Stewart McColl: My rise, fall and return
The Scottish architect describes his career path and plans for the future
Visit my house and you will witness a lifelong appreciation of design. My home reflects my love for all things well-designed – from the coffee cup to the wine glass, the cutlery, the building and the sofa.
I’m best known as the entrepreneurial architect who brought the profession to the stock market, but don’t allow your thoughts to rest purely on the architectural. My interest in the commercial aspects of design first blossomed while working at Conran, and subsequently Fitch, in the early 1970s. I appreciated the contribution that design made to the success of a client’s business, and developed an understanding of the value of design as a business model, one that could assist growth far beyond its traditional cottage-industry status.
In 1974, I created my own design business, which in 1984 attracted a 1 million investment package through private bank Kleinwort Benson for 12 per cent of the equity – which was then a considerable sum for a design business. The deal was not the highest on the table, but I opted for Kleinwort in view of its support for my acquisitive strategy – and a future flotation on the stock market.
This investment enabled the business to grow, while allowing me to indulge my love of design, and pioneer CAD technology. I designed many shopping and office developments, as well as new street furniture in London’s Regent Street and the interiors of Otis elevators: a diverse range of design typologies, all of which looked good and worked well.
In 1987, our flotation plans were thwarted by market conditions. The business had been approached by over 10 companies, including the WPP Group, who purchased for a maximum consideration of 32.5 million over a 5-year earn-out period. This enabled the business to become the pre-eminent design and architecture group, although the buy-and-build strategy I had devised was not encouraged by the new parent company, despite its own adherence to that same growth route, with the acquisition of J Walter Thompson (now JWT), Ogilvy & Mather and others in the advertising market.