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Founder of major Scottish housebuilder Stewart Milne retires as firm goes on the market

Stewart Milne Group founder/owner Stewart Milne.
Stewart Milne Group founder/owner Stewart Milne.

The man that founded a major Scottish housebuilder has announced his retirement and kick-started a sale of his empire.

Stewart Milne has hoisted the “for sale” sign over his housebuilding group.

The multi-millionaire plans to spend more time with family and friends.

It is nearly 50 years since Mr Milne founded Stewart Milne Construction, which had just 30 employees and turnover of £1 million in its first year.

Mr Milne said like many during the pandemic he’d thought about what was important to him.

The 71-year-old said: “The unprecedented events of the last two years have forced many to re-evaluate.

“After considerable soul-searching, I have decided that the time is right to step back from the business I founded to prioritise my time for family, friends and other ventures I want to pursue.”

Mr Milne said the Covid-19 pandemic gave him time to reevaluate.

He plans to split his time between homes in Aberdeen, Perthshire, Turkey and Florida.

Stewart Milne Homes (SMH) is expected to attract interest from national housebuilders, with any sale delivering a bumper retirement boost for its principal shareholder.

Last August, Stewart Milne Group (SMG) announced pre-tax losses of £71.5m and turnover of £269.7m for the Covid-impacted year to October 31 2020.

The firm’s operations stopped for four months during the first Covid-19 lockdown.

Pre-tax profits and turnover for July 2018 to October 2019, before the group transitioned to a new financial calendar, came in at £48.5m and £379m respectively.

Timber frame business sold

In December the company announced it had sold its house kit business, Stewart Milne Timber Systems.

It was bought by Fife-based timber giant James Donaldson & Sons for an undisclosed sum.

Chief executive Stuart MacGregor said the sale of the timber arm of the business allowed the group to strengthen investment in its “thriving” homes business.

It would, he said, be targeting demand across Scotland and north-west England.

It came on the back of record sales for Aberdeen-based SMH, which has benefited from the release of pent-up demand for house moves as coronavirus restrictions eased.

The board now aims to capitalise on a continuing strong performance as it seeks a new owner to replace the company’s founder.

Company founder says firm ‘well-placed’

As he steps down, Mr Milne said the firm is well placed to capitalise on high demand.

He added: “In the last 18 months, we’ve significantly strengthened the business with major efficiencies and our new homes range.

“We are superbly placed to capitalise on the favourable market conditions and demand which are set to continue”

Mr Milne will remain on the board at Aberdeen Football Club, where he was chairman for 21 years before stepping down in December 2019.

Current Aberdeen FC chairman Dave Cormack praised his predecessor.

Stewart Milne with current Aberdeen FC chairman Dave Cormack.

He said: “Stewart has devoted over five decades to building Stewart Milne Group into a leading independent player in one of the most volatile and fiercely competitive sectors.

“I fully understand his desire to take a step back and enjoy more quality time with family and friends but am pleased he will remain on Aberdeen FC’s board for the time being.”

Increase in profit and turnover expected

Accounts for the year to October 2021 are expected to show a dramatic increase in turnover and profits.

But SMG has warned “significant investment” is needed to realise its growth ambitions for SMH, particularly in relation to its strategic land bank.

Mr MacGregor said: “We anticipate attracting a high level of interest from potential buyers who will invest in order to capitalise on the strength of our business and the buoyancy of the current homes market.

“We have one of the strongest sales pipelines in our history. We anticipate generating significant sales over the next two years.

Stewart Milne Group chief executive Stuart MacGregor.

“Stewart Milne Group presents a compelling proposition.

“With land prices rising, investment is needed to take advantage of our unrivalled land-buying experience and the development opportunities available.”

SMG has offices in Westhill, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Manchester and a 1,000-strong workforce, including sub-contractors.

About 20 housing developments are currently at various stages across Scotland and north-west England.

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