Car design evolution

I’ve recently been choosing a new car. There’s a small dip in the floor at my house where a pile of car brochures lay over the Christmas break! And I’ve driven my wife slightly insane with my deliberations! Choosing a car is a complex process – and an enjoyable one too.

Having looked at all sorts of cars I’ve become slightly confused by one of the latest trends in car design; the dashboards. It seems that car manufacturers are keen to get on board with the latest consumer preferences for touch screens, as with the iPhone/ iPad (and other similar devices). In fact in-car technology is aligning with the functionality of smart phone devices too with full internet connectivity and TV etc. Why? You cant use it when you’re driving and you can do all that on my iPhone or iPad anyway.

Most car dashboards are now dominated by some form of ‘screen’. Indeed my new car has two screens; one for the SatNav etc and also the dials behind the steering wheel are presented on a TFT screen too!

What confuses me is that manufacturers are replacing switches and dials for touchscreen technology. This sort of works, but these screens aren’t small! A particularly hideous example is on the luxury electric Tesla Model S (which will set you back around £70k for a top spec version). This has two screens, photo below…
teslaAnother strange one is to permanently ‘attach’ a screen to the dash – a sort of bolt on hybrid that’s a cross between an iPad and an oversized SatNav device. Mercedes have favoured this one…
mercedesSurely most consumers want to see designs which are integrated and discrete? The other thing, which I experienced recently whilst driving along some dark country roads, screens emit a lot of light! This is can be a real distraction when driving – not to mention if there are lots of things actually happening on the screen.

Suffice to say that my new car doesn’t have a bolt on/ supersized screen. And I’ve resisted the perhaps predictable german brands too! I’ve ordered a Volvo! This might provoke a snigger or remarks about straight lines, even “its a stereotypical architects car”, but I think Volvo are changing their image and their design philosophy has evolved a lot. In fact, their cars tick a lot of boxes now. I’ve been impressed so far. I will wait until mine arrives in May before a full judgement. This is what I’m getting…volvo xc60

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A fond farewell and a new chapter begins…

The news is now “official”. After 14 positive and progressive years with the business, I am leaving Lewis and Hickey at the end of this week (28th February). There is no doubt that this has been a big decision to make, but I very much hope it’s the right one.

the-next-chapter-1I’ve seen a lot of change in this chapter of my career, both within the company and the wider industry generally. I started at L&H as a junior CAD Technician, I leave as group Board Director and managing director for our Manchester and Nottingham offices. I’m immensely proud of my achievements and story so far. For a good part of my 17-18 years in Architecture, there has been a lot of positivity and growth. I was convinced by around 2006 that I could run my own company. This was of course a naive view because the world changed in 2008! In recent years I’ve gained some incredibly important and valuable experience on the very real (and sometimes negative) aspects of running a company. The sort of things that I suspect I will reflect on/ use for the rest of my career.

The wider economic outlook is, I think, looking much more positive. That’s not to suggest we are completely out of the woods, but things are definitely improving. So, the recurring question I’ve had over the last week; “Why am I leaving?” There are many…many reasons!

I firmly believe that Lewis and Hickey is a good business. I’m proud to have been part of the company and I genuinely wish my friends and colleagues here the very best for the future. I hope I’ve made an impression (good or bad) in my time, but I’ve no doubt the company will forget about me soon enough. I have made a conscious and substantial effort to leave the company positively in handing over my duties. Kevin Smith will be taking a lead in the Nottingham office and I have a lot of confidence in him, even though we’ve only got to know each other properly in the last year or so. A new recruit, Clive Panter, will be leading the Manchester office.

So back to the question. Over the last year I have felt that my day-to-day challenges have been too great. I’ve been trying to fulfill 2-3 roles within the business and this has taken its toll on me – personally. A large proportion of my time has become consumed in operational activity and, whilst this is important and I feel I can do this role, it’s not where I believe I can make a real difference and I simply don’t enjoy it as much as other things. I’ve also come to realise that spreading yourself too thin means you quickly become ineffective.

I’ve always enjoyed my job. It’s important to – if you can. I believe that success, motivation, determination and progress are all driven by enjoying what you do. If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, why do it? If it’s simply for the money, then that’s fine. I understand that. But that’s not how I work. Don’t get me wrong, reward is essential, but I also believe that having enthusiasm in your work makes you stand out. Enthusiasm in what you’re doing conveys confidence and that, in turn, provides tangible results. That’s much more what I’m about.

The ‘Thank you’ bit…

I’ve come across many great (and, being honest, some not so great) people in my years at L&H. Of course, some people stand out. These are the people who have had confidence in me – and in turn have given me confidence. They taught me important lessons, picked me up when I needed help and informed my career development in different ways. These people are;

  • Colin Wilkinson – who employed me at L&H.
  • Clive Welham – My MD in Nottingham for a number of years.
  • Jason Ainsworth – Who I went to Uni with – and I’ll be working with again shortly!
  • Brett Stevenson – Who I first met at the beginning of my career and has become one of my best friends.
  • Antony Phillips – Ant and I designed the Si Yuan Building at the University of Nottingham – a highlight for me so far. He’s a great Interior Designer – who could/ should be an Architect!
  • Mike Alete – One of the most talented design architects I’ve met to date. A genuinely decent and engaging guy to work with.
  • “Two tall guys from Manchester” (who will remain nameless) – Despite some challenges, due mostly to different business agendas, I learnt a lot from them, especially in Student Living.
  • Mike Pring (formally of CPMG Architects) – Who worked with us for a period. I enjoyed working with Mike who I admired as an Architect.
  • Mike Jauncey – For his straight talking approach to business, for believing in me and pushing for me to join the Board.
  • Andrew Talbot – My good friend and former colleague deserves the greatest degree of appreciation. He not only got me through a tough period at Uni, but he taught me the importance of enjoying your work and doing it with enthusiasm.

Of course a special thank you to my board colleagues; Paul Miele, Tim Hall, John Meade, Peter Daines and Colin Nicol. You are great guys and I very much hope we can keep in touch. Despite some challenges, I have enjoyed our time leading the business and will miss you all. Thank you particularly for inviting me onto the Board.

Thank you sincerely to everyone else who have been part of the journey. That’s not to say that you’re at the bottom of the pile, far from it. There are so many people I’ve worked with along the way. If you’ve worked with me at some point; thank you and good luck.

A special mention to someone I’ve worked closely with in recent years. Jacqui Gillen and I started working together around five years ago. I still struggle to refer to her as a ‘PA’ or ‘Assistant’ because, whilst she fulfilled a lot of support duties, she did much more too. She has stood alongside me at many points and even led me at times. We have shared views and ideas on how to do things and have achieved a lot together, far more than I could have done on my own. She has been unquestionably dedicated and committed to all her work, more than many other people I’ve worked with. I will miss working with her greatly. Thank you sincerely for all your great work. Good luck.

Finally, the person who was there from the start. The person who has never worked for L&H, but probably knows more about the business than many others. The person who is always there to listen to how my days have gone and offer balance and perspective at times. The person who very rarely complains about all the late nights, weekend working and nights away. The person who has been an utterly amazing mummy to our four year old daughter and answered the recurring question; “when will Daddy be home?” The person who really drives and motivates me to continue pushing. I’m talking of course about my wonderful wife. Thank you for everything! x

More to follow shortly on the next chapter at WCEC Architects. But ones things for sure from my perspective; I’m going to enjoy it.

The reality of fighting cancer – a special blog

I’m going rather ‘off piste’ with this special blog, but I want to show my support and hopefully raise the profile a little more of the terrible range of diseases referred to as Cancer. Perhaps more specifically, this is about the reality of fighting and living with the disease.

I suspect most people in the world have some personal link to Cancer, either personally or perhaps more commonly through family/ friends etc. I know its still something that some people struggle to talk about which is entirely understandable. Fortunately my personal experience of cancer in relation to close personal family/ friends is rather limited (and long may that continue!), but I do know many people who’s experience and loss have been significant. It is an utterly cruel disease.

Recently I have met with a close former colleague Theo Pywowarczuk. Theo was unfortunately diagnosed with cancer last year and has undergone an intensive course of treatment (radio and chemo therapy) over several months to fight the cancer. I met Theo back in September last year and he told me his recent news and impending treatment plan. These moments in life are real levelers and can alter your perspective. He was determined to fight it with everything he had. And he did. No doubt Theo suffered a lot of pain, both physically and mentally, but he maintained a phenomenal outward positivity and optimism throughout his treatment about coming out of the other side.

Having now completed his treatment, he has had some positive feedback on his progress. It’s very early days of course and he’s acutely aware of that. However despite the torment of the treatment he’s endured, he’s positive still. His life is different in many ways, but he’s taking everything he can.

Theo has received some outstanding assistance from the MacMillan cancer support organisation; a charity which he is keen to payback in some way. He’s currently supporting them by writing about his experiences in relation to the reality of fighting cancer. He’s now created a blog site which can be seen at http://theo392.wordpress.com/ This is a very open and honest log of his treatment, its effects, his feelings, challenges etc. This is not the sort of read you maybe do for leisure, but if you can relate to Cancer, or know someone who is struggling, this might just offer a little support – or a shared experience/ perspective…

Good luck Theo – and anyone else out there who is currently affected by cancer.

The art of Business Development

As part of my role with Lewis and Hickey, I’ve been actively involved in Business Development for around seven years now. It’s been an interesting journey, from a standing start really, which has been largely self-directed. Indeed business development is not something you can really teach/ learn in any sort of formal way I don’t think. It’s about who you are as a person and how you engage with people. That’s a natural thing that you’ve either got – or not. A lot of Business Development work is a form of sales; selling your business, experience and ideas, to generate new business with new and existing clients.

There are many other areas of Business Development activity which focuses on how you promote yourself/ company and also how you manage your company from an operational perspective. I’ve played a lead role in trying to change some of our culture within the company; something which Richard Branson states is one of the hardest things to do in business! Getting people to think and act differently when habits and ways of working have been long established is a challenge, for all concerned. However I have maintained the strong view for sometime now that the way we do business has changed and will continue to do so. The same can be said for Architecture and the Construction Industry as whole.

I remember being sat in a supply chain briefing meeting many years ago at the Boots HQ in Nottingham. The speaker said that Retailers can never stand still if they want to survive; they must keep evolving and changing to reflect and respond to market drivers and consumer choices. The same is completely valid in business generally.

I regularly get invites to meet with people under the banner of a “Business to Business” (B2B). This idea/ format has been around for a while now and provides a simple and open agenda to introduce two companies and seek out opportunities to work together. Recently this concept has been challenged and is now refereed to as “Human to Human” (H2H) meetings. This is actually nothing new to anyone who understands BD/ Sales, but is a far more accurate idea/ title. Fundamentally any tangible outcomes from two companies introducing themselves will be determined by whether those two (or more) people in the room get on with each other. This is a personal thing. In life, we all want to be around people who we get on with and this affects how we do business.

Human 2 HumanImage above from LinkedIn this week.

I see success in Business Development being heavily influenced by three key components;

  1. Be personable. Understand people and what they are about. Find some personal similarities. A family friend of ours, Simon Gallyer, who sadly passed away was a lawyer. He told me once that you need to remember 1-2 personal things about your most important clients; their children, their hobby’s, what sports they follow etc. Reference these when you see them. That demonstrates that you remember them and makes the relationship personal.
  1. Have a strong network. I think I’ve built up a good network of contacts, this is really important. It can be done in many ways and Social Media has been key for me (LinkedIn, Twitter and of course this little blog!) Speaking with authority on what you think about your world is again important. Having some sort of public profile is essential and that involves getting out, talking to all sorts of people, pushing media exposure and having something relevant to say. My wife recently googled me and was really surprised by how many things came up. To be honest a lot of the links relate in some way to my blog, but its still proof that I can be found pretty easily and have generated a public profile. Having a strong message about your business is critically important, this relies on being confident on your subject and passionate about what you do; delivering it with conviction.
  1. Be able to join the dots. The last thing is what really counts I think. You can have a network and get on well with people – and that might be effective in generating business to a point. But being able to link other people and companies together has real added value. You need to think constantly about what you are doing and how you can make a difference. That will define you and make you memorable. Generating business is definitely not a one-way street, it needs to be reciprocated. And that’s where personal relationships count, a referral from someone else is valuable, to both you and your client. People only make referrals for people they know, can trust and they believe in their abilities/ offer.

One thing I have definitely learnt in my time doing BD is that cold calling and writing generic introduction letters/ emails has never worked! It’s impersonal and meaningless in my view. Any potential cold approach needs to be informed, relevant, well considered and directly applicable to the specific target recipient. Even then you probably have a very outside chance of getting a response.

I could probably expand on the above in many other ways, there are lots more layers. I will however restrain myself as I don’t want to go on about this too much and become a bore (that’s another key thing to remember too!) The points made above I believe are valid and have certainly influenced my journey so far.

Business Development is influenced and driven by personality.
It’s about relationships – and that is an organic evolution which is built on trust, respect and effort. The more you put in, the more you get out.

Connectivity Progress | Digital vs Transport

Facebook has turned 10 years old this week. I know this mainly because they have launched a feature which captures your ‘best bits’ in a mini video with music – Facebook is currently full of them! It’s quite phenomenal to consider the evolution of social media in just ten years and how it now influences and affects our lives in so many ways in modern culture. I am a big supporter of social media; it goes way beyond keeping in touch with people. I have many experiences of how these channels can be incredibly impactful in business. Social media is here to stay and there’s no telling how it will evolve further in the next ten years. But it will.

Thumb up hand with like text on button. Isolated on white.I’m currently ordering a new mobile phone and am pondering whether to opt for 4G. I suspect its probably necessary, but the rapid development of super-fast WiFi/ Broadband and mobile networks further supports our ever expanding need for faster connectivity and increased data usage. I heard this week that 90% of online stored data in the world was created in the last 2 years, this is due to Cloud technology. The digital world continues to move at an incredible pace.

My Dad worked for BT for over 27 years. I remember in the late eighties/ early nineties he’d bring those green phonecards home (which I used to sell at school! Sorry Dad, not sure I’ve ever told you that). He also brought home a sample of fibre-optic cable (or photonic crystal fibres to be precise) when that first came out. I was amazed that this hairlike tube could apparently carry millions of phone calls (not to mention ‘data’ which was a lesser know concept at that time).

In contrast to the digital revolution, it seems to me that our ability to move around the planet is regressing. This is confusing to me. From the mid-seventies, for some twenty seven years, it was possible to fly around the world at supersonic speed thanks to Concorde. Myself and a colleague, Jason Ainsworth, were lucky enough to go on Concorde once, admittedly though it was firmly on the ground at Duxford! Concorde could get from London to New York in around half the time we can now. It’s now over ten years since Concorde retired and planes have become more efficient, bigger and marginally faster, but its surely still a sizable step backwards.

ConcordeLikewise, after years of debating whether motorway speeds should be increased to 80mph, the Government have recently announced plans to trial 60mph speed limits on the M1 in Derbyshire? This is apparently to improve air quality in these (rural) areas. I wonder if/ how the Government have factored in the rapid progression of car engine designs to their plans? New engines are increasingly quieter and more fuel efficient, with substantially less Co2 emissions. The 60mph idea would also provide; “reduced congestion, increased capacity and improved journey time reliability for users of the motorway”. The M1 was built in the late 50’s. More lanes to increase capacity is the solution. I’m not sold on the 60mph idea just yet. Mainly because it will affect me personally.

East Midlands TrainsAnd finally our trains. Britain pioneered the railway – and then, its seems, many other countries overtook us. For sometime I’ve been frustrated with our ageing trains. Some of the trains I regularly catch down to London are older than me! And don’t even get me started on trying to use East Midlands Trains WiFi “service”. However, we have all been sold the dream of the forthcoming HS2 network which promises benefits to business and the UK economy. Phase 1 will be live in 2026, with Phase 2 becoming live in 2033. So that’s between 12-19 years from now?! And lets be honest; there’s every chance these dates will slip a bit. The big benefit we will all realise though is faster journey times to the capital. Well, actually we wont.

According to the HS2 website the current journey time from the “East Midlands Hub” (presumably East Midlands Parkway?) to London is 91mins. In around 15 years from now the HS2 journey time will be just 71mins. Very good. That’s a 20 minute reduction. But they are locating the (new?) station between Derby and Nottingham. Therefore most people who might be using these “super-fast trains” will have to travel extended distances to get to/ from the station. I reckon the journey time from central Nottingham and Derby respectively to somewhere around Toton is approx. 20-25mins (totaling around 96mins). You can see my point now perhaps?

Interestingly my current journey time from Derby to London is 89mins. HS2 will, it seems, be slower for me (and I rather suspect a lot of other people too potentially). The only people who will benefit are those who travel from centre to centre (i.e. with no additional travel at either end).

The point here is that modern lifestyle and business needs fast and effective travel more than ever. The Digital world has boomed in ten years, but more needs to be done to provide long-term solutions to our travel infrastructure. The ideas being discussed seem to be more like sticking plasters to an already struggling system.

Digital development; *Like*
Our ability/ prospects of getting places quicker? I’m not convinced we are progressing.

One final mention must go to Bombardier in Derby. I live in Derby and the city’s “Trains, Planes and Automobiles” is a convincing one with fantastic heritage. Bombardier’s recent contract is great news for the local economy.