Sunday, 23 June 2013

The impact of Innovation.

I've just returned from a weekend at Bamburgh on the Northumberland coast. For those who don't know it, this is a beautiful village and the home of Bamburgh Castle. Our family stayed in a cottage which sat alongside workmen's huts from the 19th Century.

You may ask what all of this has to do with innovation. The link lies with William Armstrong, or lord Armstrong, who was a famous Victorian industrialist. He deisigned and built armourments on the Tyne and became incredibly sucessful and wealthy.

He lived at Cragside in Rothbury. This house was the first house in the world powered by hydro electricity.

He also was responsible for tje design of  the hydraulics for London Tower Bridge and employed thousands of men in his factories across the North East.

Whilst fabulously wealthy he was also a philanthropist. He gave away his Newcastle home in Jesmond Dene to the people of the city when he moved to Rothbury

He bought Bamburgh Castle at the end of the 19th century following his wife's death to give him a project. He was in his eighties at the time.

His vision was to convert the castles ruins into a convalescent home for his workers. Unfortunately he didn't live to see it completed. His estate passed to the second Lord Armstorng who was his great newphew. The third lord spent his inheritance and Cragside ultimately had to pass to the state to pay taxes.
The fourth Lord didn't have children and adopted a son and daughter who now own the Castle and estate.

When my family spent a lovely day at the castle it struck me how much of an impact one mans' genius can have on so many people for so many years. 

The people of the north east continue benefit and love the Dene. Many also visit Cragside and its fabulous grounds

The castle is still one of the regions most significant landmarks. The cotage we stayed in for the weekend was built for the stonemasons who worked on the castle.

I'm currently reading his biography and it has struck me the impact one mans innovation can have on so many people for so many years. It therefore strikes me that our country needs to create an environment which provides the opportunities for people to innovate and bring forward new ideas.

Whilst the individual may amass wealth it is likely the wider community will also benefit.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

A company to aspire to.

I've just spent a few days in Puerto Banus with my wife to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. Cant believe it has been 10 years. We chose Marbella as it was close enough for a weekend as it is the first break for us without our 8 year old daughter.

Normally architects would visit places to look at buildings. I am however also fascinated by people and culture. Marbella is a special place. I have never come across somewhere where displaying your wealth is so apparent. It's all about showing off your car or boat. 

Evenings are spent parading your assets be it your Ferrari or your fake boobs! I We found the whole experience fascinating.

While I was away I was able to read a couple of books. Interestingly they came from a very local and global perspective for me. Firstly there was Eric Schmits new book. Eric Schmit the CEO of Google and this is his view of the future. I have to say unfortunately I found the book disappointing. His vision of the future is nothing more than what we already know. It reiterates what most of those who have a remote interest in tech Already have already anticipated. 

The second book was of far greater interest to me. The book is the story of Greggs the bakers written by Ian Gregg the retired chairman and son of the founder. The book follows the story of humble beginnings to its national presence today.

it is of personal interest as the business has developed in Gosforth, Newcastle where I currently live. The story takes you through the key steps of the business growth and is honest about the challenges and mistakes they made. It focusses very much on the people who helped shape the business.

What is particularly apparent is the genuine interest Greggs have in the communities they serve. They have built an exceptional business whilst holding firm to the founding values of the organisation. this can be rare in a public company which has a focus in shareholder return. They have their own foundation and have given away millions of pounds over the years.

Their staff seem very loyal with many of them working for the business for may years. 

This has to be in contrast with Google who started off with storing ideals but are being criticised for a centralised taxation approach. Whatever the rights or wrongs Google are not supporting the communities they serve by giving something back.

I think Greggs is an excellent public company with true community commitment and one which I would aspire to emulate in the years ahead.