First, it is a construction and civil engineering group nearly half-owned by a charitable trust. Second, it used to be part of Brown & Jackson, better known as the owner of the Poundstretcher retail chain, now known as Instore.
The group traces its history to a 1979 management buyout of Brown & Jackson’s construction division led by Mr Wright, a civil engineer from Lancashire, who is now the chairman.
“Eric had become quite disillusioned with the environment within which his parent company had to operate as a PLC, with remote investors and changes in direction that he really didn’t influence and control,” says group managing director Jeremy Hartley.
“So he bought it out of the PLC world and a charitable trust was put in place to address two primary purposes. The first was to prevent the group being effectively traded and broken up, so that the people working for it could have a stable environment in which to build their career. It has enabled the business to have a longer-term vision.”
Mr Wright owns 51pc of the group, with 49pc held by the trust, which will inherit Mr Wright’s shareholding upon his death.
The other part of the rationale for the trust has to do with one of the things that makes this company different – Mr Wright’s convictions about ethical business and sustainability. He wanted some of the money generated by the group to be fed back into the community.
Operations funded by the Eric Wright Trust include a centre in the Lake District where young people from disadvantaged backgrounds enjoy outdoor and team-building activities.
Preston-based Eric Wright Group now employs 500 people. Construction is the largest division, accounting for two thirds of the £150m turnover, but there are also civil engineering, commercial and residential property development and facilities management arms.
Mr Hartley says: “There are no construction companies I know of with a structure similar to ours. It influences how we conduct our business because we can be more focused on establishing durable relationships with clients, suppliers and subcontractors. That’s enabled very healthy relationships with the public sector in health and education.”
Eric Wright Group has undertaken high-profile contracts, including building Allianz Park, Saracens Rugby Club’s new stadium in Barnet, north London; a £12.25m engineering block for Lancaster University; and the Energy Coast University Technical College in Workington, the UK’s first vocational college for energy sector specialisation.
The group is also active in the health sector, building primary care facilities in Great Harwood, Clitheroe and Colne, east Lancashire. It constructs distribution warehouses and commercial offices and is developing a low-volume residential housebuilder.
“Sustainability is incredibly important to us,” says Mr Hartley. “Corporate social responsibility is not something we pay lip service to. I think that sets us apart at times.”
It certainly does in my view.