CEO SPOTLIGHT Giles Blagden managing partner, Hicks Baker

Drumming up business for Hicks Baker

Giles Blagden has been beating the drum for the Reading-based commercial property consultants for 30 years. He self-effacingly leads the firm with understated determination

Possibly the perfect antidote Giles Blagden offers for handling the pressures of running Hicks Baker and coping with business upheavals caused by the coronavirus pandemic is to bash away the stress on a drumkit. And with back-up from a carefully selected glass of his favourite pinot noir, preferably from Burgundy.

He said the firm has been relatively lucky during the pandemic, with staff managing to handle well the additional stress and mental wellbeing challenges. Rather than luck alone, his compassionate and caring attitude towards colleagues and clients might explain why the firm is coping well with uncertainty and volatility.

One permanent change he has witnessed is a move away from an attitude of presenteeism, with trust an important factor in switching to more flexible work patterns. “We’re still in lockdown mode, with about a third of the team in the office each day. The headache for me now is how best to use our office. We’ve been asking people how they prefer to work.”

The accidental surveyor

For someone with such a clear long-term vision for his firm, Blagden’s career choice had more to do with chance circumstances. A law degree from the University of Leeds

convinced him to consider a different profession. “I tried marketing instead, got a job dealing with surveyors and property companies, and thought I fancied that.”

His arrival in the Thames Valley was equally fortuitous. He took a graduate trainee position in London with one of the city’s oldest surveying firms before moving to Savills. Then, at 27, he found himself a single parent with two young children and made a crucial work/life balance decision rather earlier than he had perhaps planned “to commit to a life outside London to gain a better balance in our lives.”

His parents lived in Dorset, so Reading seemed the logical location down the M4 corridor from the capital. Hicks Baker had recently been set up by Roger Hicks, and he invited Blagden to join him. The trainee soon qualified as a surveyor and eventually took over the business from Hicks on his retirement in 2012.

The firm had grown from half a dozen people to nearly 20, although numbers have dropped back to the mid- teens in recent years. Blagden is hesitant to increase the headcount until the Covid-19 crisis passes.

Learning to put clients first

His first job at Hicks Baker was managing properties in Reading’s Queen Victoria Street. “That was one of the reasons why Roger took me on. It was a very hands-on role, so I learned alot quickly.”

The work was a big change from dealing with large corporate clients in London, he explained: “Private clients and SMEs became far more important, partly because their property investments mean so much more to them personally.”

He sums up his approach in the advice he gives new joiners: “Put yourself in your client’s position. Think about what the client wants and expects from you, and not about yourself. Don’t try and show off, just give clients what they need.”

Hand on the rudder

As with his clients, sustaining strong relationships with colleagues and contemporaries underpins his love for the job.

‘I know most of Reading’s property professionals and business community members. Our careers have developed at the same time. That kind of knowledge seeps into your bones and over the years I’ve built up an invaluable network’

He regards his leadership role as about making Hicks Baker the best it can be: “Life is always changing so I’m always adjusting the rudder. I like that challenge. I generally back my own judgement and, by and large, seem to be reasonably good at it.”

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