Published: 12:01, 22 April 2013
IT ALL began with a £2,000 digger 40 years ago.
When Irish-born Pat Gallagher, now 64, decided to stop working for someone else to pursue his own path, he did not expect it to lead to a £50 million turnover group employing 300 people.
“I didn’t want to work for anyone but be free to do my own thing,” he said. “In those days, it was all about learning a trade. If you had a trade, you were made for life. Today it’s about going to university.”
He had been hired to drive a digger for builder Pat Burke, now his best friend, who advised him there was enough work for everyone. The young Gallagher bought that digger and never looked back.
It hasn’t been all plain sailing for Gallagher Group, which he founded in 1973. Recessions have not helped. It’s not easy for construction firms at the moment, so diversification into aggregates and property development – Eclipse Park, Maidstone, is an example – has insulated it from the full forces of the downturn.
Aggregates have placed Gallagher Group at the centre of controversy. It faced fierce opposition to plans to extend quarrying into Oaken Wood.
But Mr Gallagher sympathises. “How would I feel if I was where they are? They’d never see it the way you see it.”
A public inquiry ruling is expected soon. If it goes for Gallagher, he has pledged to restore the wood as soon as possible, insisting the environment is at the heart of his agenda. He says he loves beautifying quarried land as he goes. His former quarry sites are now covered in grass and grazed by cattle.
“I don’t want it to be an eyesore.”
More controversy surrounds Gallagher’s proposals for a business estate off Junction 8 of the M20.
Born to a grocer’s family in County Leitrim, the Irish county that gives his Aylesford HQ its name, he left Ireland with the family when he was 17. They moved to Aylesford Village to live with his aunt.
“I hated it at first but grew to love it,” he says.
He initially worked for Jubilee Clips in Gillingham before moving to Aylesford Sewage works where his father Patrick was killed after falling into a tank. The death devastated the family and his mother moved back to Ireland.
He says it would be harder these days to do what he did 40 years ago. “If a young person said they’d like to start a business, I would tell them ‘forget annual holidays, it’s dark when you wake up and when you finish’.
“Unless you’re prepared to put the commitment into it, don’t think about starting a business and never make a promise unless you’re prepared to keep it.
“I was very ambitious because I liked the good things of life – a nice suit and a few beers.”
His success has brought him several racehorses. Kent Ragstone, stabled in Newmarket, recently won first time out.
Apart from aggregates, the firm specialises in groundworks and property development. He would like to see a resurgence in stonemasonry using ragstone and has pledged to sponsor a college course.
Mr Gallagher, 64, would like the government to make it easier for firms to take on staff.
“The people who create jobs need encouragement. Hiring needs to be more simple. People should be able to move between jobs more easily.
“We should take down some of the barriers, make it easier to employ people, make it easier for people to be self-employed.”
He admires the late Lady Thatcher. “She implored people to get off their backside and that’s what I did. You must never become comfortable – that’s the opposite of ambition. Life is about having a dream.”
The man with his name over Maidstone United’s new football stadium is keen to keep the firm in the family. Two of his
four children – Stephen and Lindsey – are involved in the business.
He admits to regrets and things he should have done differently. “But we never treated people disrespectfully.”