Tony, tell us a little about your professional background?
TS: Having originally trained as a Quantity Surveyor I aim to bring a commercial view to the whole construction process. Although born in England, I’ve been an expatriate since 1995.
Describe your role leading the Design & Construction at Black Mountain Partners?
If we think of it as a circular process that essentially plays out for each development project, I start by identifying the Human Resources we’ll need, from the project manager, to a QS and design team; we then work up a development brief as a first step once a specific real estate investment opportunity in London has been identified.
At this stage we work closely with our agents and potential customers– the occupiers – to ascertain what kind of building we are looking to offer. For example, open lobbies with co-working possibilities are important for some companies, as well as high densities of people.
Tech companies have different preferences to financial services for example. Overall, we need to really understand the customer to ensure what we are creating is eminently marketable to the end user but also keep it as flexible as possible.
Our role is then to crystalize the development brief and work with the architects to roll it out in terms of planning, infrastructure, massing and so on. It’s all part of the due diligence we go through for each project, the challenge is in unifying all of these diverse elements together.
So Finance and Development teams are working hand in hand pre-acquisition?
That’s right, financial analysts are doing the revenue modeling while we are working on the inputs – primarily that equates to three key components for us: costs, timelines and size. The procurement strategy is then a later phase that goes on in parallel with the design work to make sure that we are getting the floor sizes we predicted, and that the financial model hits our targets. After that, I’m managing the general contractor during the build but comparatively that’s a fairly light touch.
How did the process play out with 68 King William Street in particular?
For our 68 King William Street development project in London we actually wanted to do some work ahead of the design being handed over to the contractor, so we ‘packaged it up’ early before bringing in the main contractor. When it comes to what we call ‘delivery strategy’, that is one of the levers at my disposal. Our project execution plan also had to adapt when we discovered part of a Victorian sewer and a section of Roman wall underneath our site, fairly common occurrences in this part of the City of London in fact so nothing we couldn’t handle!
What was your most formative experience abroad?
TS: Work took me to Russia for many years to manage the Bovis LendLease business in Russia and the CIS, there I grew the operation from 17 employees to 170 people, delivering over US$1billion of projects. In that period I learnt all about project delivery but also people management. Highlight projects included Terminal 3 at Sheremetyevo Airport, a Philip Morris factory in St. Petersburg and a mixed-use plaza development in Moscow.
How did you transition back to Western Europe?
TS: After five years in that position, I set up a new design and build operation for Bovis LendLease with a European focus, targeting the industrial sector specifically. We had a multi-disciplinary design team in Prague delivering major industrial projects, from factories to refineries and plants typically in the Eur 30 million to Eur 50million category. Highlights included a Eur 200 million project in France and the Peninsula Hotel in Paris.
What led to you moving to Montenegro after that?
TS: Qatari Diar poached me and brought me in on their Plavi Horizonte project on the Montenegrin coast. As it turned out, things didn’t move as quickly as I expected on that front so I eventually moved to Porto Montenegro to work for Oliver Corlette (CEO) as Development Director in 2012 where I remained for six very happy years before eventually coming home to Italy in 2018 to spend more time with my family here.
You have been involved in developing student accommodation in Italy recently as well?
TS: Definitely a big trend this one yes, I’ve been working on student accommodation in Bologna, Torino and Milano to be exact, to deliver around 1500 rooms in total. It’s a real trailblazer that draws inspiration from hospitality and to some extent co-living, although these units will in fact be self contained studios once launched.
What other macro trends do you see playing a key role in the real estate sector today?
Wellness is definitely one, as is Environmental, Social & Governance or ESG – that is huge right now, for many developers I think it may be seen as primarily a marketing tool but we are conscious of the value of WELL and LEED green building certifications for student accommodation now, just as happened in the office sector previously. Nothing beats fast WiFi speed for student priorities of course but health, wellness and sustainability is right up there!