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In Conversation with…. Steven Barker, Principal at Avison Young

Steven Barker

Caroline Kingsley

This week I chatted with Steven Barker about his career to date. Being an experienced individual, Steven has experienced a number a recessions throughout his career, so who better to turn to for worldly advice?

Steven and I first met back in 2003, when he was Senior Partner at Robinson Low Francis.

Describe your role with Avison Young

I am the Principal in charge of Cost Management in the London Building Consultancy Business unit with full responsibility for project delivery by my team and financial performance within the unit. I also assist Paul Chesworth in his role as National Head of Cost Consultancy as and when he needs to bounce anything off an old man

What have been your career highlights to date?

I am very lucky to have had many highlights in my 47 years in the industry. I guess professionally it was being chosen to be Senior Partner of Robinson Low Francis when I was in my 40’s because there were a few 50+ guys who could have been chosen at the time but the firm needed radically modernising and the team around me at that time did a fantastic job and we elevated RLF via acquisitions and modernised systems to be a top 20 consultancy.

Project wise I would have to pick two with the first being a 25 year relationship with the John Lewis Partnership who were my first new client in 1989 having been made a Partner in 1988. The range of work and pleasure in dealing with such an honourable client is my biggest highlight without a doubt.

The single most enjoyable project was Project Managing the JJB Football and Rugby stadium for David Whelan. To have walked onto a piece of scrubland behind an out of town shopping complex and then deliver a multi-purpose stadium together with a massive flood relief project as an “add on” was great fun and delivered with a brilliant professional team and contractor on time and within budget as well for good measure.

What attracted you to Avison Young?

When I stepped down as Senior Partner in 2011 I thought about retiring but was persuaded to stay on in a new role as Chairman. Actually it did not work out well for either side and GVA contacted me and made me an interesting offer which I accepted. I knew GVA very well as they had tried to buy RLF during my time as Senior Partner and I got to know their top management and had a lot of respect for them and the manner in which they went about their business so it was an easy decision to make. In February 2019 Avison Young bought GVA and I was made an owner Principal of the business and I have to say this is truly a people first business and as a global business now the opportunities are wide ranging, exciting and numerous. AY is the fastest growing full service Real Estate consultancy in the market and we are answerable only to each other and our clients rather than shareholders which is a big plus for me.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

I loved drawing and wanted to be an Architect but my dad who was a construction man said with sage like ability in the early 70’s “Don’t do that son stick with the money as that will be the driver and power base of construction in years to come”

I was not really sure what he meant at the time but he has been proven right in my view looking back.

What advice would you give to your younger-self?

Make sure you retain a healthy sense of humour in life and deal with everyone exactly how you would want them to deal with you with honesty and integrity always.

Best business advice you have ever been given?

Ken Norman Chief Quantity Surveyor for Hertfordshire told me once as a junior to accept that you will make mistakes but the key is to own up to them quickly and honestly and have a plan to mitigate them or put them right. He was an amazing boss and incidently was responsible for making me choose a path beyond working for the Council and I will forever be grateful to him.

Biggest personal change for you post pandemic?

Well I have been pretty much working solidly from my Study since early March and although recently I have ventured back into London on the odd day a week I have come to accept that we have probably seen the end of a 5 day week in the office because we have proven remote working is an option for some of the working week.

What will the world of work look like after the crisis is over?

Well I am not one of those that believe the day of the office market is over. However I do think the age of agile working is here to stay and that will have an effect on the size of requirements for businesses going forward. I also see an upsurge in the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the real estate sector for both transactional and consulting fields which will lead the way to new ways of working and different job opportunities that we perhaps do not understand yet. I also get laughed at when I say that my grandchildren will most probably be living on other planets in their lifetime so there are a few job opportunities in that sector for a start. Just think of the advancements in the last fifty years and imagine what can be borne out of what we can do and know now and how exciting and scary that could be! Bill Gates to the power of a hundred is somewhere in the school system right now just imagine that.

How does this recession compare to previous and how can firms navigate their way through the challenges facing us?

This recession is not borne out of the traditional banking and macro crises we have dealt with during my working life so I believe the pent up demand will begin to trickle back to some sort of normality in the next six to twelve months in the property sector. The main challenge facing us all is quite simply a large and growing ageing population that need to be taken care of and businesses need to wise up to this and look to those currently at school or Universities and provide the right platforms for them to progress rather than entering a job market full of old people who need to keep working because of outdated pension provisions.