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Ex-Benoy directors launch Far East offshoot

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A raft of senior Benoy directors have left the UK giant to set up a new outfit in the Far East

Former global managing director Simon Blore and finance director Christine Hau are among the founders of the new Hong Kong-based company known as Lead Architecture.

The eight founders – which include David Buffonge, Simon Chua, John Denton, Chris Lohan, Meeta Patel and Claude Touikan – all resigned in the months following the appointment of Tom Cartledge as Benoy’s global director in 2013.

The practice directors would not comment directly on the appointment of Cartledge – who is a chartered surveyor and the son of Benoy’s sole owner and chair Graham Cartledge – to head the company.

However in a statement Lead said: ‘For all of us the years of 2013 and early 2014 became a watershed period where we realised we all had significant differences with the business owner over the future strategic direction of Benoy.’

The statement continued: ‘We felt strongly that a firm of the size and reach of Benoy required a succession plan that was more inclusive than the one being presented to us.’

Currently 34 of the 38 workers at the employee-owned outfit – based in Hong Kong, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur – are former Benoy Staff.

Blore said: ‘It has been a massively inspiring time to work with the partners of Lead Architecture and to build a vision for a company from the beginning.

‘Our collaborative and trusting culture has moved seamlessly across from our previous company, and the energy and enthusiasm for our Brand is tangible everywhere in our new studio.’

The practice – which specialises in large-scale retail-led schemes – claims to have netted around £10 million in fees since opening in March and expects to turn over up to £5 million in its first year.

Key projects include a 220,000m² mixed-use development in Shanghai’s XuJiaHui district and a 90,000m² shopping mall above a new transport interchange in Butterworth, Malaysia.

A London office is also planned to open in the coming 12 months.

Benoy refused to comment.

Founders’ comments

Simon Chua said:‘Considering we are a start-up that only really began operations in April, the support from the industry so far has been really heartening, and from drawing up a rudimentary business plan with Simon, we have currently far exceeded all of our expectations. For me personally, it was also great to get the call from Sun Hung Kai to become involved as a sub-consultant to P&T Architects in their exciting ITC mixed use project in Shanghai; and this shows again that it’s the people who make the company.’

Claude Touikan said:‘When I came on board, the team had already made a brilliant start, but I was soon able to win a number of new projects in China to help expand the Studio. Great people and a strong company ethos, are the key ingredients in creating great Architecture, and my focus has always been about people.’

Chris Lohan said:‘I left Benoy at a personal crossroads for me, as I was considering varied opportunities to further my career either on the Client side, in practice back in the UK or remain in the Asian region where I was considering my own business venture. Then the opportunity of joining Lead Architecture came in the Spring of 2014 and when I learned of a truly design oriented business with transparent ethos of open management and a fair remuneration mechanism the choice wasn’t really that hard to make. Above all it meant that I could team up once again with old colleagues that I trusted, all of whom knew the business of design very well. Since setting up the business we’ve attracted some fantastic design, technical and administrative staff so I assume that we must be doing something very right for them to come to us and be so keen to join what is a very new and different thinking company. Throughout this period it’s been great to be receiving such positive feedback from the industry and being able to collaborate on the types of projects that I find most interesting to me, namely mixed use, retail and entertainment destinations. In the future I’d really like to see us broadening our scope and getting into the field of large scale art installations and on a different scale, product design.’

Christine Hau said: ‘Being the Finance Director I’m naturally cautious and numbers driven, so I was understandably staggered, yet also strangely fascinated how so much of the business plan focused on how can we design better, and build a lasting brand, rather than number crunching our costs versus income to work out cash flows. OK, it’s early days, but the vision of the Directors to build a different kind of company seems to be winning through, and the projects (so far!) are flowing in.’

She continued: ‘As Finance Director I’ve worked with this Director group for more than 10 years, and so I have every confidence that our careful management systems that we evolved together during that time will all stand us in good stead in our new enterprise.’

John Denton said: ‘It’s been a strange year has 2014, but re-joining my ex-colleagues has been a real high, and we all find our Studio a difficult place to leave each night, as it is such an inspiring place to work; it’s an environment where everyone of our team participates in and shares in our success.’

David Buffonge said: ‘I am delighted to have this opportunity to work again with such a dynamic team of people in such a fabulous new studio environment. I am so looking forward to working together to focus on the main agenda at Lead Architecture which is all about Design, Design, Design.’

Meeta Patel said: ‘I am so absolutely thrilled to be joining as a Singapore based Director of Lead Architecture and continue the incredible journey we have had with colleagues from our previous firm. Singapore is a spectacular location and strategic platform to expand our design portfolio in to the SE Asian markets.’





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