Live: Q&A with Rob Charlton, CEO of Space Group

Rob Charlton, chief executive of Space Group, talks about short and long-term plans for the firm, the rewards and challenges of running an independent business in the North East, and his personal influences in business

Tell us about Space Group

Space Group was established in Newcastle in 1957 as an architectural practice and today includes four separate companies working across the built environment.

Space Architects is based here in the North East , working for clients across the UK and was the practice which founded the group, original call Waring and Netts Partnership. Today, we work with regional clients including universities and local authorities, and nationally with customers including Vistry Homes, Barratt Developments and Lidl.

At the heart of our philosophy is our commitment to design buildings that improve people’s lives and make a difference to where they live, work, learn and play.

Our BIM technologies business is based in London and provides digital consultancy, information management and data analysis to support building owners and operators.

Bimstore is a web platform which provides designers access to accurate manufactures information to use in their Building Information Models (BIM).

In 2020 we launched our latest platform, Twinview, which is a browser-based digital twin, allowing building owners to reduce costs and carbon in their buildings by integrating their operational and performance data.

What is the most rewarding aspect of running an independent business in the region? 

We enjoy being part of the local business community and making a positive contribution to the region – economically through job creation and retention as well as flying the flag for North East creativity, nationally and internationally.

Within the business itself and from a personal perspective, I enjoy seeing team members grow and develop. Many joined us from school or university and are now directors, which is a great testament to our culture.

We are proud of our caring family culture and I enjoy our family events and seeing everyone’s children grow up. We like to look after our team, and also our clients, colleagues and suppliers – people are important to us.

And the most challenging? 

I’m sure I won’t be alone within the business community in our region in saying our response to the current economic challenges and the uncertainty the pandemic has brought are hugely challenging. I have been through recessions and now a pandemic and have the grey hair to show for it.

We have been part of the regions business community for over 60 years, and our sustainability is fundamental to us, but we are built on strong foundations and are historically a digital-first business and that is standing us in good stead. If anything, our long-standing approach to digital and our international reach beyond the North East means we are in a strong position.

What are the short and long-term plans for the business? 

It is important to us that we continue to be involved in exciting projects which make a difference. We want to continue to grow and develop our people across all our businesses.

We want Space Architects to play its part in the development of the region. BIM technologies will continue to develop nationally from our London base and increasingly work with building users to improve operational outcomes from their property portfolios.

Twinview and bimstore are prioritising international growth. Twinview has partnerships in 6 countries worldwide, and we plan to expand into North America in 2021.

What advice would you give to anyone with a business idea? 

An idea is not a business. The easy bit is coming up with an idea. You have to examine if there is a market for your product or service and if people will buy it. A business plan is also essential to show how you will commercialise the idea and convince people to commit.

Who has been your most significant influence in business? 

Many people have influenced me during my career and who they are has changed as my career has developed.

My grandfather was my first influence. He encouraged me to be an architect when I was only four-years-old. He was the site manager on the Montague Court Apartments which was my first site visit. The architect on the project was Waring and Netts.

When I began in practice, Mike Douglas was the partner who took me under his wing, and I learnt a lot from him. We ended up being partners, and he continued to mentor me as my roles changed.

As our businesses have become increasingly digital, my influences have changed. Gerard Callaghan of Leighton Group has been a fantastic mentor, sharing his experiences of growing digital companies.

I am fascinated by peoples stories and continually look for mentors – there is always room to grow and learn more.

Space Group