The cables that keep London running

The cables that keep London running

Jean-Sébastien Pelland wasn’t thinking about cabling when he arrived in London from Montreal as a young finance graduate in 2001

Lucy Tobin6 November 2023

Not many of us think about the cables hiding underground when another multi-billion infrastructure project is announced, but Britain’s new data centres, railways, electrification and decarbonisation projects wouldn’t work without them. Jean-Sébastien Pelland does think about cabling - a lot. His Camden-based business, Eland Cables, instals 100 million metres of the stuff each year, for works ranging from Network Rail’s electrification of the Great Western Line from Paddington to Cardiff to Tesla’s battery projects and Google, Amazon and Meta’s data centres.

“I’m always thinking about cables,” French-Canadian Pelland laughs. “If you close your eyes you can visualise some medium voltage cable running through a street to a substation, and then smaller cables with armouring protection around them coming into your house. Then in the house, there’s the same cable going to charging points, and all the appliances, and - it just goes on!” When Pelland sees cabling - maybe tucked away at a Tube station or exposed in a construction site - “naturally I read the print on the cable. I love to come across our name on the printing!”

But the entrepreneur, who is 44, wasn’t thinking about cabling when he arrived in London from Montreal as a young finance graduate in 2001. “I watched a documentary about a [fellow] French Canadian who moved to London, worked in the City, and made a fortune. So I thought - naively I realise now! - ‘let’s try that!’ Five of us bought one-way tickets to London, and moved into a studio with bunkbeds.” Pelland spent four months delivering pizza for Papa Dels: “I ate a lot of free pizza, and spent all my spare money at the local internet cafe, where I sent off my CV all day.”

Eventually he secured a junior role at chartered accountancy firm HW Fisher, who supported his visa and helped him move into corporate finance. Then Pelland was involved in a deal advising an electrical cable supply company on a management buy-out. “That was 2005, after I’d effectively had a nine-month interview with them, and I joined the board.”

At the time of the MBO, revenues were £25 million. Last year, Elland’s turnover hit £200 million. How did he spearhead the growth? “We built the most accredited lab in the industry, we focused on people - our retention rate is 90% and we all share an obsessive, customer-centric approach - and we were lucky with timing. Electrification is the fourth industrial revolution - people want air conditioning, smart fridges, wifi, data centres, cloud computing - and we’re right in the middle of it all.”

Naturally I read the print on the cable. I love to come across our name on the printing

Major contracts include construction work on the Tube, the All England Club’s lighting system, Tottenham Hotspur’s floodlights, British Airways’s cabling to connect ground power units with planes, pharma factories around Europe and the EV charging network infrastructure in the UK. Pelland is focused on making the business sustainable: the firm’s HGVs run on sustainable biofuel, its operation sites are solar powered and it this year opened a cable recycling plant. Eland’s cable insulation material now gets used for playground matting, and waste is turned into biofuel pellets to fuel industrial kilns.

Is he building the business for a sale? Cabling, Pelland concedes, is a “small industry and everybody likes to talk. But I’m 45 and feel like I’ve just got started. Digital electrification has a long way to go and we’ve got a plan for the next 15 years. We’re all full of energy and passionate about what we do.” In his spare time, Pelland has completed two exams towards qualifying as a sommelier. “But it’s way too early for me to be focused on wine in the daytime,” he laughs. “The cable industry has never been as sexy as it is now.”