There was a time when Stuart Lipton (of Stanhope), Geoffrey Wilson (former chairman of Greycoat), Gordon Edington (who runs BAA's property arm, Lynton), and Ron Spinney (chairman of Hammerson) all worked for the same company: Sterling Land, with one other man, Elliott Bernerd. The sale of the company to Jeffrey Sterling's P&O just before the 1974 property crash set its directors up as key players in the market. Without exception this group has proved its pedigree in the intervening 25 years.
Bernerd, 52, the new chairman of London's South Bank Board, was a rich man by his mid-20s, having left school to work in an estate agency, like many young Jewish Londoners. He gradually switched to trading on his own account. 'Street-educated' is how this king of the property traders describes himself.
While he has a grasp of what quality in architecture might be, he is not driven, like Stuart Lipton, to produce great buildings, nor does he possess the corporate respectability of say, Ron Spinney. His raffish charm doesn't sit easily with the square mien required by chairmen of publicly quoted companies to cover their capitalism. There is something more elemental about his business skills. He is essentially a privateer. His slicked-back coif and lugubrious appearance belie an ability to appear to focus his whole attention on whatever and whoever he is dealing with.
Bernerd was the man who leant David Mellor the flat in which he made his infamous (non) appearance in Chelsea strip. He buys modern art, once owned a fine-art dealer, and blew £4 million backing Eddie Shah's Post .
He co-founded Stockley plc with Stuart Lipton and Rothschild Investment Trust in 1984, sold in 1987, and set up Chelsfield, one of the more exciting companies in the property sector. One of the investors in Terence Conran's plans for Butler's Wharf, he is involved in several developments on the South Bank, so clearly believes in that location.
What does his appointment mean for the South Bank arts complex, still smarting from the blocking of funding for Rogers' overcooked 'g lass wave'? Bernerd is on record as saying he still supports it. My advice to Rogers would be hang in there, because if anyone can sort out the issues with ruthless clarity, Bernerd can. He has reached that stage in his career when thoughts turn to achieving something lasting.
The South Bank Board should use him while it can, because they don't come any smarter. And smart developers are one of the most creative species on the planet.