Defining moments

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All businesses have a defining moment. Richard Branson has 63! For Tim Martin, founder and chairman of Weatherspoons, it was their first pub called Martin’s Free House in Muswell Hill, in 1979. What’s yours? The following selection highlight both the diverse nature of our sector and people’s different, amazing experiences.


chrs-sweetChris Sweet
Director, Emsea

Over the last 10 years we have seen a continued increase in demand for our services from the A&D sector. Our most significant event in the commercial interiors market was our involvement in the design and manufacture of the impressive art structures at South Place Hotel, London. Interior designers Conran and Partners worked alongside designer Natasha Webb to develop the blueprints inspired by botanical foliage and branches.

Emsea was then tasked with technically engineering and producing the five-storey high polished aluminium sculpture alongside three ‘floor to ceiling’ interior screens and a floating ceiling for the hotel – one of the Big Six Art Hotels. Provided only with the artistic illustrations, our skilled engineers focused on the technical conundrums; for example the 21m feature ceiling for the Angler Restaurant, which needed to be suspended above dining tables and lit from within. We knew it was vital that the designers should not compromise on the look and beauty of the designs and thus Emsea delivered ingenious technical solutions in order to achieve the brief.

This year we are celebrating 10 years in our current facilities and will now be expanding further, having just bought an additional fourth unit to cope with the rapid increase in A&D contracts. As more and more designers move towards bespoke UK manufactured products we are investing heavily in new technologies to ensure the capabilities are truly endless!

PERNILLEPernille Stafford
MD, Resonate

Our defining moment was when we were shortlisted for the SBID awards, up against some huge international practices, for an investment bank in the city. For the team this was a moment when we all realised that we were producing work of a global standard and that our hard work and diligence was being recognised. Suddenly it felt like we were on the map! It was an incredibly challenging project with difficult details which pushed us architecturally but the end result is something we are really proud of.

Phil Jones
CEO, James Tobias

‘All of our team are immensely proud of being part of the James Tobias family,’ Phil recalls, when his predecessor said his final goodbyes and handed the baton to him. The machines were stopped, the staff gathered around and his last words were, ‘And I pass you over to your new owner’. Phil climbed the stairs and addressed the staff, realising how important that moment truly was. He says, ‘Working with peers changed in eight short steps to one of huge expectation, belief and accountability. I was responsible not only for building on the heritage of this great brand that had been admired for nearly 25 years, but, more pertinently, for the livelihoods of each person there and the families behind them’.

rodneyRodney McMahon
MD, Morgan Contrct Furniture

A defining moment for our young company came when we manufactured 698 Readers’ Chairs for The New British Library, which had been designed by Ron Carter OBE.

This iconic building, wrought through great opposition by Colin St John Wilson, was completed in 1998.

We were invited to tender for the manufacture of this chair through support from Peter Oldfield Murray, then MD of the BCFA, who was very encouraging and persuasive.

The manufacture was exceptionally exacting and complex as the specification called for virtually unfigured European Oak for the body of the chair and a formed ply outside back with an equivalently unfigured veneer.
The seat and backrest are upholstered in green leather with curved and chamfered shapes and detailing that was extremely difficult to achieve in that material.

Each of these four elements was individually scrutinised by a team of three architects, who visited us for several days, and then the assembled chairs were closely examined for internal consistency and consistency when grouped together.

Despite this demanding standard we achieved this with few rejections and felt that we were exonerated as a manufacturer of genuinely handcrafted products, able to withstand comparison with world class manufacturers.

panport 5624 1Tony Attard
CEO, Panza Holdings

I have a very clear defining moment. While at university I happened to be in Piccadilly, Manchester, when the Woolworth fire claimed 16 lives. I realised at that time, as a student of textile design and technology, that those lives could have been saved. The fire was caused by furniture catching fire in the showroom.

By creating desirable and durable flame retardant fabrics, those deaths and many in the future could be prevented. I am sure that the determination of Panaz to do this has led to many lives being saved.

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Kelvin Bromley
MD, Connection Seating

The most significant shift in thinking came through the design and launch of our Hive range.
The unprecedented demand for this product highlighted to us how modern workplace environments demanded more smart thinking products which delivered on both agile working and flexibility.

From the detail in the fabrics to the smart acoustics, we have repositioned our whole Connection brand to be about the development of innovative products which support the varied ways of working we see within the modern workplace. 2016 will see us continue to combine consumer and lifestyle trends with the reality of what people want in their office, to really personify how we ‘make
space work’.

Steve-Jumping-High-rezSteve Edge
Owner, Edge Design

33 years ago I bought a building in Shoreditch for threepence to give Edge Design a sexy base to set up home. Back then Shoreditch was literally a ditch, but with time it became the Shoreditch we know today – buzzing with creative energy in the heart of one of the greatest cities in the world.

13 years later, as I sat in that same Shoreditch studio, a doddery 300-year old posh voice, claiming to be from Fortnum and Mason, called. I was convinced it was a set-up. But then she handed me over to a Mr Hamilton – who I soon discovered was the Managing Director of the store at that time. ‘Hello?’ I asked dubiously. ‘Hello Steve, this is Mr Hamilton of Fortnum and Mason. You’ve been highly recommended and I need you to help us,’ he said, confidently.

After a few more exchanges, I knew he was the real deal and Edge Design’s relationship with Fortnum and Mason had begun. By the end of the call I only had one more question: ‘Mr Hamilton, what’s your first name?’ ‘Jerry,’ he said. ‘Can I call you Jerry instead?’ I asked. After a brief pause, he replied, ‘I’d prefer it if you didn’t.’ ‘In that case, Jerry, I’ll call you Mr Hamilton!’

I realised then that this was one of the greatest moments in my business history and we worked closely with Fortnum and Mason over the next 15 years, giving us an unprecedented boost into an old British luxury brand. Mr Hamilton was a charming, cosmic man and he became known to me as simply ‘H’. Up to this very day, H and I remain very close friends.

DCDavid Clements
Managing Director, FUTURE Designs

The most significant shift in commercial lighting since the early 1960’s is happening right now, that being the mass adoption of LED technology along with all its benefits in terms of reduction in carbon output, energy costs and maintenance. Four years ago a mere 7% of our products involved LED Solid State Technology. In 2015 95% of our manufactured product was LED. In 2016 it is FUTURE Designs’ 25th anniversary, so there is a lot to celebrate!

Nigel Headshot 2Nigel Stansfield
Vice President, Interface

In 1997 I was working at Firth Carpets when it was acquired by Interface. For me, meeting Interface’s founder, Ray Anderson, in 1998, brought Interface’s Mission Zero vision – to have zero impact on the environment by 2020 – to life. Inspired by Mission Zero and the need for more sustainable innovation, I moved into research and development in 2001.

Interface’s sustainability mission is not just about environmental leadership, but also social leadership. Ultimately we want to have a positive impact – or as Ray put it – to become restorative as a business. In 2004 we started to explore this with our ‘FairWorks’ initiative. FairWorks was our first exploration into a socially inclusive and ‘fairly traded’ supply chain, and it became a defining moment for me with the realisation that social sustainability was just as important as environmental stewardship.

The learnings from FairWorks ultimately led to the development of our highly successful Net-Works programme. Net-Works is an inclusive business. It is a partnership with The Zoological Society of London and Aquafil, designed to tackle the growing environmental problem of discarded fishing nets in some of the world’s poorest coastal communities – to this day, the Net-Works program remains one of Interface’s most remarkable achievements.

brian-murrayBrian Murray
Chairman, Boss Design

Without a doubt, the defining moment for The Boss Design Group was in 2009 when we scooped the prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise for Sustainable Development. Normally granted to those companies whose approach to management has had major benefits for the environment, society and the wider economy, we received our award based on our commitment to embedding sustainability through the life-cycle of both our furniture products and operational activities.

A Queen’s Award is the ultimate standard of business excellence and is almost akin to a company knighthood. Not only has it served to further enhance the Group’s reputation within the industry, both in the UK and overseas, it has certainly made an impact internally and externally. The award provided the catalyst for multiple new business opportunities and also generated larger and more lucrative opportunities from existing clients.

Receiving our crystal chalice and scroll from Her Royal Highness, Queen Elizabeth II, was such an honour, as was attending a garden party at Buckingham Palace. We have proudly displayed the Queen’s Award emblem throughout our advertising, marketing and packaging and we recognise that this award is for life.

The entry process for a Queen’s Award is rigorous and highly competitive, with a success rate of around 20% each year. We are proud to have been granted such an accolade.

mark baileyIan Weddell

March 2014 was pivotal for me. Being presented with the opportunity to establish USM UK as a trading entity within the British market was hugely exciting. We invested in our Central Street, Clerkenwell showroom and employed showroom manager Mark Harvey, and A&D sales manager Paul Bender. USM has been rewarded with a fantastic 2015, including major projects of 250 USM Haller workstation for The Office Group on two floors of The Shard, as well as USM Haller storage for Stanhope’s brand new offices in New Oxford St.

Prospects for 2016 are looking very good. I’m particularly delighted to be back at my spiritual home having been inspired by meeting Professor Haller in the 80’s, working with great colleagues in the market sector I love.

Style: "sharpening * noise"
Style: “sharpening * noise”

Shane Kelly
Director, tp bennett

I have recently celebrated my 11th anniversary at tp bennett – and there have been many highlights along the way! To single one out, in 2008 I had the privilege of working with Guardian News and Media on their Kings Cross HQ – a personal defining moment. An organisation with clear sense of purpose and proud heritage, the project was a perfect combination of ambitious client, respected brand, challenging brief and exciting base-building architecture. Reaching far beyond pure physical relocation, the project was a catalyst for change, approached strategically to support the organisation in a fast evolving media landscape. Although the measure of success should always be a happy client, the Guardian project was also acknowledged by various award programmes including (five years after completion) the 2014 BCO test of time award for longevity – bringing back very fond memories indeed for myself and the team involved.

people_enrico-caruso_01_1024x576Enrico Caruso
Principal, Gensler

When is the most defining moment of my career? Perhaps it’s now…January 6 marked the start of my 20th year working in Gensler’s London office. Compared to other agencies, starting at the 35-person office in 1997, I was struck by Gensler’s open, friendly and entrepreneurial culture. Fast-forward to 2016 and those same qualities continue to flourish and shape Gensler’s shared DNA.

Looking back, I’m proud of the work and opportunities my colleagues and I have developed and nurtured so far. No client list touches Gensler’s and from our home in London we’ve delivered world-class design across the UK, Europe and the Middle East with an offer that spans architecture, masterplanning, workplace, hospitality and retail.

And in our newest base in Birmingham, those same qualities of openness, friendliness and of encouraging entrepreneurship will help me divide my time between our home in London and the start-up nimbleness of a boutique agency that Gensler Birmingham will be.

anthony brownAnthony Brown
Sales and Marketing Director, BW

For BW, 2015 was a year of positive change. We reorganised the business, rebranded and have worked on some amazing projects including the high profile Estée Lauder Headquarters and major law firm, Watson Farley & Williams. All of which has culminated in us hitting our turnover target of £100 million. But there is still a long way to go to hit our ultimate goals and we can’t wait to get on with 2016!

SteveFitch_JBP_9759EditSteve Fitch
Director, Dovetail Contract Furniture

Dovetail is a really exciting place to be at the moment, not least because we have installed the entire furniture package, comprising over 60 suppliers, to provide for circa 2,000 staff in one of London’s most iconic buildings, Sea Containers. We will also be launching a new arm of the business that will take us in new and interesting directions.
Watch this space…

Andrew Bartlett
Director, Harmsen Tilney Shane

Summer 1982 – I had graduated the previous year and it was time to get a ‘proper’ job. I sent out a bundle of hopeful letters to well known practices and got a bundle of thanks but no thanks in return. I then spotted an ad in Design magazine for a junior designer in an unknown practice based in the South London suburbs. Off went the CV and back came a phone call to go and see them. I was overwhelmed at the quality of their work – wonderful joinery details and visuals – all hand drawn. This was what I wanted to learn. Gordon Murray, the practice Principal, was clearly less impressed with me, but offered me a three-month work placement. I was in. I vowed that I was either going to make a go of it or find something else to do with my life. I was with Murray Symonds Associates for the next 15 incredible years, working with a small but brilliant team on projects that those bigger name practices would have died for. Thank you Gordon, RIP.

T JenningsTim Jennings
Director, TTSP

Seminal moments…there are three. The first was being given a nudge in 1982 after six years with my first employer, museum designer Robin Wade, leading me to secure a job at TTSP where, unintentionally but mostly enjoyably, I’ve enjoyed a long career. The second, after becoming MD in 2004, was realising I needed some external business input from the excellent Cranfield Business Growth Programme, particularly as my mentor of 17 years, John Cossins, had retired and sadly died soon after; leaving me with a realisation on more than one occasion since, that ‘you’re on your own chum! The third is non-business, except it supports my strong belief that people need a passion outside work; the first time I sat in a pub, six or seven years ago, and sang with my guitar in Open Mic – scary at first, but to this day hugely important, creating and collaborating musically with a great group of friends.

Mark Bailey
MD, By Bailey

My career defining moments are all showroom openings! I opened the first in 1986 and another in 1996. 30 years on I’ve opened my first
showroom with my own name above the door. And it’s gratifying that my son will be joining me later this year, at almost the same age I started.

Richard Blackwell
CEO, Bisley

In more recent times the biggest game-changer for Bisley has been the launch of Be by Bisley, a product range that challenges the perceived wisdom that storage has been treated solely as a sedentary and purely functional element of a workplace, and repositions it as the pivotal and dynamic hub of the office landscape. Uniquely, Be by Bisley is a powered piece of office furniture – simply a WIRED frame, which means it brings into play a plethora of technical applications and the opportunity to fully exploit a modern working environment.

David Keirle
Chairman, KSS

As this is an anniversary issue, it’s fitting that KSS’ defining moment is maybe just around the corner. KSS is a multi-skilled design practice that is defined by the success of its projects, its people, and its broad range of clients, many of whom have generated repeat business and become lifelong friends.

Over the past 25 years, the practice has honed its design skills, embraced collaborative working, invested in technology and nurtured its people, particularly the next generation.

Its recognised expertise in the sports, education and residential sectors has seen it through difficult times, when its combined architecture, interiors and graphics skills has set it apart from other design companies.

KSS is especially proud that its long term contribution to the sports sector was recognised by the winning of the Football Business Awards 2015 ‘Best Professional Business Serving Football’.

We will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the founding of KSS in June, and would like to thank all of our clients, staff and fellow consultants who have contributed to this fantastic achievement.

BobKingRobert King
Founder & CEO, Humanscale

OfficeIQ is in line with our focus on solutions that are inherently simple and easy to use, yet have a real impact on wellness in the workplace. It will help to ensure that sit/stand equipment users gain the full benefits of their ergonomic workstations. No-one is talking about utilization but this is critical data for the evolving office environment. It can generate energy and cost savings and help employers see real returns on their investments in developing healthier and happier places to work.

bronteBronte Turner
Managing Director, HLW International

For me it’s about many moments and career decisions coming together; firstly, my choice to study Business at University (which seemed like the wrong choice at the time, but is now invaluable in my role as MD at HLW), then to study Interior design at University; secondly, my move to the UK – to join an exciting and fast-paced industry in London (minus that little blip 2009-2011), and lastly, but most importantly, the decision to join HLW. Someone once said that the things that are the most challenging are often the things that prove to be most rewarding – that is so true both at work and at home! I believe in making the most of opportunities, in the reward of hard work and following my gut and heart – having passion for design, genuine care for our clients and colleagues and believing, wholeheartedly, in mentoring and valuing the team around me.

mark-simpson-copyMark Simpson
Director of Design, BDP

‘My defining moment is probably the day I was interviewed by Rodney Cooper at BDP, on the 12th July 1985 – the day before Live Aid. I was 20, straight out of college and walking the streets of London lugging a portfolio (remember them?) the size of a football pitch around, trying to get an interview. I had received a letter (remember them?) from Rodney explaining BDP only employed fully qualified designers and to re-apply ‘if and when’ I graduated.

I took a punt, rang him from a phone box (remember them?) on Charlotte Street and he agreed to see me. In his office (remember them?) he explained his team were all nutters and offered me a job. He was right, in fact he was the biggest nutter of the lot but I learned a lot from those people – many of them are still very good friends.

I came back fours year ago after a 23 year hiatus – another defining moment for me. A lot has changed, new-fangled computers for one, but a few familiar faces, a lot of very talented new friends and still great work on the boards…sorry, screens.’

RobertRobert Mustoe
MD, the Senator group

I never presumed that I was coming into this industry. I was 18 and I went to sweep the floors at Wetherby Office Chairs – a wholesaler my dad owned. After the first week I came home and told my dad that I thought it wasn’t being run properly! After a month I was really sticking my nose into things. I never went back to college and then, without anyone really realising,
I started making a real impact. I was almost running the place. It all grew from there. I was in the business!

If I’d been told that this was what I was going to do I probably wouldn’t have had it – I probably would have rebelled. Now, I wouldn’t want to do anything different. I really enjoy it to this day.