Yosof Ewing, construction entrepreneur and business rights campaigner, is set on inspiring change 

Known as the Contract Coach®, Yosof Ewing is an entrepreneur on a mission to make the industry fairer for subcontractors, or as he prefers to call them specialist contractors. He wants the law to change to better protect construction subcontractors from Tier 1 contractors, who are often guilty of late payments and using bullying tactics to silence those trying to fight back. He is an adjudication party representative, quantity surveyor, project manager and mediator, providing guidance on construction contract terms and adjudication services for those involved in disputes over non-payment from Tier 1 and other large main contractors.  

“I’ve been in the industry for 34 years, so pretty much straight out of school,” he begins. “I grew up in foster care and my foster dad worked in construction and civil engineering. He was a huge influence in my life. I used to go to sites with him when I was a youngster and was always fascinated by construction. Following a recession, with little choice, my father went from being a site foreman to a managing director overnight. He had limited experience of running a business and believed a gentleman’s agreement was a given, relying heavily on trust and goodwill, which often wasn’t the case. Main contractors didn’t pay and as a result, the business was shut down. 

Yosof Ewing
Yosof Ewing

“I love this industry and joined the sector for a time but became increasingly disillusioned by the treatment of specialist contractors, like my father. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but I decided I wanted to tackle this mindset. I’ve been talking to people about this issue for years, but big businesses don’t want to listen. I’m something of an entrepreneur and was a member of Entrepreneurial Scotland. A peer suggested I join the Saltire Fellowship, a leadership programme run by Babson College, a top school of business and the best college for entrepreneurship. I’ve been working in contract adjudication for about 17 years, and it was while I was participating in the leadership programme that I experienced something of an epiphany. I realised that you can’t change people’s minds, but if you change the industry then you can change the way people treat each other.  

“I decided that a different approach could potentially work and settled on branching out as the Contract Coach® to transfer knowledge. Bizarrely, while many people are unwilling to pay to understand a contract prior to commencing work, they are prepared to pay over the odds to resolve a dispute in the end. Fundamentally, while dispute resolution is where I’ve earned a living, I’m driven by the desire to not see others go through what my dad went through. The consequences of insolvency can be horrific and far-reaching, in terms of people’s mental health and well-being, including suicide. I’m only just starting out with coaching but have seen a big upturn in my following, sharing hard-hitting but humorous content to engage others. 

“Life is meant to be fun and joyous. It’s not about undermining each other. If someone does a job for you, you pay them. It is indefensible to wait for a specialist contractor to announce insolvency so that you don’t have to pay them. It is this type of reprehensible industry behaviour that I’m going to not just talk about, but shout about. It’s time to clean up the industry. As the Contract Coach®, I want to embolden people to understand contracts and show them the rights they have in business and in law. 

“The main reason for industry disputes and insolvencies is a lack of understanding and competence surrounding contract administration. Specialist contractors have professional qualifications and accreditations. Their skills are essential to project completion, but the majority are faced with payment terms heavily weighted in favour of the bigger organisations eliciting their services. If a dispute arises, most contractors won’t have the means to pay legal fees, so in effect, put their own businesses at risk by signing these unfavourable contracts. 

“I have a successful model in place for my resolution clients, which helps them with the costs of pursuing the monies they are owed. While I don’t win every case, I do have a 95 per cent success rate. Fundamentally, what I want to do is tackle the issue before it gets to the adjudication stage. Billions of dollars are spent on legal fees every year because of disputes. My vision is to coach specialist contractors to value their own worth and sign terms and conditions that are beneficial to their businesses. I tell my clients that they are not subcontractors, they are specialist contractors. Their work is essential to the successful completion of projects and should be valued accordingly. Setting terms and conditions and sticking to them is crucial. I want to help give people the confidence to walk away from jobs that put them at a disadvantage. Very often, main contractors will win bids on razor-thin margins, knowing that their profits will be achieved by pushing costs back down through the supply chain by means of discounts and underpayments. There’s too much fear in the industry. For me, a contract should be an equitable division of risks and opportunities between parties who understand and can manage those risks. 

“This is our industry, and we need to create a community in which people look out for each other. While we do benefit from The Construction Act, which sets out the requirements for making and responding to payment claims, ensuring that both parties understand their rights and obligations, to my mind, it needs to be reformed; to be better fit for purpose. Equally, the existence of the Technology and Construction Court is a good thing, but it saddens me that it needs to exist at all. It just goes to show how many industry disputes there are.  

“A starting point to shift this imbalance would be to act from a human level. While we are professionals in this industry, we’re fundamentally people. When someone recognises their worth, it’s brilliant to see their eyes light up in realisation. We just need to get a few million more people to that tipping point. The vision is to achieve a united front in the industry and for specialist contractors to stand firm on the value of their services. Ensuring budgets, management structures, and associated risks and rewards are established and remunerated accordingly are all essential for specialist contractors. It’s about emboldening people to understand their own position in the market, so much so, that it sets a new standard for the sector,” he concludes.