This week’s Business Focus is with David Heap, a senior partner at Walker Singleton chartered surveyors, based on Lister Lane.
Why did you become involved in your business in the first place?
I joined Walker Singleton in 1982 at the invitation of my good friend and mentor, David Naylor. David gave me my first trainee surveyor job in Bradford and, after he moved over to Walker Singleton he invited me to join and set up a commercial property department. At the time we traded from a small former shop with office above on Rawson Street. David sadly passed away recently but his zest for life, enthusiasm for all aspects of surveying and passion for the business and people within it, will remain with me, always.
What is your business motto?
Always remember your customers have lots of choice so don’t take them for granted.
What advice would you give to anyone starting their own business?
Our business was established in 1889, so I missed out on being here when it started! Some of my colleagues might add “but only by a few years!”. I believe that the principles the business operates on today differ little from those our founder John Hoyle Stead set out with close to 130 years ago. You need a passion for your profession; an understanding of what value you can offer your clients; confidence that you are the person to provide them with the right advice; an ability to innovate to keep you at the forefront of your market; integrity to be able to deliver on what you promise and, most important of all, colleagues who share your vision.
What do you enjoy most about being in business?
Our business is a partnership so we make collective decisions but participating directly in those decisions and taking either the credit or sometimes the blame for the outcomes is very rewarding. We take collective decisions at home as well but my wife usually gets the last word!
What do you enjoy least about being in business?
The flip side to that responsibility is never having a breather from thinking about your business. It is always on your mind even when on holiday because being a partner in our business brings responsibilities particularly when employees and their families depend upon the decisions that you take.
Which business figure do you most admire and why?
Bill Gates. He started his business as a student, developed an idea that changed the world and made him one of the wealthiest business figures in the world. What I really admire though is that he chose to use his immense wealth for charitable purposes through his Gates Foundation when so many of his contemporaries chose ostentatious lifestyles with super yachts and extravagant consumption. Doubtless he has a nice lifestyle but he also thinks of those less privileged. To me he is a superb role model for people in business.
What achievement in your career are you most proud of?
Playing a small part in the regeneration, restoration and productive re-use of Dean Clough Mills, Square Chapel and The Piece Hall, all superb listed buildings and part of our unique heritage in Halifax and which are now changing the way Halifax is perceived. I was born and educated in Bradford and I witnessed the sad destruction by developers in the 1960’s and 1970’s of the superb architecture in the city centre of Bradford. Thankfully the town fathers of Halifax rejected the plan to build a covered shopping centre at Woolshops, rejected by a single vote a plan to demolish the Piece Hall and have since strongly supported the initiatives to retain and re-use these fine buildings. At Dean Clough I have witnessed at close hand the insight that Jeremy Hall, his father Sir Ernest and the late Jonathan Silver had to re use such a large empty mill to generate 4,000 jobs, something that others would not have dared to predict when their project began. There are other fine buildings at risk in the town centre that also now need to be protected and their potential realised and focus does now need to shift in their direction.
Where do you see your business going in the next five years?
Our business now employs 55 and additional to Halifax has offices in Leeds, Bradford and Huddersfield together with a dedicated estate agency presence in Ripponden and Queensbury. The business plan is to continue to strengthen in our core markets and lead the field in both property and asset advice to our professional, commercial and private clients. We have made two recent strategic acquisitions and we remain live to any other opportunities that might present that hold significant business advantage to us.
If you could invent one product what would it be?
Not sure to be honest but it would be great to invent something that everyone takes for granted like the paper clip. I need to come up with a great idea. I will work on it!
If you could work for one company who would it be and why?
Ferrari! I have been a keen fan of the iconic Italian sports cars since I was a young lad. I have had the pleasure of visiting the home of Ferrari in the small town of Maranello in Northern Italy and seeing the employees all over the town during their lunch break dressed in their Ferrari overalls, what a privilege working for Ferrari! I would love to work there and join them for their lunch break in my own set of Ferrari overalls!