Keith Baldwin looks back at how the business started in his book, “Life is what you make it”

What happens when you have spent years building a successful traffic management business and step down as Managing Director? Keith Baldwin became Chair of the HTM in 2020, focusing more on strategic matters and governance standards and enabling Greg Baldwin to take full control as Managing Director to steer the HTM ship.

Having been gifted an opportunity to go through his memoirs, Keith has ended up with a short book about his life which, naturally, includes a lot of information about Highway Traffic Management and how it all started, including his definition of traffic management as “everything that needs to be put in place to make a safe environment when normal traffic flow is interrupted, for whatever reason. Most often, it is to protect construction workers on the highways.”

In 1992, Keith lost his job at Kinmain Construction after the company went bust. After starting work as a Contracts Manager for Charlie Williams of R&C Williams and following an interview with Nigel Drew, Keith mentioned he felt there was a gap in the market or traffic management.

This is where HTM’s story began: “What we were going to do was to bring traffic management up to date, to make it an essential, accountable part of any project plan.”

By 1997, the company had expanded their workforce along with their vehicle fleet, including a 7.5 tonne truck with footwells and flashing lights.

“In our first year we had a turnover of £70,000. The second year we expanded that by 500%, and year four saw us topping the £1 million mark.”

Various milestones culminated in 2010, when HTM won the Birmingham Highways PFI (Private Finance Initiative) for traffic management works. “This was a massive 25-year contract, giving us the bedrock of long-term financial security.”

Keith also recognises the importance of Charlie Williams and the C Williams umbrella, of which multiple businesses within the sector worked under and benefitted from.

“It says a lot for Charlie’s goodwill and generosity: his investment was not just in products, but in people,” said Keith.

The HTM founder also notes the way the industry has evolved over the years, with paraffin lamps being commonplace in days gone by and the huge impact the sector has seen thanks to the introduction of paperless systems. One of the biggest innovations, however, was the development of the low-level traffic management vehicle, something which Keith had pioneered himself.

In 2012, he asked a fleet supplier to bring over a demonstration vehicle, but they turned up in a large transit. Having stepped onto the vehicle via the sliding side door, he had a lightbulb moment.

“The floor base was so low that I could set down or pick up cones, without hardly bending down! It was exactly what we needed. Except that this was an enclosed transit. What we needed was this, but with an open platform.”

Having talked his ideas through with the sales rep about the requirements of what this ideal vehicle would need, Keith was told that it wasn’t possible.

“We did it ourselves. I ordered four of the front-wheel drive units with cab only, and we experimented with building platforms onto the bare chassis. It was all trial and error, tackling problems such as how to avoid the tripping-hazard of the wheel arches. We solved that one by building a wooden tower over each arch, which would double as storage. What we ended up with in 2013 was a workable TM operations vehicle. We called it the Low Level Vehicle.”

Following further experimentation and discussion with manufacturers, a production-ready design was put together with a new purpose-made chassis, which was based on a camper van platform. This design went on to become an industry standard, with Keith being recognised as Best Innovator by the MCTG (Midlands Construction Training Group) and Mercia Awards for Safety and Innovation. “It was a big feather in my cap,” Keith adds.

“The ethics of the company have always been that we reach out and support the wider community where we can.” This is something that has continued following the changing of the guard in 2020, with Greg Baldwin following in his father’s footsteps with a similar approach, understanding that his role is about more than just business, winning the Senior Leader Award for Mind’s Workplace Wellbeing Index, for raising awareness of mental health and wellbeing not only within HTM, but also across the wider traffic management industry.

The commitment of Keith to the industry was also recognised in 2019 when he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award b CECA (Civil Engineering Contractors Association). This recognises an outstanding contribution to the industry and a model of excellence across an entire career.

“It’s not just about being there for a long time, and staying up to date; what I was proudest of was it acknowledges mentoring, embracing fairness and diversity, and being both liked and respected across the industry. If I can put my hand up to all of that, I can feel I’ve done my job well.”

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