EXPERT EYE: From top gun to rock star – and into construction from a base in Knowsley
Becoming a fighter pilot or a rock star is the stuff of dreams for most people – and at the age of just 19, Paul Blennerhassett had the choice of both.
That was in 1989 and, despite it being just three years after the blockbuster movie Top Gun, the Huyton teenager turned away from a career with the RAF and instead picked up a guitar and formed a band with a group of friends.
Unlike many of his contemporaries, Paul and his band, N-Trust, found success quickly when they were signed by a management company. Their first album, Quiet Defiance, was recorded in Liverpool’s Parr Street Studios, also graced by artists such as Bjork and Coldplay.
He knew they were onto something when he joined the snaking queue of teenage girls and music fans outside Liverpool’s Virgin Megastore, only to later realise the queue was for the launch of his own band’s album.
In 1991, N-Trust supported rockers 10cc at the Liverpool Empire and went on to support others including Stiltskin. Paul’s style was described by music magazine NME as a cross between Wet Wet Wet and Simply Red.
After a second studio album the band decided to go their separate ways and Paul spent the next decade or so as a solo artist, singing, co-producing and writing for some of the biggest up-coming names in the industry. However, Paul wasn’t finished with big life choices.
Back in 1984 his parents had launched a construction business, now called Sterling Services (Northern). It started doing jobs such as driveways and school playgrounds. It then moved on to subcontracting.
“My parents had worked so hard to establish the business,” said Paul. “My music career saw me move out of home at 18 and I had no real understanding of what my parents were going through to sustain the business.
“They used to run it from the spare bedroom and whilst the quality of work my father was producing was first rate and the way my mother ran the day to day was robust, I could see the effort to maintain this was draining.
“I knew that if I could help them to work smarter, grow the company professionally and build a strong talented team around them I could reduce the strain and also grow the business substantially.”
Between 2004 and 2006 Paul juggled his own still successful music career and began helping to run Sterling Services. He oversaw a move into new commercial premises in Knowsley.
In 2006, Paul was faced with the choice of appointing an experienced managing director to run the company full-time or take the job on himself. He decided on the latter and his efforts were rewarded with a 200% increase in turnover within two years.
He added: “People often asked me what might have been but I’m philosophical about it. I had a great career and came close to huge fame and fortune but my family comes first.”
Quickly the company secured big contracts with major supermarket chains and petrochemical companies covering store and site maintenance all over the UK.
Today, Sterling Services (Northern), based on Knowsley Business Park, is a multi-million pound construction business operating across three divisions; electrical, grounds and building maintenance and major construction projects up to £1m as the principal contractor.
Paul said: “Running a business means you can never take your foot off the pedal as the challenges never cease. We’re recognised and successful all over the UK, but we never really got established locally. We have plans to change this now as we continue to grow, particularly focusing on works across Liverpool city region.”
Alongside electrical, major projects and site maintenance for the retail, education, housing and public sectors the company is currently the only approved electric vehicles charging point installation partner for Rolec RV. Paul is also an active member of Knowsley Chamber and is now part of the popular Knowsley Construction Forum.
“Our success lies at the feet of our fantastic team, the majority of whom are local and have worked for us for many years,” he added. “We’ve got father, son and daughter teams, brothers, families working together and we’ve recently appointed some well known senior names in the industry to help us deliver our growth strategy.
“Growing up in Page Moss I know how hard it can be for young people to keep on the straight and narrow, gain qualifications and secure paid employment. That’s why I’m passionate about having apprentices on the team, we employ two or three each year.
“In truth, the experiences I gained in the music industry would not have happened if people, in some cases total strangers, had not invested time in helping me learn new skills. From picking up a guitar for the first time to standing on stage in front of thousands of people.
“So, as we expand our divisions over the coming months, I’m keen to increase our apprenticeship programme, supporting young people into roles where they continue to learn new skills and gain on the job qualifications, giving them real opportunities, they may never have had otherwise.”