Culture of challenge

Words:
Eleanor Young

Simon Bayliss describes the change in culture since HTA Design's management buyout four years ago

Role Managing partner

Age 45

Practice size 170

Turnover £11.9m


How did you come to be managing partner?

In April 2013, after 15 months of negotiation, we succeeded in our management buyout of HTA. We are now coming to the end of our five-year plan. We have had various points of success but one thing that stood out was the desire to invest in our values. We have just completed Investors in People and a workshop with staff, and out of that came our work on values: creativity, collaboration, commercial value, care for each other and continuous improvement.

We have grown from 85 to 170 since the MBO. But the biggest change has been having 13 partners, each with a financial stake in the practice. It makes it collegiate. People wonder how you can bring about change in a collective, but you can. I don’t know how people run practices on their own.

I really enjoy the contrast between difference aspects of my role, from finance to design reviews. It means I can be involved in a number of areas to varying levels of detail. All partners have practice responsibilities such as HR, IT and premises, we then come together to discuss them. A quick lunch every day provides the opportunity to chat and also brings people together.

How do you measure success?

Our reputation. It is not just about beautiful imagery, but great places. In many ways the architecture should be quietly spoken and it is about the setting and composition of the homes together and the community it engenders.

Awards are a key tool to measuring our success and we’ve won more awards in the last three years. It shows people the value of the work you do, as at Hanham Hall, Bristol, which has been held up by the government as an exemplar of future low energy housing.

HTA's Hanham Hall in Bristol.
HTA's Hanham Hall in Bristol. Credit: Tim Crocker

How are you pursuing that reputation?

Design review. Every Tuesday afternoon with Ben Derbyshire typically leading crits with a handful of partners and project teams. We have just been looking at some internal CGIs for a bid, and at the quality implications on time scale. Design review is increasingly useful. We have managed to stop some clangers, for example where a project has taken off in the wrong direction and it may be hard for the project team to be brave enough to challenge that. We are trying to build a culture of challenge.

On Friday mornings, we have a masterclass, either from a part I on how to get the best out of Lumion or a partner on the change order process. On Thursdays we host CPDs and every month we have a sketch club. Our social programme is extensive to encourage an open and inspiring environment including plenty of work trips and socials.

What about profit?

We target a gross profit figure (easier on some projects than others) and look for a gross profit of 60% across the practice. We have a young workforce and pay reasonably well. As we have been growing we have been careful on costs and management, very firm on invoicing and debt chasing. We have made a lot of profit in the last few years, which we have put back into the business, working to pay off the debt of the management buyout and to equalise senior partners.

Who has inspired you beyond the practice?

Nick Bullock, my tutor at Cambridge, was inspiration on postwar housing and the visionary architects who created great housing, such as Lubetkin and Powell & Moya.

What is next?

We have lots of projects using offsite modular construction. VR and BIM are becoming critical to resolving problems before we get onto an expensive building site. I am increasingly optimistic of the chance to do architecture better.

The housing crisis needs responding to. Though the build to rent sector is very good we have to avoid making the mistakes of the past. There are economic and political pressures facing us, all we can do is be ready to make hard decisions quickly. And we have to respond to the challenge of what the customer needs – my own personal experience in a Victorian house leaves me wondering why our homes don’t have all the benefits of modern technology.


 

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