Delivering a plan that keeps us one step ahead
With a new three-year plan now successfully underway we spoke to Niall Aitken, Fiona Corcoran, Dan Fryer, David Happell, Nigel Hawes, Richard Hopper and Peter Medland about progression and recent developments at exigere.
You announced a challenging plan at the end of 2017, what did it include?
Niall: Yes, we have set out our strategy to take us through to 2022.This involves: revenue growth; diversification of sectors; our performance and approach in each sector; the technology we use and our working practices; plus people development and the working environment.
We’ve now created a multitude of things that we feel will keep us one step ahead. It’s a big leap to go from a £3m business to a £5m business and it requires planning and change.
David: Our growth to date has always been measured and this is no different. The key to delivering our growth ambition is simple, keep delivering best in class cost management services.
Niall: We have no ambition to offer project management services, employers agent or other services. Clients have asked us, but we’ll leave it to the experts and stick to improving what we do best.
Are these developments impacting your overall proposition and performance in key sectors?
Peter: We are very confident in our partner led involvement proposition and it remains at our core and as a key differentiator.
However, it’s also important not to stand still in our existing sectors.
We are developing our approach, utilising new technology and best practice to adapt our service and drive more value for our clients.
Richard: If you look at cut and carve refurb in London we are known as being best in class. That’s evident by the type of work we do and the type of clients we have and retain.
In fit-out for occupiers we have developed a new way of looking at costs and it’s having an impact in that sector. We can now help clients form a view and make decisions much earlier in the process. This all applies to office new build too.
Peter: The residential business has increased by 25% and we are now looking at much larger projects.
Nigel: We also recently supported early development of four strategic master planning schemes that focus on regeneration and include 400 plus units, roads, major junctions, motorways and highways. All of the signs so far, are good.
Are there any specific improvements that drive tangible benefits?
Fiona: Our benchmarking data is improving significantly and our clients are seeing the difference.
We are now shaping budgets and cost plans in a very precise way that allows clients to make decision earlier.
It’s the information below the headline figures which is the really useful stuff.
Peter: It’s about understanding the data that’s available and communicating robust, accurate figures in a way that clients can understand. If you get the numbers wrong and can’t meet client’s aspirations there are big consequences.
You also appear to be working in a number of new sectors…
Fiona: What we’ve been seeing is a natural progression into sectors where exigere hasn’t had much prominence.
We’ve all worked across arts, heritage, leisure, hotels, infrastructure and so on but we are now taking exigere into these markets. It’s really exciting to be involved with different schemes and sectors again.
Peter: We’re looking at arts and cultural projects of a national scale with a cultural and historical relevance. This isn’t new to us, many of our clients favour historic buildings so we understand the challenges, but we’re now applying those skills to the sector on a more recognised basis.
Nigel: We’re also delivering a number of projects in the hotels and leisure sectors including a four-storey development in Leicester Square with a basement theatre and a hotel. We’re working with the Crown Group who develop hotels and casinos worldwide.
Dan: We know the market can support our growth and it’s up to us to respond. The most pleasing aspect is that it’s our existing contacts who are taking us into new sectors. They know we have the skills and they trust us to get the job done.
Over 90% of your business comes from retention or referrals, do you expect that to continue?
Dan Fryer, Tim Leates, Urban & Civic and Phillip Turner, AHMM discuss working with exigere.
David: We work with a large number of consultants and building collaborative relationships is crucial. You spend a lot of time together and when you are successful it brings new working opportunities.
Richard: Project colleagues regularly refer us to clients and we also refer them because we know it will work.
Life is much easier when you’re part of a team that can deliver.
Dan: It’s about succeeding together and working to the benefit of each other. A good architect means even complex projects are straightforward. Similarly, designers like a clear path to design, they need the numbers to be right. They want to work with people who won’t let them down.
Richard: It’s a big thing for a consultant to recommend you as it reflects on them. They can be judged on our performance and so it’s something we take very seriously and are very proud of.
We have also recently started working with a number of important new clients. There’s a very nice balance.
Looking at the internal elements of the plan, what is in place for team progression and development?
Niall: A key part of the plan is to recruit and retain the best staff. We were very proud of our Investors in People accreditation, but we know we have to keep learning and developing as a business.
Fiona: We restructured last year and it has been very well received. Nigel’s appointment is obviously the headline news, but others have also been promoted as well as completing degrees, further study and the APC.
David: You need to develop your working style, manage change and retain the best talent if you want to reach a higher turnover.
The big change is cluster groups, which we are using to provide clear lines for coaching and mentoring.
It doesn’t change how we resource projects, but it provides a visible path to development and progression and it has been very well received.
Niall: Our challenge is to provide an environment where everyone enjoys coming to work and where people know they can go on to achieve.
Niall: We are strengthening all areas of the business to deliver the work that we’re doing. We looked to people who are post qualified and RICS chartered status.
We will also continue to recruit people from college or university and we are formalising our graduate programme this year.
Nigel: It’s interesting to learn from new people coming in, they bring a fresh view and understand different approaches. We like to harness that, learn from it and get them to buy into our way of doing things quite quickly.
Richard: Nigel is a great example to everyone. He was recruited as an associate and we are very happy to say he is now a partner We recognised his contribution to the business and it’s been rewarded, but he’s not the only one. We are very happy with the team and we’re still developing. Everyone can see what’s possible here.
Peter: Our approach to recruitment has matured as we have, we are now a more diverse and a better company as a result.
Have you looked at technology and how it can impact your work?
Niall: As a business we think about how we can be more productive, quicker and more accurate every day.
It’s about striving for continuous improvement. The days of starting with a scale rule and a pen are largely behind us, but it’s also important to know when to use technology and when to keep it simple.
Dan: We’ve invested significantly in technology, with a new intranet, migrating everything to the cloud and everyone to Microsoft Surface Pros.
We’re also learning to get more out of the elements that are already at our disposal. It’s about smarter working and knowledge sharing.
It makes us more efficient, more accurate and it frees up time to put more effort into demystifying costs.
Does this mean remote working and less reliance on your base in central London?
Fiona: Our central location is very important when you are part of a project team and having everyone together, interacting and learning is central to what we do. It drives immeasurable benefits.
David: We are quite agile as a business, but you need dialogue and interaction to make this work. When an issue arises there’s people with the knowledge and experience to solve it.
Niall: If you aren’t working together all you are really sharing is data and information, but knowledge is missing. Knowledge being both the technical skills and the experience of doing it. Being in the centre of London is great for us, our clients and our staff. As it continues to grow and develop it’s only going to get better.
Everything’s started well, there’s loads going on, will it be a challenge to manage and deliver?
Peter: It’s all part of an on-going process, rather than targets set in stone. The key to our growth is to get everyone to buy into it, both internally and externally and ensure it continues to be measured. Whether it’s developing our core propositions, moving into new sectors or how we manage, resource and develop the business.
Nothing is done in isolation, we have focus groups at every level, taking ownership of initiatives and helping us to drive through and deliver these changes. It’s a real team effort and we are confident we can deliver.