Affording, as it does, a fine view....” Remember the estate agent speak of bygone days? Well, Bewley Homes seems quite justified in plugging more than one of its posh Home Counties developments with a little discreet boasting about visible neighbours.
A fine view of Windsor Castle for instance is dropped less than casually into a glossy brochure for a couple of their drums in Ascot. All of which must be of particular interest to the company’s recently arrived sales and marketing director Neil Simpson, who told me: “I spent most of my working life as an estate agent. In fact, when I left school I was given the choice of university or a traineeship with a local estate agency, and I’m glad I chose the latter. It was very hard work, six days a week in the office, plus a day release course at Reading University to gain my qualifications, but it got me where I am today.”
It was to be several years before Simpson moved from mundane, second-hand house selling to the silkier world of new homes in several agency offices around the Home Counties. He survived these in that hectic 1980s period when the agencies were being gobbled up by big companies who should have known better during the property bonanza. Clearly he was good at it, becoming the youngest branch manager around, and later, when he took over new house sales for Fox and Sons in Winchester, attracting the attention of Berkeley Homes, which scooped him up to be its local sales and marketing director.
“It was quite a transition to go from an agency office to being involved in everything from land acquisition and design to planning and finally sales. But I listened a lot and observed. And I think I brought quick decision-making about what houses would work on a new site to the Berkeley table.”
But Berkeley itself was then in a turmoil of change during which Simpson answered to five successive managing directors. He decided to move to calmer waters – which involved a similar appointment with David Wilson Homes. That gave him three years relative peace until he decided to follow his DWH chief when he moved to Wates.
The mood of working certainty here did not last long, however; for Wates, the family firm, decided to move from housing development into construction, leaving Simpson with the dead-end job of disposing of its built units balance, before looking again for a berth involving new homes sales – with a future.
This time he found himself recruited by Taylor Wimpey in its 2002 form, another outfit destined to suffer the disturbances of corporate change. After five years of that Simpson was more than happy to listen to an offer from St Modwen, which was building large housing schemes in London and Birmingham.
He was dividing his working week happily between the two until the Bewley management, with a programme of expansion planned, were steered in Simpson’s direction by a headhunter.
Which brings us up to date, with Simpson settled again as a sales and marketing director, but this time in a smaller company than of late, operating in his home patch – Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Hampshire and Surrey.
Bewley operates in these rich areas, building and selling luxury homes in a price range today from £165,000 for a top notch one-bedroom flat, to £650,000 for a dreamy house with nice neighbours not unlike the Windsors.
“Until last year we were concentrating on smaller sites and numbers, units selling for £800,000 upwards. Our turnover was £70m from 80-odd completions.
“This year – from October 2014 – we are aiming for a turnover of £90m. We have 170 units to sell, with the upper-end unit cost around £500,000. This may seem ambitious but we have already secured 30% reservations. In the next five years our plan is to attain a £150m turnover.”
Not surprising that Neil Simpson seemed at home at last in the Bewley setting. Its so-called office is nothing less than a country house, set in woodlands and more truly belonging in a story involving Bertie Wooster on one of his out of town adventures circa 1930.
After all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, which he has taken with an easy going smile, during a revolutionary period in property development, Simpson has equipped himself for a working life in a company such as Bewley, which achieves much without making a huge noise about it.
Written by Michael Dineen. Article first published in Show House magazine, February 2015.
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