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In the spotlight this month is our financial controller, Karen Whitehead, who has been part of the Vale Southern Construction family for 28 years! Here, she reveals how her role – and the business – has changed over nearly three decades.

What first attracted you to working at Vale Southern?

I originally came to work for Vale Builders Southern when Martin West, our current Chairman, was asked to start up the company’s Portsmouth division. 

Martin is my uncle and he asked if I’d be interested in working with him part time as a receptionist/administrator while my children were very young. I told him I would ‘as long as it’s part time’ but that agreement didn’t last long!

How has your role developed over the years?

When I began working full time, I gained more responsibilities including looking after the business finances. I’d worked in finance before so had some knowledge, but construction accounting was new to me.

Since then, I’ve gained extensive experience in this field by setting up and using four different subcontract accounting systems. I’ve told the current director that he can only change these systems when I retire!

I’ve also developed an enormous knowledge of the construction industry, which I didn’t have a clue about when I first started my role. I’d mainly worked in retail, and it felt like those who worked in construction had a language of their own.

This knowledge has helped me on a personal level too, supporting me with the refurbishment of a property I purchased when I first started at Vale Southern.

What key changes have you witnessed at Vale Southern over the years?

There have been many changes during my 28 years. When I first started, the company was quite small, mainly carrying out pub refurbishments and small extensions. 

During my time here, the company has changed ownership more than once, we’ve rebranded to Vale Southern Construction, moved premises three times, and seen our turnover increase from under a million to multimillions. We have built hotels and flats, retail complexes and some stunning new-build residential properties.

Have there been any particular highlights for you personally while working for the company?

Staff turnover has always been low and I have made some wonderful friends working here. Some of my closest friends are ex-employees who have either retired or left because the only way to get higher up the ladder was to step into my shoes - and I wasn’t ready to retire! There are a few staff members who work on site who have been here nearly as long as me and it’s great to meet up when we have the annual Christmas party. 

Vale Southern is all about family. My cousin Oliver is managing director, my daughter Charlotte is being trained to step into my shoes and my sister-in-law Jane looks after the purchase ledger. As for me I may eventually retire – but not just yet!


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