Patrick Bushnell joined the board of Howard Group in 2009 and served as non-executive Chairman from 2013 until July 2022, at which point he handed the baton on to Sian Steele. Patrick’s dedication and unwavering support over the last 13 years will be much missed by all those who worked with him. Fred Murphy, who joined Howard Group as Asset Manager in May 2022 spoke to Patrick on the eve of his farewell dinner to secure a few last words of advice!
You have been involved with Howard Group for over 13 years. What have been some of the highlights for you as you look back over this time?
I have had great fun at Howard Group. There have been many changes to the team and portfolio over this time – I have found the ability of the business to embrace this change has been outstanding, supported by the family shareholders. The team are at their best when completing developments to hold or sell and undertaking asset management that really adds value, whilst managing income closely.
Patience in acquiring properties and then adjoining elements for future developments have been key drivers of growth. Lewisham, 95 Regent Street and Unity Campus are key examples of this strategy.
The growth of the business over time has been outstanding, especially while managing risk with modest borrowings and a requirement to maintain income.
As a very experienced property professional, what sort of advice might you offer to people who still have many years of their career ahead of them within the property industry?
Always work with energy and integrity. Be inquisitive and embrace change. Collaboration and team working is critical to your success. Never be afraid to ask the apparently dumb question – it probably isn’t.
More specifically in property, I think we are on the cusp of great change – the rapidly changing retail environment, changes to the ‘traditional’ office, the environmental impact of the built environment, housing demand, an ageing population leading to requirements for later living and the urgent need to treat occupiers of our buildings as customers rather than tenants are just a few things. Look out for these and embrace them. These will present outstanding opportunities to develop and succeed.
Having chaired this family business for the past 9 years, what are your reflections on the characteristics and strengths of family business – perhaps especially as we encounter some challenging times ahead?
A valuable trait often found within a family business is the existence of a powerful and strong set of values which are embedded into the culture of the business. In Howard Group’s case these include honesty, integrity and commitment alongside strong Christian values and humility, which has translated into a business that always seeks to be supportive, act with energy in the market and look ahead for opportunities and change. Unity Campus, Howard Group’s exciting new urban innovation district in the heart of the countryside 8 miles south of Cambridge, is a very good example of this in action.
Patience and the ability to look ahead – taking a longer-term view are also the keys to success. Family businesses think across the generations and plan accordingly, an outlook which is rarely available to many larger investors, particularly in the property markets, who require much shorter-term returns.
For Howard Group, this ability to be patient and long-term chimes well with the Cambridge and Oxford colleges, and this could offer the potential for great collaborations in the future – an example of just one opportunity which is rarely available.
Despite the challenging period we are entering, do you see any areas of opportunities the Group may be able to focus on to support its people, places and profit strategy?
Valuers are signalling a potential for the market to fall in value by 15% in Q4. We can do nothing about that, so during this period of volatility, focus on income will be critical.
Focus on delivery of existing developments and asset plans to maximise income. Be especially tenant focused – be aware of stresses in their businesses. Deliver exceptional customer service.
Being alert to stress from investors in the market – needing to sell assets or seek partners, that could prove very attractive.
After a long and successful career in the property sector, what are you looking forward to most about retirement and what have you got planned?
Whilst I am retiring from Howard Group, I am not fully retiring from the property industry just yet – I probably never will since it is so embedded in me!
Aside from the work that will continue for now, I am travelling pretty extensively and will probably continue this while my wife, Sheila, and I are still fit.
I am also excited about a wilding project I am working on, on land I have bought outside Saffron Walden – I am learning a huge amount about farmland conservation, bio-diversity, habitat recovery for birds, insects and animals. I have a team called The Young Wilders working on this for me and we will commence improvement work on the land over the next twelve months, which will then run for the long term.
Otherwise, I hope to spend a more time at our house on the Norfolk coast, including more sailing around the coast, occasionally bothering Nicholas for a coffee or beer to catch on the Howard news!