In the last of our five-part series, Phoenix Beard bosses consider the property consultancy's move from one side of the city, the differences the new premises are making across the business and... how contingency plans saved the day.
We all know the benefits of hindsight and the 20/20 vision it offers. That's why we're all advised to plan for the worst wherever possible.
However, many months of military-style planning were literally washed away when Phoenix Beard's St James House office was flooded two weeks before the company was due to relocate to new premises in Newhall Street.
There were two tests for the business. Firstly, how soon could Phoenix Beard get up and running again? Secondly, had their planning allowed the team to move to its new home two weeks sooner than planned?
Senior directors from Phoenix Beard look back at the relocation process, the lessons learned and consider the impact of the sooner-than-expected move on the business.
Lesson one: Decideand communicate
The major factor when faced with any sort of emergency is moving quickly, according to Simon Farrant, director of the professional team at Phoenix Beard. Hesitating in a situation such as the one encountered at St James House will only leave you in an impossible position, he says.
"Along with the other directors, I was called in the early hours of the morning on the day of the flood. It was immediately apparent that it was unworkable and a decision had to be made there and then," recalls Mr Farrant.
"The new building was waiting for us - Robert Buck and the team had put a lot of work into setting up the move which was all proceeding to plan. It was simply a case of being able to accelerate the process to bring certain facilities and services on stream in hours rather than weeks.
"The key factor was that the building was almost ready for us, even though we hadn't planned to move in for another fortnight."
Lesson two: Top planners and performers
It's widely accepted that great performance is a result of great planning and this is particularly true of contingency planning for businesses. Where would Phoenix Beard be without a plan that allowed for emergencies to take place at the 11th hour?
The answer is somewhere up the creek without a paddle but thanks to meticulous hard work in the planning stages, the company survived its original premises being flooded two weeks before the planned relocation.
Robert Buck is another director at Phoenix Beard who worked on the original logistics of the move and, as such, is one of the best-positioned people to comment on how the Phoenix Beard team swung into action sooner than it had expected to.
He explains: "It was a case of staff really pulling together in a cohesive and organised manner. There was a calm acceptance that today would now be the day of the move and so there was a real desire to get started on the job. We saw the team create a real spirit. There had been a feeling of outrage when we first learned of the flooding but that was channelled into really positive energy, which was a massive help when we were getting everything organised at the new premises.
"We were in the process of carrying out a lot of the tasks anyway and it simply meant we had to move the whole process forward more quickly than we had planned. As far as we are aware there were no major hitches and our clients were not negatively affected. In fact, quite a few of them have praised us for our smooth handling of the situation."
Lesson three: Getting wired
According to Mr Buck, one of the most critical aspects of the contingency plan was to have the business up and running as quickly as possible after the initial closure.
"Our teams are always available on their mobiles and our London office took the initial calls that came in first thing on the morning of the flood. However, having the phone lines up and running within hours from Birmingham was a big plus for our clients. We wanted them to feel the transition was seamless - and to achieve that in an emergency situation was quite a feat," he explains.
"Our main priority for clients was that it should be business as usual as soon as possible and we really achieved that. The day after the flood, our servers were back on line, as was our e-mail system.
"Importantly for clients, our accounts department was the first aspect of the business to 'reopen' after the flood. From the point of view of asset management clients, money in and out of Phoenix Beard was not interrupted and they received the usual service in that respect.
"Within 48 hours of discovering the flooding, 85 per cent of our business was operational again. I have to admit, I don't know of any other business relocating quite that quickly after an incident like this. It's a remarkable achievement for a company of this size."
According to Mr Buck, much of the credit should go to the contractors employed by the company. "We have always realised the value of using good contractors and this incident really reinforced that," he says.
"Our contractors made themselves available very quickly and their professionalism was crucial to the success of move. We have good relationships with them as that was proved when they joined in so cohesively with the recovery operation."
Lesson four: Power of the team
Another important lesson learned was how the power of the people saw them through what could have been a crisis.
Dave Cannon, a director in Phoenix Beard's asset management department, explains: "From the start, it was imperative to let staff know what was happening. We communicated the situation to the staff immediately and nobody was in any doubt about what was happening and what was expected of them.
"After the initial communication, we continued to invest a lot of time keeping our people up to date with the move. Every person was made aware of their responsibilities in terms of physically transferring to the new premises so we were all able to move together as one unit.
"We were in a difficult and completely unexpected situation but the people rescued it and the benefits have been two-fold. Firstly, it's given everyone at Phoenix Beard a renewed sense of confidence that we can handle any sort of property crisis but more importantly, our clients know now they are dealing with a safe pair of hands when they work with us, rather than just thinking it."
Lesson five: The devil's in the detail
According to Mr Farrant, another lesson that has been learned is the old adage that the "devil is in the detail".
He explains: "It seems that when we were planning, we had our priorities right. We're the first to admit that there were one or two minor hitches when we had to move sooner than first planned. What's important though, is that there were no major problems.
"Contracts have ticked over as they should, the revenue stream has not been interrupted and clients have been able to contact us whenever they've needed to. Okay, we didn't all get our internal telephone lists until a week later, but that's of small significance compared to the service we provide clients."
The situation was similar when it came to prioritising tasks at the new building. Contractors had been preparing Newhall Street for the arrival of Phoenix Beard but the early arrival meant that some of the work still needed to be carried out.
However, meticulous planning meant all the major work had been completed in the early stages and only a few cosmetic touches had to be finalised later than originally planned.
Lesson six: Keep appraising the business
Agency director Eugene O'Brien says there have been numerous benefits to Phoenix Beard since the move to Newhall Street, one of which is a reminder to keep appraising the business on an on-going basis.
"Since we moved here, which was only three weeks ago, we've had nothing but positive feedback from the entire property community. I've lost count of the people I've bumped into who have said it's good to have us in the commercial heart of the city centre," he says.
"We're very good at appraising our clients' needs and making recommendations for them so it's important that we do the same for ourselves. If we are honest, we will say we should have moved here a bit sooner but sometimes you become so involved with servicing clients that you neglect yourself slightly.
"This has been a great reminder to appraise ourselves more regularly though."
A happy ending...
Phoenix Beard's Birmingham director, Roger Poynton, believes the results following the flooding were excellent and, despite the inconvenience, the incident proved that the black cloud had a silver lining, as he explains: "If anything, the flooding and the accelerated move have proved to be a really unifying experience. I can't over-emphasise how effective and efficient the team has been over the last couple of weeks and it's great to be able to take such positives from an experience like this."
He is proud of the fact that the team was able to settle in to its new home, despite being there a little sooner than originally expected. "The new building is proving a joy to work in," he says.
"The open-plan layout and quality lighting have helped create a great working environment and it is having a really positive effect on the way we work - the feedback we've had from our visitors reiterates this. This move is an important investment in the company and is also an investment in Birmingham. It shows our commitment to the property sector, the city and the region as a whole."
Most useful lessons learned
Simon Farrant: "If I could only offer one piece of advice it would be... to plan to the end. Make sure contingency plans take in to account the work that has to be done after the move has taken place."
Dave Cannon: "If I could only offer one piece of advice it would be... to communicate with everyone especially clients. Advise them when the move will take place, when you will be operating and how they can get in touch with you, even during the move."
Eugene O'Brien: "If I could only offer one piece of advice it would be... to buy freehold, at least in the current economic climate of low inflation."
Rob Buck: "If I could only offer one piece of advice it would be... to start planning as early as possible and make sure you have a disaster recovery plan in place. So many people think 'it'll never happen to us' but we are living proof that it can, and will, happen to anyone."