would travel with him up and down the country – delivering crane jibs and heavy plant to containers out of Tilbury Docks.

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“From the age of six or seven I would be with him all the time – weekends, school holidays – some of the best days of my young life. I learned so much from him and that is definitely where I get my work ethic.”

Starting to earn

By the age of ten, Lee was getting up at five o’clock for a paper round, and at the age of 14 he got a Saturday job at a builders’ merchants.

“It was hard work but I enjoyed it and always got on well with the other staff. If people see you mucking in and pulling your weight then they are quite happy to work with you, aren’t they?”

When not working or on the road, Lee also enjoyed school and had a great circle of friends. Academically gifted, he was offered a place at the respected Stanley Technical High School and was ranked in the top 2% each year despite being “a bit of a tearaway”.

“I got away with a lot,” he grins. “Partly because my results were good and partly because I’d have a laugh and joke. I think it was just talking to teachers, you know, and not giving them attitude if caught doing something.”

“I could always get on with people, that’s something I got from my dad.”

Despite not revising, Lee left school with seven O Levels and, though he briefly thought about becoming an architect, he naturally gravitated towards something more ‘hands-on’ and went to work for his father’s roofing supply company, based in Deptford.

A leader is born

Lee enjoyed working for his father (pictured below), even though he felt more was expected of him as the boss’s son and they would sometimes “lock horns” over how things were done.

“If I could see ways of doing things better, I said so, which sometimes led to conflict and a bit of shouting, but it always calmed down again…and he’d end up doing it my way,” he laughs.

 

With the business doing well, they soon decided to open another warehouse at Beckingham. It was a big investment and Lee says there wasn’t much planning before the expansion, just his dad’s vision of what was possible and courage to go for it (the entrepreneurial apple didn’t fall far from the tree).

The new depot opened in 1986 but Lee stayed at the Deptford branch under a new manager. He says that he quickly realised his new boss “wasn’t particularly good” and that he could do a better job – his dad said: “prove it”. So, at the age of 17, he became manager, with a salesman, four yard staff, and six lorry drivers under his responsibility.

“Looking back, while I certainly wasn’t a businessman at that stage, I think I always had an eye for where things could be improved.”

“Yes, people could see I was young, but they quickly realised that I knew what I was talking about and respected me for that.

“I tripled the turnover in the first month just by listening to the clients and chasing down sales.”

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Norfolk beckons

With things going well, the decision was made to open yet another depot – this time in Norfolk. It was a decision that would eventually bring the business down, but more on that later.

The family loved Norfolk having spent holidays at Hemsby Pontins and travelling around the Broads. Lee’s aunt also lived in Dereham and they would visit for long weekends. So, in 1989, the family bought a five-acre farm in Hethel and the third warehouse was opened in Norwich.

With his life established in the capital, Lee decided to stay on in London.

“I had an old Fiesta XR2 by then,” he remembers. “I was living at my nan’s house and managing the two original depots, but I would commute to Norfolk every weekend.”

“The first time I drove up, I managed to get to Wymondham but then got totally lost. There were no streetlamps, no phone boxes, and I was relying on an atlas for directions.”

Everything was ticking along nicely but over time Lee got tired of driving back and forth and he was growing to love the new family home so, with his mum Ann’s encouragement, he too moved up permanently.

Down in London, a new general manager was appointed…

Downfall

The Norwich depot became very successful over the following year but, with Lee now in Norfolk, they took their eye off the ball in London and the two original depots started to lose money.

Eventually a full audit confirmed a big hole in the accounts that showed the manager was diverting building materials to false addresses on an industrial scale. So big that the company was unable to continue trading.

Lee remembers: “Obviously, this was a traumatic time, but you can learn a lot from both success and failure. I certainly learned a lot about business and human nature during this time. We were all quite resilient and just pulled together. None of us sat down and felt sorry for ourselves, we just thought: okay, what are we going to do next then?”

As it turned out, ‘next’ was a year of selling propane gas and, though it came to a natural end, this venture was enough to get the family back on its feet.

Going it alone

At the age of 21, Lee made the decision to start his own business. He explains: “I just thought: what will people always need? What business will be resilient even in a downturn? I narrowed it down to three things: food, fuel, and a way to deal with waste. So, I decided to buy a little transit skip lorry and five skips.”

Working out of the family farm and offloading at the council tip, he describes the waste process as a lot of “ducking and diving”, but the company quickly started to grow.

Meanwhile, away from work he was a typical young man going out to nightclubs. Always sociable, he got to know the staff at one of the clubs in Kings Lynn and they persuaded him to start working as a doorman – burning the candle at both ends and using his ability to connect with people to diffuse tricky situations.

Aged 24 and while working at the club, he met his first wife. The marriage lasted eight years and saw his “greatest personal achievement” – the birth of his two daughters, Holly and Abbie.

Rise and fall

Through these years, his skip business continued to expand with six lorries and a waste transfer section in Wymondham – but it wasn’t all smooth sailing.

“Nothing was ever easy,” Lee explains, “because you had to have qualifications to get a waste licence, but you couldn’t be assessed for the qualifications without one – it was one of those chicken and egg situations. So, I lobbied a lot of people and was quite vocal, even going on the radio. I ended up being one of the first people in the area to get the licence and qualification.”

A typical example of his natural tenacity and, with the paperwork now in place, further expansion was on the cards. Needing capital to move forward, Lee was approached by an investor who seemed to share his vision. It was only after going ahead that he realised he had ulterior motives. Lee explains:

“It was his intention to take the company down then go it alone with the venture.”

“Bearing in mind I’m only in my mid-twenties at this point, I learned an important lesson – not to tie things up just on a handshake!”

Gaining knowledge

Needing to regroup, Lee worked for another waste company for two years and got his first experience of big business – working in a variety of areas including planning and health and safety. Shadowing the MD, he witnessed land deals and equipment purchases, and discovered the benefits of brand and marketing.

With this wealth of valuable new tools, he decided to go it alone again and became a consultant, undertaking planning applications and permits in the waste industry, and formulating health and safety documents for demolition companies.

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Eventually this resulted in Lee working predominantly for one client and he identified that a licence to remove asbestos would give them an advantage over their competitors. He formed a separate company to deliver this and, after many courses and exams, gained the qualifications. What he didn’t have was the necessary experience.

“I was back to the chicken and egg situation! So, I approached my training lecturer, John Fowler, and asked him to join me, which he did. The project worked well for a year, until the contractor started to hold back payments.”

New beginnings

In 2007, they found themselves sat around a table planning their next move. First, they would need an office, and second: what was the new brand going to be?

“The thought process we had around the name was: Where will we operate from? How will people find us? I thought the easiest thing was to keep it regional and Anglian seemed appropriate. As well as futureproofing the company, it gave people that little bit of familiarity to buy into. So, I designed the logo on Word and Anglian Demolition & Asbestos Ltd was born.”

Lee took the exams needed to join the Institute of Demolition Engineers and, along with his existing qualifications, positioned the company as specialists in the industry, offering a professional service with the USP of simply “doing things right”.

“We got a reasonable market share fairly quickly on the back of that,” he says. “We ended up doing our first job for a leading local contractor at cost to show them what we could do. It went well, and we became a preferred contractor for the whole framework.”

Growing legs

Since then, Anglian has developed its range of services from just demolition and asbestos, to providing scaffolding, earthworks, scrap metal recycling, and waste management.

Lee says: “I have learned through the years how important it is to have more than one leg on your stool. You can’t just stick to one service and hope that’s always going to be there – one downturn in that sector can put you under.”

“Spreading the risk is the core of the business.”

The overall strategy is now Lee’s focus rather than being hands on, though he says: “Don’t get me wrong, if I’m having a bad day I’ll just jump on one of the diggers or cranes, put some music on, and start clearing up scrap. It’s a great stress relief mechanism but I wouldn’t want to be doing it all day. I like the challenge of the big picture.”

Anglian now employs around 120 people and Lee says the biggest challenge is around recruitment.

“It’s never easy and finding supervisors can be particularly hard. They might know their job, but they don’t always know how to lead. Sometimes it’s easier to just find someone sensible, then teach them the job. Even then, you can’t guarantee they’re going to be with you for the full journey. There’s a job for life here if you want it but sometimes you build up a tight-knit team then someone leaves – that can be hard.”

Finding love at work

It’s fair to say that his experience of recruitment isn’t all bad though, as it brought him together with his wife, Toni. She was initially hired for promotional work at the Norfolk Show but a month later, having impressed with her knowledge and capability, she was first choice for the role of BDM.

“She was just so switched on,” Lee remembers. “She is now a director and line manager for HR. Put simply, she’s the glue in the room. If you’ve got a problem, you go to Toni and she sorts it out.”

The couple dated for a while and in 2016, a leap year, Toni proposed. Of course, Lee said yes, and they married in St Lucia the following year.

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The Caribbean has been special to them ever since and they now have a boat charter business in Antigua which “gives them something to do while on holiday” – the entrepreneur never switches off it seems.

Lee explains: “Since my early 20s it has been work, work, work. I didn’t have holidays because if I wasn’t there, the job wouldn’t get done. Since meeting Toni, I have definitely started travelling more and eventually, when we can take a step away from the business, we’d like to spend more time in the Caribbean.”

But he is not ready to do it just yet.

Building a legacy

“There’s always succession planning and exit strategies but right now I still have ambitions for growing the business.”

He continues: “Winning the ‘Norfolk Large Business of the Year 2022’ was an amazing recognition of the team’s effort in building a respectable brand and achieving the goals I set out in 2007 – but there is still more to do.”

His plans include continued work within the community. Anglian sponsors Attleborough Boxing Club, Diss Rugby Club, and Long Stratton Football Club, and Lee is very proud of the company’s association with the teams and their work with young people.

So, what is it that still drives you?

“I want to build a brand that will be around for a long time. I want to leave a legacy and that’s what I’ve been trying to create over the years.

“My first role model was my dad. He worked hard all his life and instilled a work ethic in me that I have to this day – that was his legacy. Although he is not about now, I think about him most days and I know he would have loved to have been involved in Anglian.”

www.angliandemo.co.uk

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