Friday, 26 June 2009

North-South Divide

North-South Divide map/Wikipedia

The recession is starting to have quite a cultural impact on the architectural profession. My view has always been that in architecture there has been a London market and a regional market. Much of what has been delivered in the capital has been commercial responding to the asset boom driven by the banks. This has included offices, hotels and high end housing.

The majority of the construction industry is now driven by Government spending and investment in education and healthcare. This has encouraged many of the businesses in London to look further afield for opportunities.

The concentration of skills in London will help to increase the quality of public buildings being procured across England.

With regards to the upgrading of the of the schools estate, Partnerships for Schools are now very reliant on CABE as the custodian of design quality. Over the last few years the BSF process has been driven by delivery and the procurement itself. CABE’s involvement will undoubtedly raise standards and encourage bid teams to respond to the need for design quality.

This shift will give the opportunity to promote the benefit of the investment in design as part of the huge capital investment being made by the Government. As a northern business we must ensure we are part of the dialogue with bodies such as CABE and the RIBA which are traditionally based in the south.

Monday, 15 June 2009

America, Economics, Apple and the genius of Walt Disney

I haven’t completed my blog for two weeks now, and with good reason. I have been on holiday in Florida spending time at the beach reading books along with Mickey Mouse and friends.

The pattern for my holidays is that I return with lots of new thoughts from the books I have read and what I have seen. This holiday is no exception.


I have taken an interest in economics after the events of the last few years. The books I have read have been fascinating and enlightening. I am now sure things will never be the same again, and we need to ensure we don’t make the mistakes of the past.

Over the last 10 years we have had unprecedented growth and many of the risks taken by banks have been too high, with no consideration of ‘what if’. The rewards were huge for the banks in the short term however; it is now clear that they didn’t understand the complexity of what they were doing. The fallout is huge and the construction industry is affected more than most.


You would think that it would be difficult to find much to comment on from a business perspective in a theme park. Nothing could be further from the truth. At Disneyland there are many lessons for all businesses.

Disney is by far the best in class. The service is as high as I have ever experienced and I would guess their customer satisfaction is the highest in the world. They employ 55,000 people in Orlando with the vast majority upholding the Disney values. Maintenance of the facility is of the highest standard despite being operational every day and having thousands of visitors. They also continue to surprise, and since my last visit several years ago there are new attractions with relevance to current culture.

Disney World is the size of a city yet it runs efficiently and effectively. It also generates revenue of over $6 billion per year.

USA 2009

I have also taken onboard many aspects of the American culture while I have been away and will be sharing my thoughts over the next few days on the various aspects which I found interesting.

America on the Environment

America has woken up to the environment however I would say they are between 5 and 10 years behind Europe. They are starting with recycling but have not moved to energy conservation and in particularly Florida there is a huge amount of air conditioning. Car sizes have reduced with fewer SUV’s and 4 wheel drive vehicles on the road.

We stayed in a hotel on the Gulf Coast which claimed to be the first NEEAT hotel in America. All I could see was recycling bins and cartons made from recycled material. However this is a positive start and importantly this is now of interest to the American people.

America and its Car Industry

The American car industry is in a huge mess. General Motors filing for bankruptcy is unbelievable. It would appear that it has made some dreadful decisions over the past 20 years and the issues it faces now are not new. It did not continue to innovate and has been content to continue to manufacture average products. It even invested in Hummer when everyone else was investing in R&D of the electric vehicle.

Toyota has continued to develop its product and now produces the most popular cars in America.

The Global Recession is linked to the downfall of the motor industry in the US. In Detroit there has been a huge drop in manufacturing jobs leaving people with lower incomes or unemployed. These are the communities which have been encouraged to take up sub prime mortgages.

America and Apple

We visited several malls on the trip and by far the busiest and liveliest was the Apple Store.

There were people using the man
y apple devices from music to computers to phones. Microsoft may have lost its way in innovation and understanding what society wants and needs. Steve Jobs and Apple have great intuition when understanding contemporary cultures.

The Apple revolution is building in the UK and I am sure it will become central to youth culture within the next few years.

America and Steve Jobs

Whilst Disney has managed to remain a leader when it comes to theme parks through its imagineering (imagination and engineering) other parts of the business have fallen behind Walt Disney was an innovator and won more Oscars than anyone else for his work on animated movies. Disney lost its way with movies after the death of Walt and failed to push the boundaries.

I read Steve Jobs biography and he has made a fortune and lost a fortune and then gone on to make another one.

Now Apple and Steve Jobs are such a huge success it is easily forgotten how different it could have been. He invested everything he had and was very nearly bankrupt developing Pixar. He took huge risks but made a huge success with movies such as Finding Nemo and Toy Story.

Disney was left with no choice but to buy Pixar with Jobs becoming a major shareholder in Disney.

I have now read the stories of both Walt Disney and Steve Jobs and there are many parallels. Both of them are entrepreneurs and both are innovators. They are visionaries and single minded. Most of all they have a talent at reading the emerging markets

Steve Jobs is the Walt Disney of our time.

Steve Jobs/Wikipedia and Walt Disney/Wikipedia