What I’ve Learnt: David Coundon

November 5, 2019

David Coundon joined Space Group as director in 2008, having previously been a partner of a major North East architectural practice. He is a practising architect, with more than 30 years’ experience in architecture, business and management. David’s broad experience covers most building sectors, including commercial, leisure, arts, heritage and mixed-use schemes, with a particular emphasis on education, innovation and specialist projects. David’s strength is creating the right design concept and ensuring it is translated into physical reality without compromise and his skill has been recognised with a series of awards. Building on his environmental qualifications, David has pushed a sustainability agenda through many of his built projects

Never be afraid to ask questions. This was the first business lesson from my boss Nick Marcini, who headed Crampin and Pring Architects’ London office. In a sense, it is a refinement of the above, as he advised me to “never be afraid to challenge or correct anyone. They may look like they know what they’re doing, but never presume they do. If it looks like they may have missed something that is obvious to you, they probably have.”

Always tell the truth. Always behave with integrity. In business – as in life – you will discover it is a small world and those without integrity reap what they sow.

There are a number of qualities you need to run a successful business. They include a clear vision, good communication, talented people, determination and a continued willingness to learn.

Your business must be able to evolve. Change is inevitable. However, you must have a core vision, fundamental principles and clear objectives so you can test and decide just how you want to adapt to change.

The worst mistake you can make is to be inflexible and be unable to learn from mistakes. It is also a mistake if you are unable to learn from successes.

As a start-up company, you must have a clear vision of who you are and what you want to achieve. You must also never be afraid to seek advice from others. However, it is also important to have a realistic business plan and financial model and to constantly monitor these and the cash flow, otherwise in a year you may have a vision but no business.

Don’t become too remote from the core of your business. If you built the business, you probably have skills and attributes that are key to its continued success and longevity. Trust your team and don’t micromanage but do have a succession plan and do pass on your knowledge, skills and experience.

Perhaps unusually, I go to my friends for business advice. They often have a simple perspective that is clear, incisive and unencumbered by the details and mechanics of the business world.

Empower your staff, encourage them and when appropriate thank them. Support them when they seek help too.

The old Harry Selfridge adage that “the customer is always right” isn’t always true. The customer sometimes doesn’t have the information, experience or clarity to make the ‘right decision.’ That may be why they came to you in the first place. Another old adage which is true, however, is ‘you can’t learn from mistakes that you haven’t made.’


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