Francis Hunter celebrates 10th anniversary

June 2019 sees Francis Hunter celebrate its tenth year of trading.

The company was set up by Matt Harris and David Lunt in 2009 as an independent project management company acting for developers, landlords and occupiers of commercial property.

Since then, the business has completed new build projects with a combined value of more than £400 million and delivered over 2m sq ft of commercial office space.

Having launched Francis Hunter Group in 2018 to bring together the four different parts of the business (project management, workplace design, cost consultancy and Centrodoc), the founders recently appointed David Nurser as Chairman to help the Group continue its growth trajectory from the past decade.

Harris focuses on occupier project management and has 30 years’ experience having previously worked at design and build companies and property advisors. Lunt also has 30 years’ experience in project management, working exclusively in the private sector for developers and financial institutions.

Having established the business during a turbulent time in the construction industry, we spoke to the co-founders to find out more about how things have changed over the past ten years.

Matt and David originally met each other in 1996 on a project in Slough. Matt was at St Quintin and David was at TPI, an independent project management company.

Matt: I was working as a fund monitor and David was a developer’s PM. 23 years later, David and I still work with the same people from that project. I think that’s testament to how we run our business – we do a good job and build up great relationships so clients come back to us.

David: After that project, we didn’t meet again until 2005 – this time it was on the sidelines of a rugby pitch where our children were playing mini rugby.

We talked about work and the different sides of the industry – my experience working with developers and Matt’s experience working with occupiers.

In 2008, the banking crisis hit which hugely affected the property industry. I used this time to take stock of the market as well as my own situation. Matt and I had had enough discussions to know what we did and didn’t want from our working lives. By this stage, our children were at the same school and our conversations had turned to the idea of setting up our own business.

A UNIQUE PROPOSITION

Matt: We believed there was an opportunity for David and I to be able to work on our own areas of expertise but also to bring the occupier and developer world together in one business. Thus providing a different solution to what already existed in the marketplace.

David: So we established Francis Hunter. The idea is that both sides of the business are represented in our company name.

Matt: For us, it was a natural fit to bring both sides together. We knew they could succeed independently of each other but we felt that together, it would be a stronger proposition.

We think we can offer something different – we can inform both sides with input from the other side and offer complementary advice and support that clients wouldn’t necessarily get elsewhere. Dealing with the full delivery of a building gives us a unique take on the marketplace.

David: We use this symbiotic relationship to ensure both developer and occupier clients are more informed. Ultimately that knowledge enables us to provide a much better, more personalised service than the bigger companies in our market.

Matt: After six months planning, we launched Francis Hunter. Our first client was Green Property UK, a client that we had both worked with previously. Our first occupier client was Telindus in Camberley.

David: Looking back, it probably wasn’t the best time to start any sort of property business! The unpredictable financial landscape certainly focused the mind.

Matt: It’s a huge source of pride that we self-funded our business. Our focus was on having a sustainable business plan and that sustainability remains a focus for the business to this day.

CHANGES

However things have certainly changed in the past ten years.

David: For the developer side, projects are more complex, in part because the risk profile is changing but also because the planning process has become far more complicated. Decision making is slower, so clients look to us for support to help make those decisions.

Inevitably there is increasing pressure on fees. Not only are clients looking for cost efficiencies but they also have to invest more much earlier in a project. This all means we need to be more efficient, smarter and more agile than ever before.

Matt: For occupier project management as a whole, there have definitely been some positive developments.

I believe it’s still an untapped sector or sub-sector of the market. It’s still got a while to go for the sector to receive the recognition it deserves.

WHAT NEXT?

With the appointment of a Chairman, both are optimistic about what the future holds for Francis Hunter.

Matt: The past few years have been really exciting. We moved offices in 2016 and were appointed by DAF to be lead consultant in acquiring, planning, designing and constructing its new 50,000sqft office space. This project brought together every strand of our business and expertise and meant we could provide economy of delivery and continuity of support throughout the whole project.

David: Financially, our aim is to double our turnover in the next three years. Part of this growth will be driven by a new business stream which will focus on landlords and property management services. We’re already doing this as part of our existing business but we see this as a real opportunity for the Group.

Matt: We are also about to open an office in London to allow us to be closer to our clients and give us greater reach.

We currently have five exceptionally talented project managers and we want to grow that talent so we can offer our services across a wider number of clients.

David: Essentially, we want to build upon what we have – a great team and fantastic clients. 67% of our 2018/19 turnover was repeat business and that’s something we’re immensely proud of.

Matt: All we have at the end of every job is what the client says about us – you can’t see the procurement process or how we managed the fit out or negotiated with different parties. If our clients are as happy with us at the end of the project as they were at the beginning, then we know we’ve done a good job.

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