In the fourth of a series of articles exploring the history of one of Suffolk’s stalwart businesses – TRU7 Group – we meet Managing Director Jake Nicholls.

The third generation of the Nicholls family to run the plant hire, construction, and demolition firm, he explains his plans for further growth, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather with the same “stubborn” streak that’s catapulted the enterprise to a multimillion turnover operation running thousands of machines.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

It’s a well-known proverb that expresses the idea that a person inevitably shares traits with his or her parents.

Teenage Jake would have laughed his head off at the very idea. 

At the age of six he emphatically told his father he had no intention of working for the family business and by 15 he had left home to pursue a career as a professional motocross star.

But ironically, this determination was actually the first sign that Jake possessed the exact same characteristics as his dad.

It’s therefore unsurprising perhaps, that Jake now sits alongside Guy Nicholls in the boardroom of TRU7 as its Managing Director – and that the pair are replicating the incredible relationship between Guy and his own father Percy Nicholls – which is where the roots of the company began 65 years ago.

“Dad and I have the exact same mix of bravery, stupidity and vision,” Jake said. “As a kid I couldn’t see it. But we both have ambition, tenacity, and fortitude – and neither of us like to be told ‘no’. In fact, if someone says we can’t do something, it makes us even more determined to do that very thing – and do it better than anyone else.”

Jake, a former pupil of Woodbridge School, was three when he first rode a motorbike and six when he took part in his first race – and won. At 14, he begged his parents for the opportunity to go to America to learn how to ride motorbikes professionally.

“They were not happy about it at all,” he said. “But I think I wore them down and they thought that if they sent me, I would hate being away from home and probably get this whole bike thing out my system. In fact, it was the opportunity I needed to progress and when I returned home two months later, I turned pro.”

He moved to Belgium for five years, which is where the sport is based, and was just 17 when he competed in his first World Championship, placed 4th in the World Championship 2012 and reached the podium at the British Grand Prix a year later.

But his career was interrupted by several injuries – one of which caused a lightbulb moment for him.

“I was racing in Italy and had a really bad crash and dislocated my hip,” he said. “I remember waking up from the operation and it was like a switch had been flicked in my brain. I recognised that I needed something more, something different.”

This was the Eureka moment his father Guy had always been hoping for. But Jake wasn’t prepared to be a “silver spoon kid” who just gets given golden opportunities without working for them.

“I knew I had a lot to prove,” said Jake, who is married to his teenage sweetheart Blu and has a two-year-old daughter River. “And so, I asked my dad if I could start out driving machinery for him which I did for four months.

“Weirdly, my experience racing taught me a lot of transferable skills – mainly the knowledge I have about dirt. I’d go as far as to say that was a specialist subject for me. In motocross, you must understand soil types and different conditions and how machinery responds to it. The same applies with big machinery.”

Working on the plant gave Jake an excellent rapport with the other drivers.

It also demonstrated his willingness to get his hands dirty and start at the bottom.

He admits that when Guy eventually moved him into an office role, he felt out of his comfort zone.

“Actually, I hated it for the first 12 months,” he laughed. “But there’s another thing dad and I share – stubbornness. We don’t give up on things. And I’m glad I stuck it out. I eventually found my feet and now every day is a buzz and I feel like I am adding value.”

In the last five years, Jake has introduced a fleet of bulldozers and single-handedly created a new division to the business specialising in earthworks which now contributes millions to the annual turnover.

“I saw that we had good drivers and great equipment and were doing a fantastic job for other people. I recognised we could do more. All I needed was an estimator and contracts manager because we had everything else,” he said.

Today the company is best known as owner of the Trucks ‘R’ Us and Tippers ‘R’ Us vehicle hire brands, but it also supplies a wide range of premium vehicles, operators and materials to the British construction and allied industries.

It employs 300 people, offers van, truck and plant rental and sales, and demolition and remediation, earthworks, asbestos removal, concrete, and aggregates services.

“My ambitions for this business are to keep evolving,” Jake said. “Plant hire is still the mothership, but our fleet is large and consists of thousands of plant, lorries and commercial vehicles. There is scope to cross-sell across the different areas of our business and there are ways to keep growing while remaining here, in the heart of Suffolk.

“I’m lucky – dad and I are doing this together. But I think the fact that my grandfather died so young and so suddenly is always in our minds. It makes you realise how short life is. I want to spend every minute with dad, learn from him, pick his brains before it’s too late. 

“I’m third generation so all the pressure is on me. They say less than 10% of third generation businesses survive but for me this is just another driver.

“In fact, it brings me right back to the start. Tell me I can’t do something – and I will do it better than you could have ever imagined. Just like my dad.”

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