Celebrating 20 Years

This year (2019) we turn 20. As the London Eye was being lifted into place on the South Bank and Tracey Emin was picking up her Turner Prize for My Bed, Paul Allen and two others were starting a business from a small office in Liverpool Community College and AA Projects was born. We have enjoyed 20 years of working with great people and being part of some truly fantastic buildings that have shaped the landscape and communities they serve. Some of our 20-year highlights are featured below:

Directors Interviews

Reaching a milestone always presents an opportunity to reflect, our 10 Directors have done just that in the interviews below. They each look back on the last 20 years and outline their vision for the next 20. Can you guess who wanted to be a vet, who played county cricket and who started out life at AA Projects in the stationary room!

  • Kenneth Wood

    20 Year Interview
    Kenneth Wood

    Q: When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

    A: Like a lot of young kids, I wanted to be a soldier. My father was an RAF bandsman in his younger years, so I think he was probably an influencing factor. When I got into my teens, I wanted to be a musician because my dad was a trombone player, and so I learnt trombone when I was young. I almost joined the military bands at 16 years old, but my Dad convinced me not to go so I went to technical college instead. I did the same again after leaving University and looked at joining the Royal Engineers and this time, my father signed me up to the Territorial Army which seemed to finally scratch the itch that I’d always had!

    Q: What were you doing 20 years ago?

    A: I was working for a housing association as a technical officer, they then owned around 11,000 properties and I spent most of my time managing maintenance contracts for the properties such as window replacements, internal and external painting schemes and gas servicing contracts.

    Q: What led you there?

    A: I started out in private practice after gaining my Building Surveying degree and I wanted work in something which had purpose and not to sound too cliched but where you get a chance to do good and give back. At a housing association the results of your labour are tangible. You make someone’s life a bit better – the small things have a big impact. It was very rewarding and offered a lot of job satisfaction. The Association moved into developing PFI projects with an aim of cross-subsidising the day to day business, so that led me into working on PFI schemes and I moved away from maintenance management.

    Q: What has changed the most within the industry in the last 20 years?

    A: Technology, I started off with pens and set squares, we had one computer in the office that we all shared! I remember the introduction of digital stock condition data collection using standard descriptions and the amount of effort needed to make sure that the data was usable. We would print off the data and try to analyse the information, which thinking back, is a ludicrous approach to the management of data!
    I’d also say that attitudes have changed too. If you go back 20-odd years, it was much more adversarial than it is today as an industry - there’s a lot more partnership working, we collaborate more. These are probably the two big ones.

    Q: How have you helped to grow the business?

    A: Enabling the MBO process by joining together a group of people with real breadth and depth of experience and skillsets has led to remarkable growth over the last two years.
    The business has a market-leading strength in the education sector. From this, we have made significant steps in growing our credentials in the health, retail and hospitality sectors alongside incredible expansion in the services we offer in residential development. Putting these together has helped the business nearly double in size over the last two-and-a-half years.

    Q: What is your proudest work moment/biggest achievement to date?

    A: I think most rewarding is probably project-related. I worked on a major project up until I was in my late twenties over a four-year period. The project involved the closure of a large mental health hospital site in North Leeds and the re-provision of beds across the city in largely purpose-built accommodation. It was special as we were changing the quality of life for marginalised communities. We developed new community facilities with an aim of people remaining in the areas which they lived and worked. I started as a project surveyor and completed as project manager. I also met my wife on that project, so that also makes it memorable. I worked alongside some excellent professional team members, a number of which I continue to work with to this day.

    Q: What Is your vision for AA Projects for the next 20 years?

    A: Our aim is not to be a big corporate business, because you lose the family feel and culture, but you’ve got to keep growing and keep adapting to survive and prosper. I would like it if AA Projects was a household name in the construction market synonymous with a quality, professional service and that we were able to hand over the baton to the talent we are building in the business today.

  • Paul Allen

    20 Year Interview
    Paul Allen

    Q: When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

    A: A musician and an astronaut.  Back then, I thought there might be a gap in the market for a singing spaceman!

    Q: How did the business begin?

    A: I decided to start my own business due to the following factors:

    - I had come to realise that working for a large company had numerous drawbacks. Large companies are mainly over burdened with policy, process and complex hierarchies. This makes them slow to adapt, make decisions and therefore grasp opportunities. Innovation was invariably stifled, and I found this environment frustrating.

    - I had just begun working in the Further Education sector which had seen little or no investment for many decades and I had developed some unique market offers for a sector that was hungry for improvement.

    - I also considered that the existing professional services being offered to this sector needed to be adapted to best reflect how it operated.

    The trigger to start my own company came when my existing company were undergoing a management buy out that did not value the work my team and I were doing, and so AA Projects was born.  We started from some very humble beginnings operating from one room in the premises of our first client, the Liverpool Community College. This was an old classroom that we kitted out with a fridge, kettle, furniture and the very latest in fax machine technology!

    Q: What were you doing 20 years ago?

    A: I was a consultant Project Manager working at the business case preparation and procurement strategy front end stage with our clients.

    Q: What has changed the most within the industry in the last 20 years?

    A: Regulation, policy and procedure have become more onerous especially for small business. Technology on the other hand is providing some excellent opportunities and efficiencies.

    Q: What is your proudest work moment/biggest achievement?

    A: I was always very proud when members of the royal family and key public figures opened our completed projects; Her Majesty, The Queen opened Birmingham Dental Hospital and School of Dentistry, Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex opened the Creative Arts Suite at King Edward VI College and Tony Blair opened Longley Park Sixth Form. For me, being a Sci Fi fan, the best moment was when Captain Piccard of the Star Ship Enterprise (Patrick Stewart) opened a project at Barnsley College. My Biggest achievement was leading and sustaining the business through one of the worst recessions my generation had ever seen. Then taking it to a business with over a hundred staff, national coverage, and a strong brand. Oh, and meeting Patrick Stewart!

    Q: What was the most rewarding project you worked on?

    A: The complete estate rationalisation of the Liverpool Community College down from nine sites across the city to five key sites supported by specialist peripatetic provision city wide. This involved a complex strategy supported by robust business planning and substantial corporate structural change. All projects were delivered on time and within budget, all on extremely tight budgets. The Funding Body did not think initially it was going to be achievable but subsequently promoted the project as best practice for the sector. To add to this the Client was extremely satisfied with the whole process. It was the most interesting, challenging and rewarding project of my career.

    Q: How did it feel passing on the baton for the next 20 years?

    A: This was a defining moment, it made me realise what a great business I was able to leave behind. Even better though was the team that came together to take it forward. I fully expect that they will take the business forward to even greater heights and hope they enjoy it as much as I did.

  • Chris Thorpe

    20 Year Interview
    Chris Thorpe

    Q: When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

    A: We had to do a presentation in primary school on somebody famous and it couldn’t be anybody in popular culture, so I did a project on sir Christopher Wren, from that day I wanted to be an architect. I did some work experience when I was in school with an architects’ practice, this would have been end of the 80s, beginning of the 90s and I really enjoyed it but we were in recession and it became quite apparent to me that as an architect, it was more difficult to survive in a recession. I then got my eyes opened to building surveying that included some of that design aspect but in much broader field of activities and dealing with existing properties, which rides the recession a bit better. Also, architecture was a 7-year course, I’m not sure I could have hacked it!

    Q: What were you doing 20 years ago?

    A: I graduated from Liverpool John Moore’s University in 1999. That year, as I sat in the Built Environment Building, I looked out of the window watching the progress of a job across the road. I didn’t think anything of it until I joined AA Projects in 2006, and then I realised the first ever project the company worked on was Liverpool Community College. The building I had watched take shape 11 years earlier! So maybe it was serendipitous.

    Q: What has changed the most within the industry in the last 20 years?

    A: The use of technology, 20 years ago everything was far more manual. I remember as a graduate I sat doing computer-aided design on the biggest monitor you’ve ever seen, email hadn’t taken off, everything was done by fax and we changed the colour of the fax paper every year and this was our filing system, also everything was done by pigeon post! We used steel tapes and old measuring equipment, it was a different world!

    Q: How do you feel that you’ve grown personally throughout the 20 years?

    A: I don’t think mine is a typical journey in this industry as I’ve only ever worked for two businesses. I went to my former employer as a year-out student, I graduated and went back, and ended up Head of the North West business. I left there in 2006 to come to AA Projects and I’ve been here ever since! I’ve probably been quite lucky that two businesses really invested in me as an individual.

    Q: What do you think your role has been in growing the business so far?

    A: I think I was the 33rd employee of the business when I came in to head Building Surveying, I inherited two employees. We started in an office in Manchester called Aker House, which is directly opposite our current office. We had to take all the racking out of the post room, so me and Darren (Hurst) had a place to work. At one point, I did think ‘what have I done!’ But we built on this and today we have a national presence with 40 staff. It’s been a fantastic experience working here and growing with the business.

    Q: What is your proudest work moment/biggest achievement to date?

    A: For me it’s about building something, that’s what motivates me, I live by the mantra ‘growth from within’, so my proudest achievement has been recruiting and supporting people from a junior level and watching those individuals flourish. We’ve got a big cohort of people who are in senior positions who started as graduates. One of my first recruits was Patrick Noble, he was the barman in my local pub, he is now an Associate Director! We’ve got lots of other examples, Alex Speechley, Sam Hardwick, Rob Swiatek and lots more.
    In terms of generating new business I remember being on holiday with my wife in Portugal, I had time to take stock and I realised we were missing a trick. Both me and Richard Murray had managed to get grandfather rights to become a chartered environmentalist and as a result there was an opportunity to do something different and the Energy and Sustainability division was born. This entrepreneurial spirit had been embedded in me here. Don’t tell my wife, but I couldn’t wait to get back! Not because I didn’t want to be there, but because I was so excited to get started. I almost burst Paul Allen’s door off its hinges and said, ‘I’ve got an idea!’ I realised that with all the other things I had on  I wouldn’t be able to lead and develop it from the grass roots, but I knew that I had a person next to me in Richard, that had the right skills. It comes back to building something, you build around key people then together as a whole we become better together.

    Q: What’s your vision for the next 20 years?

    A: I think we’ve done tremendously well to get where we are today both as a business and within the Building Surveying division, there aren’t many consultants out there that have got the strength and depth that we have with in-house staff. We can continue to take it further, as a business I still think we have masses of potential. When I’m hanging up my boots, I hope the business is in an even better place, for somebody else to take on.

  • Darren Hurst

    20 Year Interview
    Darren Hurst

    Q: When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

    A: I can’t even think that far back, I think it was like most people, you wanted to be a train driver, fireman, astronaut or something like that.

    Q: What were you doing 20 years ago?

    A: I was studying at Salford University on the vocational Building Surveying degree course.

    Q: What has changed the most within the industry in the last 20 years?

    A: Buildings are buildings, what we’re looking at now is very similar to what we were looking at 20 years ago. The processes and procedures have remained similar it’s mainly technology that has advanced what we do. 20 years ago, we had pen and paper and a manual drawing kit and now you’ve got tablets to collect survey data on. There were no such thing as digital cameras, so it was all 35mm film, and you just had to hope that you’d captured a picture of what you needed for the report, you had to print out the pictures and stick them to A4 paper and then scan that. It must have looked horrendous! Whereas now, you take for granted that you can take a picture on your phone, the quality is incredible, and you can send it from site and insert it into a report.

    Q: How do you think you’ve helped to grow the business so far?

    A: I was thinking back to when I first joined, which was May 2007, So it’s 12 years ago. I started in Aker House. Within Building Surveying, it was just Chris (Thorpe) and me, and three building surveyors in the Liverpool office and we were a support service essentially to what was a Project Management company. In the 12 years that I’ve been here, we’ve gone from being one of the smallest divisions to the biggest division within the company.
    Essentially, we expanded our service offer by location and replicated what we had in Manchester. We recruited good people and got on the right frameworks. We value our people and try to look after them, by offering a solid training route, career progression and good benefits as well as extras. We socialise together as a team and that strengthens the professional bond. It’s this focus on people that has helped us to grow to a division of 40 and a staff of 140!

    Q: How have you grown personally?

    A: Not in height, that’s for sure! But I think you become more confident in your abilities, the more exposure you get to different clients and different sectors, it becomes a lot easier to sit down and talk to a client about the professional service we offer. I think you develop a level of maturity that allows you to speak to a client, advise and generate business.

    Q: What is your proudest work moment/biggest achievement to date?

    A: Probably finding our current Manchester office and having Paul Allen as my first client! Aker House was essentially a shopping centre and Chris and I were in the stationary room that had been converted into an office, we had taken on another surveyor, so it was time to move on. I found Jackson House, fitted it out and we are still here today. It allowed me exposure to all the directors from day one as they were essentially my clients, and I guess it’s testament that we’re still in this office and we’ve not refitted, and we’re still growing from where we are.

    Q: Starting from the stationary room to business owner, how does that feel?

    A: Quite surreal, really, but I’m proud because when I joined, I was an Associate and worked hard to develop and grow the division so it’s nice to be recognised and invited to be part of the MBO team. I couldn’t ask for more than what I’ve got now, so I’m very proud to own a part of AA Projects.

    Q: What’s your vision for the next 20 years?

    A: We don’t see ourselves standing still. Going forward we will continue to embrace technology, if we give people the right tools and skills to deliver high quality work, the successes and growth will follow. We also want to develop the offices and maintain that sustained growth in terms of people numbers across the business, and also give our people exposure to different clients, challenging work, and continue to diversify, that’s the vision.

  • David Radcliffe

    20 Year Interview
    David Radcliffe

    Q: When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

    A: I played a lot of sports when I was young including football, tennis, rugby and golf. Like a lot of young lads, I wanted to be a professional footballer.

    Q: How did you go from professional footballer to surveyor?

    A: At 16 they start asking at school what career you would like to do? At that time my parents were having an extension done on their house, and a surveyor came around and drew up plans and talked them through it and it just clicked that this was the job for me. At that point I picked A levels to suit and went onto a degree in building surveying. When I finished, we were in a boom period, so I went to stay with my brother in London to find a job there. I think I had about six interviews over the course of three days, there was so many jobs around at the time, I had five job offers! I didn’t stay long at the first company, but my second job really worked, it introduced me to high level clients, some of the big pension funds and manufacturers, and office companies. I had a fabulous time working and socialising in Covent Garden at the outset of my career.

    Q: What were you doing 20 years ago?

    A: I was working in Liverpool in a small private practice, with one main partner and a group of surveyors in a little townhouse at the back of the Lime Street station. Most of the work was for housing associations and University of Liverpool. It was a good team and I have a lot of fond memories of working there. On a personal level, I was just about to have my first child, who of course has now just turned 20.

    Q: What has changed the most within the industry in the last 20 years?

    A: Technology. We had just started to get computers on our desks with basic software programmes, prior to that it had been big green screens with MS DOS, fax machines, paper, pen, Dictaphone and typists. The computer shifted the focus, we had to do our own word processing, reports etc. It was a big change and the speed of communication increased substantially.

    Q: How did you join the AAP team?

    A: I was looking for the next career move. I was in negotiations with the partner at the time to become part owners of the business I was working in, but that didn’t quite work out and at the same time a job came up in Liverpool. Richard Murray was the team leader at the time and had moved over to the environmental side. 11 years ago I started as Associate Director and then took on more responsibilities in terms of leading teams and I progressed from there.

    Q: How do you feel you’ve grown the business, since joining in 2011?

    A: Growth of the division as well as building technical expertise. I specialise in Rights to Light and Party Walls and this provided a new workstream for the division. I started delivering the Rights to Light seminars soon after I joined and due to popular demand, I am still doing them today. I still remember doing my first one to a packed conference room it was terrifying!
    We have also set up an in-house laser scanning team, we bought or hired in the equipment and upskilled staff. It took some doing, as it was a big a technological leap but it’s reaping rewards now because we have less reliance on sub consultants and most importantly it’s another service offer for clients. A good example is a recent job on a Northern hospital where we scanned it and then had it drawn into a fully co-ordinated 3D BIM model. This provided essential data for a facilities management system as all the information is available in the drawing. We have made other technological advances in data collection such as Go Report. I think this has helped to position us up there with the best in terms of our technical capability.

    Q: What is your proudest work moment/biggest achievement to date?

    A: I’ve had many career highlights, I love my job and I always try and get the best results for the client, so one that stands out is a 2-year Rights to Light negotiation for a lady in London that had a 2-bed apartment overlooking The London Eye. We got her a great settlement and she was absolutely delighted, she immediately sold the apartment and moved to somewhere bigger, with more light!
    At the start of my career my boss gave me a big project, I was only 23 and freshly chartered. I remember it so clearly, I had to design, tender, and manage through to completion a well-known board game factory. I have a real sense of satisfaction to know board games are still being built in there today!

    Q: What’s your vision for the next 20 years?

    A: I’m of an age where hopefully I will be retired, but I would love to see the next generation take the reins. We have incredible people here at AA Projects, they will take the business to the next level and continue the growth and make sure we stay at the forefront of technology. I think that’s one of the things that sets us apart from others in our industry. As a company we pride ourselves on our attention to detail and delivering a quality service for our clients, so I’d like to see that continue. We offer diversity in what we do, certainly in building surveying and I like to think if you are a new building surveyor joining a new company, there isn’t a better one to join.

  • Ian Goodman

    20 Year Interview
    Ian Goodman

    Q: When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

    A: Always a footballer or a cricketer, 100%! I played county cricket and I had trials at Southampton and played semi-professional football. Quantity Surveying was a complete accident!

    Q: What were you doing 20 years ago?

    A: I graduated in 1995, the end of the recession and out of 33 on my course, there was only one person with a job! I wrote to all the Quantity Surveying firms in London and the surrounding areas and didn’t get any answers at all – just the odd thanks but no thanks. At the time there were about four main Quantity Surveying practices that came out of the war office, and I finally got a response from James Nisbet & Partners who offered me a part-time job. I was up against about 10 other people and I didn’t get it! I just kept ringing and eventually they said come in on day rate and do a month, I was still there in 1999! I was an Associate by that time. So, through perseverance, I got my foot in the door and managed to prove myself.

    Q: What has changed the most within the industry in the last 20 years?

    A: Technology, I’m sure the other Directors have said technology too. We didn’t have computers and relied on faxes. If we were having a good week, on a Friday occasionally one of the Partners would pull the wire out of the back of the fax machine so no-one could get hold of us and we would all go for an afternoon drink! When computers were introduced, 20 odd years ago, and we went from measuring by hand by pen and dimension paper to using software packages - it was a huge jump!

    Q: How did you join the AAP team?

    A: I had worked with Ken since 2005 starting when we both became Partners at the same firm. Since that point, both of us have been on the wrong side of a couple of company buy-outs which led me further away from my career goals and being part of a management team that was able to mould the direction of travel. Ken was in negotiations with Paul Allen as he was looking to pass the business on to the right person or people and retire. It was perfect timing, I joined the company shortly after Ken and Mark to form part of the MBO team. It was the right choice, AAP still has that family feel, you get to be more hands on and have a stronger relationship with staff and clients.

    Q: How do you think you helped to grow the business?

    A: I’m probably the one that’s different, because as Ken puts it, ‘I’m the only Director south of Manchester’. We have grown our presence in the Midlands region and have a city centre-based Birmingham office and offices in Rugby and Oxford. This has allowed us to grow and develop our offer in the region. Also, I brought along some loyal staff members and clients which have provided the stable platform we needed to grow from in these locations.

    Q: What is your proudest work moment/biggest achievement to date?

    A: The great thing about being in construction and property industry is that you get to leave a legacy behind, we deliver buildings that mean something to the people who are investing in them, and for the people who are using them. For example, all the education work we do - that is leaving a legacy for the next generation. Healthcare facilities have a huge impact on their communities. So, when I’m old and retired, perhaps I can drive my grandchildren past some of those buildings and say, “I was part of something, that gave back”.

    Q: What’s your vision for AA Projects for the next 20 years?

    A: Sustainable growth, I don’t think any of the Directors want to become a massive big corporate machine. The 10 of us have all done that and seen what it is like. As a company we are always striving to improve, we want to keep the staff happy, our clients happy, move in the right direction, and be at the forefront of new initiatives. The business model is sound, we have all the right services in place. If we can keep the family feel and work hard together, the rest should look after itself.

  • James Ryan

    20 Year Interview
    James Ryan

    Q: When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

    A: I didn’t know what I wanted to be, but I was kind of surrounded by people who were involved in construction. So, it was almost inevitable that that was going to happen.

    Q: Nothing! You never said to your teacher “when I grow up, I’m going to be….”?

    A: No, I was one of those kids who didn’t always get on well with the teachers. Although I had one teacher who was excellent, she was my politics teacher at college, and she persuaded me to go into a politics degree. She told me to focus on what I was good at, which is good advice.

    Q: You’re the youngest of our directors, can you give us some background on how you got into the industry?

    A: I did a Politics Degree which I thought had nothing to with construction. When I graduated, for the first 2-3 years I worked for a well-known contractor that had set up a new consultancy arm to the business. The purpose was to provide internal consultancy services and advice. I joined there just prior to the last recession, which was an interesting time to join a business. Despite this PFI and PPP projects were booming. I worked on the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme. I was part of the bidding team for these huge projects that were worth hundreds of millions of pounds. This process exposed me to working with bankers, solicitors, project managers - people who were really good at what they did. I was sat in the room with all these people, helping where I could but trying to learn and absorb as much as I could. I still pass the schools today and think ‘I was part of that’! I didn’t know anything about construction when I started there, at the same time I was studying for my Master’s in Construction and my RICS qualification. All I did was go to work, study and then go back to work for 2-3 years. Once qualified, I went to work for a private equity fund that was involved in PPP and then spent six years there, learning all about managing assets. I then moved to another consultant and some of our other directors worked there too - I hung on to their coat tails and ended up here!

    Q: What do you think is the biggest change in the industry?

    A: There’s been a massive shift in construction, especially in the professionalism of contractors. It’s more professionally driven; more people are chartered. You never used to get Chartered Quantity Surveyors who would work on construction projects. Firms are bigger more professional and offer a number of services, big contractors offer Facilities Management and provide the investment themselves. That’s meant that we and others have had to adapt and match our services to those that are required in the industry. The industry around multi-disciplinary consultancies has grown in the last few years.

    Q: How do you think you’ve helped grow the business?

    A: I’ve brought a different angle to the business in terms of the segment and clients I work with. The business had relations with some of them previously, but not in the same way. We now offer those clients niche services around PFI and PPP. It feels like an old market, but, there’s a new challenge - the facilities need to be maintained and have longevity. More than 95% percent of the buildings in the UK are older than 5 years old. Meaning we don’t always have to compete for the 5% of construction projects, the new flashy projects. We can focus on the existing asset base in respect of all the existing buildings. We try to offer services to the people who manage, occupy, own, acquire and dispose of them, whatever sector they’re in. It’s something we excel at, working on the asset management side of things.

    Q: What is your proudest work moment/biggest achievement to date?

    A: Probably the first project I did with AAP, I walked in the door and was greeted with a little bit of skepticism because of the size of the task. It was a scheme across 25 schools and included listed, historical and new schools. We surveyed and built lifecycle models for all the schools and offered facilities management advice. It took a team of 20 about 5 months, so around a quarter of all the people who worked for us at the time touched it in some way. It was the very first time we had delivered a project of this type. It started the first day I landed. I’m proud of this one because the team have taken that process and developed and refined it. Now the clients come to us and ask for a repeat of this exercise, we are viewed as the expert and market leader.

    Q: What’s your vision for the next 20 years?

    A: I haven’t worked that out yet, the world’s changing fast. I’d love to also see us as market leaders in the use of technology, we are doing that already so keeping that momentum and focus. Continue to build on to our reputation for being open and honest with our clients. There has been a lot of consolidation in the market, because of that we can offer a more personal quality-based approach. With us you can pick the phone up to a Director of the business and I think that’s valued and important.

  • Mark Simpson

    20 Year Interview
    Mark Simpson

    Q: When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

    A: A Policeman, but as I got older, I wanted to be an architect. I did a BTEC in Construction, and during a three-week work experience in an architectural practice, they asked me to stay on. It was then I realised that I wasn’t that interested in design, but I was quite good at context and how it all fitted together.

    Q: What were you doing 20 years ago?

    A: 20 years ago, I was doing my Building Surveying degree part-time and working full-time, at an architectural practice as a technician. I was also working as a Duty Manager in a local supermarket on evenings and weekends.

    Q: What has changed the most within the industry in the last 20 years?

    A: So, 20 years ago I was working on the new builds, the multi million pounds projects, but then the 2008 recession hit and suddenly there wasn’t the funding available and the demand was still there! I went back to my roots of core building surveying and project management and started doing the kind of sticking plaster-type offers for maintaining and running operational estates in the sector to keep the services running until the capital became available.
    20 years on, the demand on healthcare is so much greater because people are living longer. 20 to 30 years ago, the average living age was 70-75, now it’s 80 to 85. The problem is that the healthy age hasn’t progressed with it. Whilst technology’s been great in terms of people’s lifestyles it’s meant that they’re not as healthy as they once were, they’re not as active, they’re not looking after themselves as much. So, the impact is that whilst there’s an increase in budget in the health sector, the demand for it is by far outweighing what the sector can cope with. Today it’s all about welfare and deflection of activity from the acute setting into the community; hence an increase in system wide master planning and strategic management consultancy. The built environment solution is a byproduct of the service redesign.

    Q: What do you think your influence has been on growing the business?

    A: I joined in January 2017, at that time the business was turning over around £400,000 in healthcare, this year we will probably turnover c£3m, so I suppose what I’ve brought is a pipeline in healthcare through my network and contacts, and obviously the staff that followed me here as well. Also, the sector strategy has enabled us to diversify by doing something different to a lot of our competitors, focusing on front-end works, recognising the problems in terms of the impact that the demand is having on the sector. We are looking at it from a strategic perspective around how you impact or influence the demand, therefore a big proportion of our health sector work has come through the Strategic Management Division as identifying the problem and trying to build the solution feeds into the other divisions. Approximately 35% of all income generated for AA Projects comes through strategic management because we’re there from the outset of a project.

    Q: What is your proudest work moment/biggest achievement to date?

    A: The projects we are working on now, it’s not as tangible as a big shiny building, but there are real benefits. For example, a large acute hospital masterplan project, this hospital was losing £33m per annum; the revenue costs were exceeding their income. We did quite a significant piece of work around the system master planning to look at how they could deliver the same or improved clinical outcomes, but from a more efficient estate solution. We were able to demonstrate by rationalising the estate and doing something quite different, supported by their model of care, they could save £90m a year in revenue, so going from £33m deficit to a £60m surplus which they could use as capital to build a new hospital. So, whilst this project is still in transit our work made them rethink the whole system approach.

    Q: Who would you say has been the biggest influence on your career?

    A: Probably Ken, we met professionally when I was working in the NHS. He was working in private sector as a developer and I was the technical lead for the NHS. We had some professional heated discussions and debates. He got head hunted to set up business in Leeds and on his leaving do, he said if I come back for you in 6 months’ time, will you come and join me? And he did just that. He’s helped me in my career, and I’ve always respected him and challenged him, and I think we work well together as a result.

    Q: How did you join AAP?

    A: I left my previous company as a Senior Director, a member of the European board running the Project Management cost centre in the North. When I arrived, there were just two of us in the Leeds office. Me and an administrator, with Keith working relatively remotely, there are 18 now! I knew I was coming in to start the MBO process, I joined AA Projects knowing what I was going to do and when.

    Q: What’s the difference between other consultants you’ve worked for and AAP?

    A: Personalisation, it’s more about the staff. AAP has got much more of a family feel, and I think, again what’s been good since we’ve taken the firm on, is we’ve not lost any of that. We’ve individually made sacrifices, but we’ve continued to give people everything that they’ve always had, staff conference, Christmas do, social events, and I’m glad that we have done that because that shows the value that we see in our people.

    Q: What’s your vision for the next 20 years for AA Projects?

    A: I like that we’re big enough to cope but we’re small enough to care. What Paul founded back in ’99 to where it is now is, yes, it’s diversified but I think the ethics and values have remained, even though we have started a new chapter with new owners, I think the positive legacy of the business lives on. My priority is to maintain that independence and succession plan from within. An example of this is Stephen Abbott our Divisional Director in PM. I met Stephen exactly 20 years ago, when he was as a year out student, he has joined me at other companies and now he is a success here too. I want to make sure that our staff are aligned and vice versa to what we’re doing and that we’re all striving to achieve the same thing, that we continue to be a quality driven SME.

  • Mike Soffe

    20 Year Interview
    Mike Soffe

    Q: When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

    A: Well, being a lad from Liverpool, I obviously wanted to play football for Liverpool and if I couldn’t do that, the plan was to be a fireman. However back in those days, you needed to have a certain size expandable chest and I didn’t meet the criteria. Obviously, I would today, *laughs out loud*

    Q: How did you start in your career as a surveyor?

    A: Started as a trainee QS/office junior, back in 1988, 31 years ago, at Flood and Wilson on Rodney Street in Liverpool. My job would entail getting the drawings from the architects, getting eight copies printed, going through marking up all the materials that were specified, checking that the library was up to date because there was no internet in those days, hoarding all the latest library brochures for the guys who were going to take half, doing the drawing register, doing all the comp checking. Then probably about five years on from there, we got our first computer, and at that point I was doing all the inputting into the one computer across the whole office. By then I’d moved up to measuring drainage, ironmongery, internal/external doors, it was quite exciting!

    Q: What were you doing 20 years ago?

    A: I was at Liverpool City Council, in the Architects Department as a QS and I think we had a room of about four computers between the whole Department using Masterbuild and a bit of Excel too, so we had moved on again. I had moved on to measuring the whole shebang by then, it kept you going. In those days a QS really did count bricks!

    Q: What has changed the most within the industry in the last 20 years?

    A: From a QS point of view we had a real grounding back then, you had to really understand construction to be able to measure quantities, to SOM6 and then SOM7, you used to measure all the labour and all that kind of stuff, so you understood how a building was put together, a lot of the schemes now are Design and Build package type deals, so that sort of technical knowledge is not there anymore.

    Q: How do you feel you’ve helped to grow the business since joining?

    A: I had worked with Neil for some years previously and he joined AA Projects about six months before me. The QS division had a dozen strong staff and we turned over £1million per year mainly on education projects. I think together we’ve helped grow and diversify that division, now turning over above £3 million and 45% of that is residential. We also opened opportunities across other sectors that people haven’t worked in previously.

    Q: What is your proudest work moment/biggest achievement to date?

    A: At AA Projects probably the growth of the residential sector from not turning over anything five years ago to where we are now, where the sector will be at about £2.5 million this year! I also really enjoyed my time working on the Liverpool-1 project for Grosvenor, it was a really enjoyable project personally, but it felt amazing to leave a real land mark in my home city and its impact on the regeneration of the City Centre. So, I’m quite proud of that as well.

    Q: What’s your vision for the company for the next 20 years?

    A: If you look back over the 20 years on AAP, its origins with Paul and a couple of the other guys working out of Liverpool Community College, to where it is now several offices across the country, circa 130 staff, it shows what can be done from small acorns and how you can grow! So, I hope the company will continue to grow and become the best SME in the country. Most importantly leave a legacy behind, there’s a real strong connection between the company and the staff, because I think that’s what AA Projects has always been about. It’s about the people that work for us, rather than the company itself.

  • Neil Fyles

    20 Year Interview
    Neil Fyles

    Q: When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

    A: I always wanted to be a vet, but my science grades weren’t good enough. My dad was in the construction industry, so I had a bit of an affinity with that and he recommended surveying as an option. Quantity Surveying appealed to me most, it wasn’t a smooth journey with a careers tutor telling me I couldn’t be one without A Level maths, so I changed route to building surveying followed by an A levels resit, before going back to that careers tutor to prove her wrong! It was the right choice, I enjoy the mix of the maths, legal and construction technology side of the job. Looking back now I’d have been too much of a wimp to be a vet!

    Q: What were you doing 20 years ago?

    A: I was at Davis Langdon, I was two years post-graduation, I was then part of a group within the company, a national group called “Foresight 2020”, which included half a dozen of the rising stars within the business, to look at where the business was going to be in 2020, which is obviously next year. For that time, it was innovative, and I loved being part of the group. The bit I was tasked with was e tendering, which back in 1999 was some way off in terms of email and internet etc. Even then they were looking at ways where tendering could be done differently. We are still not where we thought it would be in that point in time! So, we haven’t moved on as much as the vision. It was a 6-month study, which meant spending the best part of a week a month, at Head Office in London. Six of us were working collaboratively, culminating in a presentation to the management board. From a profile-raising point of view, it was good for me.

    Q: What has changed the most within the industry in the last 20 years?

    A: IT has played a massive part in how the industry has developed. I was caught in that transition when I first started in 1995, we didn’t have PC’s, no direct email, there was one PC in the office that received email. The secretaries would log on in the morning, print off emails that had come in and again, in the afternoon and distribute them like you would post. By 1999 it had changed, every desk had a PC, you had your own email address. Nowadays people rely heavily on technology. Emails are such an instantaneous thing, previously, a fax would come in or a letter and people wouldn’t expect to have a response the same day. That didn’t mean you kicked back and did nothing, but it was just a different approach. You would start drafting your response, you could think about it, sleep on it. Obviously, technology has many positive sides, in terms of productivity, the speed in which we can do things, the role that we do has evolved in line with that. I think it is more of a cost management role now rather than a quantity surveyor role, and what I mean by that is that the quantity bit will be overtaken by technology to a degree and it becomes more of a management function, proactively controlling cost.

    Q: How did you join AAP?

    A: I’ve only worked in one place before, in terms of my professional career, and it was a big international practice. I grew up there, they invested in me and I was in a good position managing the Liverpool office and residential part of the business, I didn’t see myself moving on. We were bought out by an American engineering business called AECOM. Initially, I didn’t really have a massive issue with that, but it did change over the two years I was there post buyout, partway through that I got called by a head-hunter for the role at AA Projects. I had worked with them on a Further Education Projects previously. My job had changed where I was at and the business had become more bureaucratic, I wasn’t getting that buzz that I used to get, it was still a tough decision to leave and it took me a long time. Ultimately the opportunity to come to AA Projects, to grab a hold of something, shape and develop it in a more positive way, really appealed. When we first started, we had nine Quantity Surveyors, we now have 26! We developed rapidly and gained a greater sense of diversity than we had previously. Residential was my background and part of the reason why I was head hunted by AA Projects, they had the foresight to bring my specialism to them, which again is a big part of the success. When I first came in, I headed that up and then passed that over to Mike and it continues to go from strength to strength. At AA projects we are all pulling in the same direction and we are working for each other and for me that’s the most important and positive thing of all.

    Q: What is your proudest work moment/biggest achievement to date?

    A: The proudest moment at AAP, I think it was being part of the MBO team. And doing that in advance of the initial timetable. It’s something I’m determined to make a success of, which I’m sure we will do as we are all pulling in the same direction. Also, the diversification, and growth of the Quantity Surveying division, I am proud of that too. I’m fortunate the business has given me the space, the opportunity and the help to do that. So, it’s been everything I wanted it to be. Looking back at my whole career and from a personal point of view, I’m proud of the hard work and dedication I have shown. I’m a great believer that if you really want to do something and you work hard enough for it, you get it.

    Q: What’s your vision for the next 20 years at AAP?

    A: We’ve inherited a great business from the three owners. I want to continue to build a legacy. I’ll be 65 then so when my time comes to retire, I want to leave a business behind in a better place again, for all our talented staff and valued clients.

  • Neil Grindrod

    20 Year Interview
    Neil Grindrod

    Q: When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

    A: Maybe a little predictable, I would have said a footballer or a cricketer. I played from a young age as my Dad played and he used to bring me along. It was football first, as I grew up in my teenage years, it was cricket.

    Q: Did you play at a high level?

    A: Football I played at a junior level. I played cricket for Lancashire under 13 and under 15, I had trials for Northamptonshire, when I was 18-19. I was offered a spot for the last couple of months of the season just to play, expenses only, but I couldn’t afford that, at that point I realised that I probably wasn’t good enough to make a living out of it, so knocked that one on the head.

    Q: What were you doing 20 years ago?

    A: I was working at an IT data warehousing business. I’d just been given my opportunity as a finance manager. I was running a bigger team then than I am today! I was 26 and just getting my feet under the table. I was quite young to be a finance manager, certainly at that stage, due to a change in operations at the time I was given the opportunity which was great.

    Q: How did you get into finance?

    A: I wasn’t going to University, so my careers advice was ‘you’re taking maths and economics in your A-levels, have you tried insurance or banking?’ That’s how it was. I lived in a small town, but I was lucky there were a couple of big local employers and I started as a trainee accountant. The supervisor there got hold of me and pushed me into the CIMA qualifications that I was doing. I failed miserably in the first year, my attitude was poor and so was the college. I went to a specialist college in Manchester and passed, first time passes after that, that’s what I used to tell employers at the time!

    Q: How did you join the AAP team?

    A: I was approached by an agency, I wasn’t actively looking. I was interviewed by Paul on my first interview, if it had been the guy who was originally meant to do the interview, I would never have taken the job! So, it’s all due to Paul. The recession was just starting to kick in, in 2008. Yet AAP were still growing. For the previous two years I had been managing a decline and fighting against certain declining factors, so it was exciting to join a company that was on a growth curve. Within three months, things changed, I was the first Finance Director at AAP and now my role was key, we needed to manage the recession and I think we did that well, we continued to make a profit and that helped us to invest and come back a lot stronger and quicker. When we started to grow, it was about installing systems, processes that would assist. When Ken arrived, I think he was pleasantly surprised at the level of back office items we had in place, a lot of it was set for a bigger organisation, hence why we have been able to grow from 80 to 140 people in such short time whilst keeping a degree of control.

    Q: What has changed the most within the industry in the last 20 years?

    A: The development in technology has been huge. When I started at AAP I was 35, I was probably one of the younger employees here, so it felt like IT wasn’t high up on the agenda. Now, we’ve got a younger, (it certainly seems that way maybe I’m just getting older) demographic in the office, we have made great strides, and everyone is proficient in its use. Going back to ’91 it used to take us an hour to log in to the company’s system in the morning, as it chugged away, you’d have a brew and a catch up and that was accepted! Then I’d run a report which was three inches thick, that would take another half hour, I’d read through that, file the relevant bits, and that took me up to lunchtime. How things have changed!

    Q: What is your proudest work moment/biggest achievement to date?

    A: At AA Projects the Management Buy Out, it was the most absorbing thing I’ve ever done, it may have appeared to happen quite quickly in that one year, but there was a lot of preparation and build up over the years. Going back further, my exams, I would consider it as a major achievement at the time and becoming a finance manager at 25 leading a team of 13. At the time lots of my friends were coming out of university and still settling in as graduates, and I had benefited from leaving and starting work early.

    Q: What’s your vision for the next 20 years?

    A: If I’m still here something’s gone horribly wrong! Seriously though, during the MBO process there was a lot of worry and sleepless nights. Once it was done, I slept better. To give someone that opportunity would be fantastic. Despite being the finance guy, it wouldn’t be arbitrary numerical targets or growth for growth’s sake but something tangible. To see the next generation, fly the flag and help build and manage facilities that are significant and important. For example, Patrick Noble started after me as a graduate, and is an Associate Director, it’s that kind of success story that I want to continue.

    Q: What’s the fondest memory at AA Projects?

    A: There have been a lot, like sitting in a café in Alicante on a conference call ratifying the MBO process was memorable. Once on my way to the London office Paul Allen phoned me to tell me the systems had gone down. I said, “when I get into the office, I will send everyone an email to let them know”, he said “don’t bother because I’ve already typed it out.” Then that lightbulb moment happened between both of us. All the systems are down, we couldn’t have sent anything! It was a good job nobody else knew how we were running the company! There were many moments with Paul where we were both learning together and laughing along.



20 Year Celebration Event at the INNSIDE - Photo Gallery

20 Years Gallery