I worked for QS firm Wakemans for 19 years, that was my learning curve. Then I decided to qualify as a barrister in my spare time – you could do that in those days. After that I set up JR Knowles in 1973 offering joint legal and technical services. My selling point was that we were a one-stop shop, you could get both legal and technical from us, which you couldn't at the time with anyone else. Now our turnover is £33m a year, and we employ around 350 people. We have offices in Vancouver, Melbourne, the Far East, the Middle East and America.
What does a typical day involve?
Each day varies a lot. I spend around 40 days a year on lecture tours. I spend a fair bit of time selling our services and meeting clients. I'm still very involved in all parts of the business.
If I'm in the office I might attend a board meeting, but I keep that to a minimum as it can be time-consuming. I try to develop new ideas when possible but they often occur on the hoof, when you least expect it. People in the company will pop in to suggest things to me – when you've been in a company for so long you hear a lot of ideas! I have an open-door policy.
What are you working on now?
I'm going on a lecture tour of the Middle East, Far East and Australia soon, so I've been preparing the notes for that.
And there's a subcontractor I've been advising for the last 25 years – I still keep my hand in. You've got to, or your experience gets stale.
What advice would you give new entrants to the industry?
You've got to specialise these days. The days of the all-round general practitioner are in the far past. It's worth looking at partnering and best value – they're both big at the moment. You need the basic skills and then you should hone them into specific skills. People don't want to buy general skills that are available on every street corner, they want something special.
What's your greatest achievement?
I'm proud of the people we've got here. They arrive as QSs and we encourage them to get qualifications in other things, such as law or a specialism. I think it's a great achievement to have encouraged so many people to develop their careers and interests.
What do you still want to achieve?
We floated on the stock exchange in 1998 and we've made a profit every year for 30 years, but I don't think our share price is nearly high enough, so I'd like to raise that, to reflect our value.
While my energy levels last, I'll keep working. If they take a dip, it's time to put my laptop under my arm and head off into the sunset, but right now I'm carrying on.
Current job Chairman, JR Knowles, construction and engineering consultant
Employment history Nineteen years as a quantity surveyor with Wakemans. Left to set up JR Knowles in 1973
Lives Knutsford, Cheshire Interests Playing the piano, running and cycling, trips to the theatre, reading biographies and classic fiction