With the firm’s workload up by around 25% so far in 2021, Blagden and his team are busier than ever. His usual 50/50 split between working directly with clients and managing the business is currently tilted more towards client-based activities.

Wearer of many hats, but not a control freak

That’s not to say he neglects his leadership duties. In fact, Blagden includes finance and HR in his job description. “There’s not much about the business that I don’t understand, but I wouldn’t say I was a control freak,” he said.

He values the opinions of an independent business consultant who sits in on meetings between the firm’s three partners. “He makes sure we don’t allow any element of self-congratulation to creep in and that we don’t become complacent,” he said.

Who else does he turn to for advice and support? “My wife, usually. She has a good business brain and I value her perspective highly.”

Flexible post-Covid working

Since March 2020, Blagden’s preoccupation has been making sure Hicks Baker generates enough work and revenue. “There has been a lot more HR stuff to do during the lockdowns. And I look at our financial projections more closely. I’m pleased with how we have come through the crisis.”

Flair for art

As well as a wine appreciation (“Although I won’t usually pay more than £20 for a bottle”), Blagden also dabbles in art and is currently chairman of the Reading Foundation for Art, which uses bequests, legacies and donations to purchase art curated by the town’s museum. “It suits me as I enjoy collecting art – mainly British twentieth century,” he said.

A drummer in various bands since he was 12, he hasn’t been behind a kit for gigs for about five years. “My last group was called Broadband. We did covers of everything from the Monkees to Adele. There were a couple of other surveyors in the group as well as me. It was great teamwork and there were no egos.”

During the pandemic lockdown, he invested in an electronic drumkit, so he can now make as much noise as he likes through his headphones without annoying the neighbours.

How the region’s commercial property is coping

Looking at how the region’s commercial property landscape has changed over three decades, he points out the transformation of towns like Reading, Wokingham and Bracknell. “Reading, in particular, is more urbanised and its tentacles have spread.”

“I enjoy seeing staff doing well, passing qualifications, succeeding, extending themselves, for example, by starting in a support role and moving to a professional role. I think we’re good at giving opportunities to people that they probably wouldn’t find in larger firms. I’m also proud of managing the firm through difficult times and making it a good, balanced business.”

… and frustrations

“It’s hard for me to relax, except at Christmas and on Bank holidays. The rest of the time I worry about things that could go wrong and how to keep the business growing.”

Anticipating how the commercial property sector will recover from the pandemic is a hard call to make. “I think most businesses are unlikely to decide about returning to offices until the end of the year, although staff density rates will probably fall,” he said.

That said, Blagden’s overall prognosis is upbeat – even if it doesn’t feature his drumming.

‘A large part of the retail and leisure sectors have come through hell and high water. Humans adapt and so can buildings. Flexibility is here to stay and different business models will inevitably drive property developments’

Giles Blagden MAY/JUNE 2021 39

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