Stockton-based MAP Group (UK) has grown into one of Teesside’s biggest success stories, with more than 1,000 employees making a mark on national communications. PETER BARRON talks to Chief Executive Mike Carlin

EVER since he was 11 and landed a job on an ice cream van chiming through the streets where he grew up, Mike Carlin has shown the drive to make the most of his life.

And it has taken him all the way from humble beginnings on Stockton’s Hardwick Estate to building a Teesside-based company that’s playing a leading role in the communications sector, employing more than 1,000 people, and targeting a £90m turnover this year.

By anyone’s estimation, MAP Group (UK) stands tall as an extraordinary achievement, growing into one of the country’s main providers of technology services, with 18 offices around the country as well as its impressive, modern headquarters at Stockton’s Preston Farm Industrial Estate.

An army of MAP engineers install hundreds of kilometers of fibre every day, rising to the challenges of the pandemic as key workers over the past year.

Now, they are embarking on a multi-million pound programme to install fibre optic networks nationwide, partnering the likes of BT Openreach, Virgin Media, City Fibre, Netomnia, Gigaclear, and toob.

And yet Mike’s heart remains on Teesside: “I’ll always be proud of where I’m from,” he nods. “I know I’m biased, but I’ll happily do business with Teessiders all day long because they’re honest, straight, have a sense of humour, and don’t take any bull****.”

Behind him, through the boardroom of the company’s head office, the Eston Hills and Roseberry Topping stretch out hazily on the horizon, and Mike laughs at memories of growing up on Teesside.

“It was a different world, but we had great times, playing football in the street, and cricket against the lampposts,” he recalls.

The Hardwick Estate kids even had their own version of the Grand National, racing from the top of Tithe Barn Road, and jumping the garden hedges all the way down the hill.

Dad, Tommy, worked as a chemical process worker at ICI, mum, Betty, was a staff nurse at North Tees General Hospital, and Mike grew up with two sisters and two brothers .

As well as working five days a week – 4pm to 9pm – on Roger’s Ice Cream van, he also had a job on Marcus’s t-shirt stall at Stockton market on Saturdays, and loaded the van for the market on Wednesdays.

Businessiq: MAP Group HQMAP Group HQ

However, his work ethic didn’t transfer to his studies at Our Lady and St Bede’s, and he left at 16 without any O-levels. “I just didn’t try very hard,” he admits.

When he left school, he took a job as a youth and community worker at Hardwick Youth Club. It was only a six-month contract but long enough to meet his wife-to-be, Mandy. They celebrate their 40th anniversary later this year.

“The plan was to join the Navy as an instrument artificer – I didn’t know what they did, but it sounded good,” he confesses.

Instead, he joined D.T. Bullock, a Billingham construction company, which was erecting the first building on Preston Farm – a storage facility for Scottish and Newcastle Brewery. From starting as a cost and bonus surveyor, he was promoted to quantity surveyor before moving to Chaytor Electrics, in Trimdon.

Seven years later, he became electrical manager for Throston, a division of Yuill Homes. When Throston was shut down during the recession of 1993, Mike saw the opportunity to go it alone. Peter Yuill and Alan Smith became fellow shareholders, and the trio’s first name initials inspired the brand, MAP Electricals.

With 15 electricians on the books, the company, based at Portrack, carried out council house rewiring, plus electrical installations on new-builds, with clients including Sedgefield District Council, Cussins Homes, and Mandale Properties.

The big break came when MAP Electricals was working for Mandale Properties on two apartment blocks at Teesdale Business Park, and Comcast wanted to install cable television.

Having built up a trusted relationship, Mandale insisted that MAP was given the cabling work. After a degree of haggling over the price, it led to a cabling contract for not just the two apartment blocks, but others across Teesside.

Comcast went on to be taken over by NTL, which later merged with Telewest to form Virgin Media, and MAP Electricals continued to grow as a result. By the early 2000s, the company was employing 1,000 engineers, serving 5,000 customers a day with cable TV, telephony, and the internet.

MAP Electricals was rebranded as MAP Group (UK) in 2005. Around the same time, Mike launched a new business, TM Urban Developments, purchased land at Preston Farm, and used the new company to build MAP’s smart new HQ in 2008.

A year later, a national training school for engineers – the Digital Telecoms Network Academy – was built nearby. It has led to MAP becoming one of the UK’s main trainers for the telecoms industry, with the skills of more than 1,000 people being nurtured there last year alone.

It has been a remarkable rise, and the company’s growth is set to continue, partly as a result of Covid-19. “The Government’s been planning to have a full fibre network rolled out across the country for years – the pandemic has accelerated that because of people working from home, and that trend will continue,” Mike explains.

Businessiq: General Manager Andy CollinGeneral Manager Andy Collin

A deal was recently signed to buy a 50,000 square feet building at Peterlee for further expansion, and Mike has also bought USL Group Ltd, which installs telegraph poles across the country.

Other plans include further development of land at Preston Farm, investment in house-building projects, and an expansion of a successful apprenticeship programme.

The future of the company also features Mike’s son, Matty, who is one of the directors. Meanwhile, his daughter, Melissa, has launched her own business, Key Wellbeing. The employment benefits for MAP employees, includes mental health and physical fitness support, with Key Wellbeing delivering that service.

“We do our best to look after our employees, and that health package is a really important part of it,” says Mike.

It’s an enlightened approach that helps explain why many MAP staff have worked for the business long-term, including directors Mandy Carter and Sarb Singh, who have clocked up more than 20 years’ service.

Indeed, the company firmly believes in growing its own talent. Mike Hare, one of the engineers who worked on those first Comcast cable TV installations, is now a trainer at the academy. Andy Collin is another prime example, having joined as an apprentice electrician 22 years ago, and rising to become general manager.

“The company has a culture of openness and flexibility that I’ve always enjoyed, and I’m just proud to be part of what I think is an incredible success story here on Teesside,” says Andy.

That pride in Teesside, and especially Stockton, also manifests itself through the company’s sponsorship of the town’s Northern League football club.

Businessiq: Stockton Town FC shirts bear the MAP Group nameStockton Town FC shirts bear the MAP Group name

“I was invited to a match three years ago and it was a cracking game but, more than that, I really enjoyed the atmosphere, and recognised goodness knows how many people. I said there and then that I wanted to get involved,” says Mike.

The result is that the company’s logo features on the players’ shirts and the ground is now known as The MAP Stadium.

Despite having achieved so many goals in life, Mike remains genuinely and refreshingly modest.

“Yes, I’m proud of it all, but I’ve never considered it to be anything particularly special,” he insists. “I just deal with people, try to treat them right, keep it simple so everyone understands what we’re trying to do, and things seem to come together.”

From selling a few ice creams on Stockton’s Hardwick Estate as a boy, to serving hundreds and thousands of customers nationwide…putting Teesside on the MAP has come naturally.