Perspective with Lesley McPhee

Following a long career in workplace design, Lesley McPhee started with her new employee, The Hut Group, as Head of Design. After three months she had delivered Kingsmead House, within the Hut Group complex – and on the day of the handover was ceremoniously promoted to Group Director of Property. She is just about to deliver her third building within six months. If you don’t know Lesley here’s her perspective on moving from designer to client. There is a good chance you will not know the Hut Group – but an equally likely chance someone in your family has bought a product online from them. Backed by private equity firm KKR, the Northwich headquartered company operates more than 100 websites that sell premium, non-perishable, fast-moving consumer goods direct to the consumer. We went to see Lesley at the Gadbrook Park HQ.

What is the biggest difference between working for a design company and a client?
Everything is pretty different except for the end goal of creating a great office space. However, the biggest difference for me is that once I have the basic plan agreed with my boss I am given the total authority to get on with it and deliver in a way I think is best for the company.

So you have great autonomy?
Yes. The stakes are arguably higher because there is no getting away from the ‘client’ if you get it wrong. I used to treat all my schemes as though they were my own but doing it from inside the company really is on a different level.

How would you describe The Hut group’s company culture?
It is very entrepreneurial, moving very quickly and hugely ambitious – and it has some amazing people.

It’s a very young workforce?
Yes, the average age is 27.

Does that make a difference to the way you design?
I think it is natural to design a smart environment now. We are a technology business, moving at a very fast pace with offices in the UK, America and Poland, to name a few, so we have to communicate 24/7.

You clearly have a lot on your plate at the moment?
We have six buildings on this site. We have just finished Hartford House, which is just over 5,000 sq ft and is the current home to one of the technical teams, and Woodlands House – which is 5,500 sq ft and is our Finance House.

Next on the agenda is Meridian House, which is 24,300 sq ft. This is our main HQ and is very important to the business as the Executive Board sits within it. After that we potentially have two more buildings to look at!

Is there an issue that, when you are working for the one company, you may miss the variety of different projects?
Whilst I did work on a variety of projects in my past roles, none of the schemes I have worked on so far are the same. By their nature, each workplace demands a different treatment.

Are there any common themes?
Collaboration.  Providing places for groups to work together is a prerequisite in all.

What are the other key trends right now?
I think it’s a case of designing a workplace that supports the company’s way of working. The key is creating an environment that can be changed. For example, our technical team has a workspace that is based on Superheroes, but thanks to the graphics, the applications can be altered with very little adjustment of time and cost.

How are the teams getting on in their new environments?
From my perspective, every part of the office appears to be used: from the curtain that provides some privacy when not used as a ‘Town Hall Space’, through to the quite rooms on each floor, the little single seat pods, and the walls and screens that are written on. The bespoke table, which houses an interactive screen appeals to the techies!

What have you included in your designs that have surprised the board?
The last two buildings have been small, so it’s been the variety of activity-based choices for our young and creative staff.

What is key for you when choosing suppliers?
To be honest I know most suppliers and I know how much things cost, so respect is key for me. I am an intelligent client so I need support – not a sales pitch. We’re currently working with various contractors and suppliers, the main one being Overbury.

What are the biggest issues on this site?
Parking is the main issue.

Where is the design industry going next?
It has to be Smart Environments; an informal environment housed in a campus, drawing on the energies and ideas of the surrounding landscape.

Do you think clients in general understand the value of design?
That really depends on the client, but I do believe there has been a big shift in the client/end user knowledge. I also think the client needs to understand that the building needs to work for them, and understand the implications of spending for the future.