Derbyshire dad who worked 20-hour days to build up business with £25million turnover says it's time for fun with his family

A Derbyshire dad who struggled to read and write at school has built up a business turning over £25million a year.

By Wendy Roberts
Monday, 11th April 2022, 4:00 pm

Christian Watson has spent a decade of working 20-hour days launching and growing Phoenix Brickwork which has its headquarters in Pinxton.

Now he plans to start a new chapter in his life, including spending time with family and seeing the world.

The 35-year-old dad of two, from Belper, said: “Phoenix Brickwork was a dream and I turned it into a reality, but I’ve learned that there’s no point earning all the money if you don’t give yourself time to enjoy it.”

Christian Watson is the chairman of Phoenix Brickwork, whose headquarters is in Pinxton (photo: Dave Perry Photography)

Christian said the best days of his life were being able to tell his mum and dad to quit their jobs and retire. His mum, Elaine, worked as a dinner lady and his dad, Peter, worked 12-hour shifts in a factory in Heage.

“I took my parents to Mercedes when I was collecting a new car – but I didn’t tell them it was for them. My parents cried when the dealer handed them the keys! It meant the absolute world to me,” he said.

“I can’t even tell you all the things these two people have done for me. My dad worked so hard so we could have a house in Belper, and it wasn’t easy for them – but I never saw us struggle.

“They looked after me and now I’ve set them up in retirement,” says Christian.

Family is important to dad of two Christian Watson who says his best days included telling his parents they no longer needed to go out to work and buying them a new Mercedes car (photo: Dave Perry Photography).

He said: “When I was a kid, I was obsessed with making money. I used to go out and pick up aluminium cans and take them to the recycling centre to cash in. I remember the buzz of putting that money in my pocket.

“As I grew up, the need to be successful was at the heart of everything I did and that’s why launching Phoenix Brickwork has been so rewarding.”

Despite his literacy difficulties at school, Christian was a whizz at numbers which helped him clinch his first job as a trainee quantity surveyor with Bowmer and Kirkland. He was 16 years old and fresh out of Belper School when he was offered an apprenticeship.

He said: “My dad was proud, but I remember feeling terrified when my boss said that I’d have to go to university. I hated school, but when it came to numbers, I was like Rain Man.”

Christian Watson

Christian enjoyed five successful years with Bowmer and Kirkland, achieved a 2:1 at university and enjoyed his £7k a year salary.

In 2010, Phoenix Brickwork rose from the ashes – a term Christian likes to use – and that’s when the hard work started. Working from his family home in Belper, he was determined to build a successful business and he really grafted.

He said: “I didn’t even pay myself at the beginning, but my first profit was when I did some work for Rolls-Royce. The biggest thrill of my career was banking that £300.”

Thanks to Phoenix Brickwork, Christian has worked on some amazing jobs, including St George’s Park - the English Football Association’s national football centre in Burton. Since the start, Phoenix has secured some impressive contract wins across the UK and has clinched a handful of awards.

The business now employs 75 people, has around 300 loyal contractors and has offices in Northampton.

Christian loves meals out with his parents and partner, Marie, and spending weekends with his children, Ethan, 8 and six-year-old Sienna.

Despite taking some much-needed time out to travel, Christian is already thinking about Phoenix and what he’s going to do when he returns.

His next plan is to set up a Phoenix Apprenticeship Academy to help young people start their careers in the brickwork, scaffolding and drywalling industry. He wants to see more teenagers learn manual skills of scaffolding, drylining and bricklaying.

Christian said: “I know what it’s like to find school a struggle, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make something of your life. You can be anything you want to be. It’s all about working hard and chasing your dreams.”