At the end of March Dave Bonner, Managing Director of Nevill Long, embarked on his well-earned retirement following a career spanning 46 years! Incredibly, Dave has spent all his working years with Nevill Long, although the business has changed ownership a few times during his tenure.

SpecFinish talks to Dave about his career, his experiences and most memorable moments, and his aspirations for the sector going forward.

When did you join Nevill Long and how did your career develop?
Well it all started on the 2 January 1977 when I joined Nevill Long & Co (Boards) Ltd under the ownership of Hedley J Meek as a graduate trainee. Nevill Long then consisted of just two branches, Southall and Dagenham. Bristol followed a few years later. By 1988, I was Branch Manager and Hedley tasked me with the opening of a new Midlands branch in Daventry, which I managed for a time.

After Hedley passed away the company was sold to James Latham plc. I was then promoted to Sales Manager in 1991, which led to the appointment of Sales Director in 1992 and then Sales & Purchasing Director in 1996. During this time, I was involved in the opening of two more branches, Leeds and Birmingham, and in the acquisition of Soarsett Ltd, a Northern Distributor. The purchase enabled three further Nevill Long branches to be opened in Manchester, Washington and Preston.

Roll on a few more years, and in May 2000 I became Managing Director, reporting to the then chairman, Peter Latham of James Latham PLC. In 2006, James Latham sold Nevill Long to Wolseley PLC, who 12 months prior had also acquired Encon Insulation.

The end result is that in 2011, a management buy-out led by our current CEO Stuart Moore, saw The Encon Group return to its independent roots. The acquisition included Encon Insulation, Nevill Long and other established brands.

That is a remarkable journey for you and the Nevill Long brand. So what would you say are your most memorable moments?
There are lots! It’s a great industry and I’ve built many fantastic relationships along the way. To pick a few, I’d say getting a Triumph Dolomite Sprint as one of my earlier company cars in 1978. If you know about cars, you’ll understand why I mention it. I thought I’d made it at that point!

The other is becoming Managing Director in 2000. It was a very proud moment, and I’ve had the privilege of working with strong mentors during my career that have greatly aided my development. Two that I’d like to mention; Barry Eldridge, Commercial Director of Nevill Long in 1977 and Peter Latham, Chairman of James Latham in 2000. I hope that over recent years, I’ve been able to support my team in the same way.

The third is working with our CEO, Stuart Moore to successfully bring our two brands (Encon Interior Systems & Nevill Long) together. Today Nevill Long can lay claim to being the UK’s longest established distributor brand of interior systems, credit to the company’s dedicated teams, strong leadership and longstanding relationships. Long may it continue!

So what would you say are the most significant changes you’ve seen over the years?
One that comes top of mind is imperial sizes. In the earlier days and with ceiling tiles coming from the US, we used to supply in imperial and metric, which did at times cause

confusion… The other is of course the extent of technological advancements, which have been numerous and significant over the last 40+ years. No mobiles phones when I started, and a lot was still handwritten!

What do you think the future holds for the sector?
Changes in regulations and legislation will have a significant impact on the fit-out sector and wider construction. The Building Safety Act being the most significant that will define the construction landscape going forward.

Product wise, we’ve seen a number of innovative developments in design and colour introduced in the market recently, adding breadth to interior solutions. It will be interesting to see how these innovations evolve and to what extent they will trend over coming years.

In terms of the role of the distributor, my view is that specialist knowledge will grow in importance and become an integral part of how we support our customers and their projects. Increasingly I see main contractors relying on the technical expertise of their supply chain partners to help them make the right choice.

Lastly, what will you miss about the industry and what will you do with all that spare time?
It goes without saying that I will miss the people, and the relationships I’ve built over the years with my team, colleagues, suppliers and customers. Hopefully, there’ll be opportunities to keep in touch! As for my retirement plans, I’m sure my wife has a long list ready for me. I hope to enjoy more time with my family, and we definitely want to see more of the world, so a lot of travelling is on the cards. I’d like to watch more cricket too!

An incredible story from an incredible man. We wish Dave a happy and long retirement.