Ray Upjohn has risen from being ‘the worst apprentice draftsman' at Matthew Hall to become managing director at building services consultant Chapman Bathurst

Two years ago you led a management buyout of Chapman Bathurst. How did that come about?

I had had discussions with Roger Chapman and John Bathurst, who set up the business in 1972, about getting more equity in the business, and the buyout was the best way for everybody. We completed in just eight weeks, which is about as quick as you can get. Any time there was an issue, we sorted it out among ourselves and told our advisers what we wanted to do.

It's a long way from your days as an apprentice, isn't it?

Yes, I came into the industry straight from school, working for M&E contractor Matthew Hall. I had written to three or four companies saying I wanted to be a draftsman, because I had my mind set on drafting for oil rigs. But when I went to Matthew Hall, they suggested this. It's just as well really because I was probably the worst draftsman in the company! In the end, I stayed at Matthew Hall for 14 years from apprentice to group manager before joining Chapman Bathurst 10 years ago - I'm a bit of a poacher-turned-gamekeeper.

So, what made you decide to become a ‘gamekeeper'?

Opportunity really. I'd known Richard Chapman for three years and Chapman Bathurst had just set up a London office. I was the third member of staff - now we're 50 strong. I also wanted to have influence on a firm. The bit that I enjoy is actually advising clients - even now 50% of my day is spent on strategic design issues.

What are you working on at the moment?

I'm involved in the refurbishment of Adelaide House at London Bridge and a couple of 40-50,000 ft2 projects. In all, we have about 60 projects on the go - from conditions surveys up to multimillion-pound projects.

Do you ever regret not going to university?

No, I think I'd reached the end of full-time education. I'd challenge anyone to say there's anything better than the apprenticeship route in this industry.

Does Chapman Bathurst take on apprentices?

Yes, we interviewed our first candidates this week. The route was good to me - it's one thing saying there's a shortage of people in the industry, you've got to do your bit. When we were 10 strong, apprentices would have just got stampeded and wouldn't have got a training. With the structure we've got now I feel we can train them properly. We'll take on one or two - that's enough for a company of our size. It'll be interesting to see how we cope with it.

Age 41
Employment history Left school at 17 to take on an apprenticeship at Matthew Hall. Rose to group manager over 14 years. Joined building services consultant Chapman Bathurst 10 years ago. Became managing director in 2003. Chapman Bathurst is now a 50-strong, £4m-turnover company.
Lives Shirley, Croydon
Family Wife Pam and two daughters Lauren and Danielle
Hobbies Golf – “In this industry you don’t get time for much else!”