Some people seem to live life at 100mph. Ross Reyburn meets the dynamic leader of Rider Levett Bucknall.
Not that many chief executives of major companies can be found running around a rugby field on winter Saturday afternoons. But Lance Taylor can claim to be one of the fittest as well as youngest CEOs in the UK.
A trim 6ft 2in and 16 stone, 40-year-old Taylor is chief executive of Rider Levett Bucknall, the global firm of quantity surveyors and cost consultants with its UK headquarters based at Millennium Point in Curzon Street, five minute’s walk from Birmingham’s Bullring.
Off-duty he is chairman of Bridgnorth RFC and plays for the club’s veterans side as a second-row forward or blindside flanker occasionally drafted in to the club’s first and second XVs as an 11th hour replacement.
His passion for rugby dates back to his youth when his ambition to become a leading player was cruelly halted playing for South Bank Polytechnic when he suffered a similar injury to the horrendous dislocated ankle that hospitalised England fly-half Danny Cipriani last May.
“I got tackled from behind and the left ankle was dislocated and my foot turned completely round back to front,” he recalls. “I was on crutches for a year and had five operations.
“I still have limited movement in the foot when I move it from side to side. It tends to lock up after I’ve played but with WD40 I’m all right!
“Before the injury I genuinely felt I had a chance of being a successful rugby player – I wasn’t big enough, I wasn’t fast enough but I felt I could succeed.”
His teenage years also provided a far happier memory related to the atmospheric little Welsh estuary sailing resort of Aberdovey where his parents had a holiday home. It was there he met his wife, Ellie, who is a speech therapist.
“My father had a holiday home in Aberdovey and Ellie’s father was a farmer in Snowdonia,” recalls Tayor, who has two sons Ed and Huw.
“We met when we were both had holiday jobs in a café in Aberdovey.”
In some ways the poor man’s equivalent of the Devon sailing resort of Salcombe, Aberdovey has managed to retain its unspoilt charm and Taylor offers an interesting explanation as to why it has retained its appeal.
“Aberdovey is good because it is not brilliant at anything. It’s not perfect for sailing, it’s not perfect for windsurfing, it’s not perfect for water-skiiing but it’s perfect for me.”
Besides rugby, Taylor lists fundraising as his other main interest. He and his wife through their scheme, Access the World, held a charity ball at the Indoor Conference Centre in Birmingham last year that raised £166,000 to provide a life skills centre for Penn Hall School for physically disabled children.
Born in the Wolverhampton Royal Hospital, Taylor is the son of a painter and decorator and was brought up in the Shropshire village of Beckbury.
After gaining A-levels in history and geography at Wolverhampton Grammar School, he was sponsored by Tarmac, obtaining a higher national diploma in building studies at the South Bank Polytechnic in London.
“I am very grateful for the training Tarmac gave me,” he said. “They taught me an awful lot and allowed me to express myself.
“They were the biggest housebuilders in Britain. Their base was Wolverhampton and they sent a lot of their guys from the Midlands all over the world.”
He remembers his first job as a trainee site engineer working with a 50ft measuring tape on the eight mile long Chapel-en-le-Frith A6 Bypass in Derbyshire.
“It was a wake up call when you think it rained for ten months a year up there and my first residence was sharing a caravan with two navvies.”
His career in the industry was to see him working all over the England and Wales for Tarmac, Birse Construction, John Sisk, the Pettifer Group and GVA Grimley before he joined Bucknall Austin in Birmingham in November 2003 as a partner in charge of project management.
Last year, chairman David Bucknall, the man who had led the transformation of Bucknall Austin from a small local quantity surveyors in the 1960s into what is today a global firm employing more than 2,000 in over in 70 offices with a $200,000 million turnover, appointed Taylor RLC’s chief executive.
It was Bucknall’s reputation that led to the firm’s merger last year with Rider Hunt Levell and Bailey, Australia’s leading quantity surveyors with a portfolio stretching to the Far East and North America whose past contracts included the Sydney Opera House, the Melbourne Cricket ground and the Sydney Olympics.
“What I found exciting about joining Bucknalls is number one, David Bucknall – he is an industry icon in the property and construction world,” said Taylor. “He is never satisfied – he is constantly seeking improvement. The merger was suggested by Bob Richardson, a partner with Rider Hunt. He had worked for David 22 years ago, left him, gone to Australia, did well, had fond memories of the Bucknall spirit and telephoned David proposing the merger.”
One dividend of the merger is Rider Levett Bucknall’s notable coup in being awarded the cost management contract for the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Through its Australian connection and the Singapore link, the firm has been associated with every Olympics since the 1956 Melbourne Games.
“My Hong Kong mate has been working on the Beijing Games and my Sydney mate did the Sydney Olympics,” says Taylor. “If I hadn’t got that collective experience. I could not have got Brummie quantity surveyors working for London 2012.”
The overall East London regeneration strategy linked to the Games has had criticism for being over-budget but Taylor points out the planning for actual 2012 Olympics involving 205 venues and accommodation for competitors his firm is involved with is on track.
“What has staggered us is the desire for success,” he says. “One would imagine the project could be one big bunfight and we could have another Wembley on our hands.
“When I got up to the 22nd floor offices of the organising committee offices at Canary Wharf, the buzz around the project was just fantastic. The teamwork and the environment Seb Coe has created is inspirational – he has passion, he has charisma, he has leadership.
“We don’t want London 2012 to be a white elephant. The challenge is to makes it a success a success after the games are over.”
Taylor’s response to the currently seemingly ever-changing economic climate is to extends his firm’s horizons far beyond Birmingham.
“If you want to continue working in the UK and specifically Birmingham, you have to go and collect your overseas customers overseas and bring them back home.
“Look at what China have done with Shanghai Motors and India have done with Tata and the impact this has had on the West Midlands.
“We have to go to specific countries to make our presence felt. Within the next two or three months, we are opening an office in India in Mumbai.
“That takes us into conversations with main board directors with Tata, one of the biggest businesses in India in steel, cars, hotel chains.
How do we get work now with Tata – well they own Corus, they own Jaguar.” Locally Taylor is also proud to be working on the four-year Wolverhampton Interchange project about to take off involving rebuilding his home town’s train and bus stations as part of an integrated commercial and leisure facility.
“This is a true regeneration project that will inspire £1 billion worth of investment in Wolverhampton.”
While major projects may be making the news, Taylor views the most interesting current aspect of his work the fact architects, developers and builders are facing increasing pressures to meet renewable energy targets.
“Sustainability too often has been a glossy phrase for saying ‘Switch off the lights when you leave the room’. We have all missed a trick on energy reduction.
“What I find most exciting is working on sustainable projects that link into long term cost reduction programmes making buildings work more efficiently. “
Taylor comes across as a refreshingly decisive, dynamic figure living life at 100mph working for one of the world’s largest quantity surveying businesses. As well as the Beijing and London Olympics, RLB’s global portfolio includes the cost planning role with Dubai’s Nakheel Tall Tower, which at more than a kilometre high will be the world’s tallest building.
The firm’s portfolio has not been a tale of entirely uninterrupted successes. It was the quantity surveyors for the £3.6 million Princess Diana Memorial Fountain that opened in London’s Hyde Park in 2004 which attracted a welter of unwelcome publicity with its design problems.
But these problems did not prevent the firm being appointed project managers for London’s Royal Parks last year and project managers for the parks and other venues involved in the 2012 Olympics.
Bucknall’s stature in the field was recognised in May this year when the West Midlands Centre for Constructing Excellence (WMCCE) gave its main award to Bucknall for a ‘Major Contribution to Excellence and Quality’ through his leadership in the field stretching back over the past 45 years.
The firm’s UK operation also received another accolade this year when it was named number two in the Britain’s Top Employers 2008 awards scheme adding its debut position at 69 this year in The Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For list.
Rider Levett Bucknall’s UK’s headquarters is located on the fourth floor of Millennium Point, a somewhat isolated location with an exterior design that has hardly captured the public’s imagination.
A smart reception area leads to a large open plan office with some 100 staff where you can find project managers, building surveyors, cost consultants and quantity surveyors neatly grouped in their own sectors.
In one corner chairman David Bucknall and Taylor have their adjoining desks while a hot desk area and meeting rooms flank the main office.
Millennium Point may have been labelled an architectural disappointment but Taylor doesn’t go along with the adverse criticism.
“We were the cost consultants on this project – we are living in our own building,” he points out. “It was the only UK millennium project delivered to budget and I think this is a decent building.
“It has been quite a good strategic move for us. The building isn’t designed to stand on its own and when Eastside is regenerated it will not look out of place.
“The success of the Bullring has relocated the centre of Birmingham. It has been a fantastic regeneration decision. It is now opening up the Eastside area from Aston Science Park right the way around to Digbeth .
“It may be slowed because of the credit crunch but for the next 10, 15, 20 years you are going to see this area redeveloped and Millennium Point will be regarded as then incubator for the progress of Eastside.”