HOW THEY MADE IT - This month’s words of wisdom come from David Bucknall, one of the best known QSs in the industry and a man with nearly half a century’s experience
How did you get into the profession?
My father was a QS. He started his own firm, Charles W Bucknall, after the war. I spent Saturdays with him as a child – on sites in the morning and then watching him referee Notts County or Nottingham Forest football matches in the afternoon.
I wanted to be a sportsman, but realised I couldn’t make it, so went for dad’s profession. It seemed a good balance between working in an office and travelling about.
What was your first job like?
Tough. I did articles – a form of apprenticeship – with a local firm. You worked for the sheer pleasure of it – in other words, no pay. It was a five-and-a-half-day week, with two nights a week at college.
In the second year, I was paid eight shillings a week.
What was the hardest decision you made in your early career?
Moving from Silks back to the family firm. I was in my early twenties and about to be offered a partnership. In that era, such was the skills crisis, you would be offered partnerships by about 25. Recruitment problems now pale into insignificance. It seemed the obvious thing to do – to stay and become a partner – but a job came up at my father’s firm. It was against my better judgment, but I sided with family loyalty. I had mixed emotions about moving and it was a big change. I went from one of the lads in a big firm to being the boss at a smaller one.
Was it tough being a manager in your twenties?
It was difficult and lonely to start with.
I had to be a jack-of-all-trades. It was a close-knit team – we all worked together in one room – and although we were mates, there was a distance. I was the boss’ son, after all.
What was the best deal you struck?
Teaming up with David Austin [to form Bucknall Austin]. I got to know him at my first firm. He had become a partner at Bridgewater & Coulton and I thought he’d be a good man to team up with. I eventually plucked up the courage to contact him – it was like ringing a girl up. I wasn’t sure he’d be interested, but as soon as I got hold of him, he said he’d been thinking of ringing me.
The worst phone call you’ve had to make?
There were two. First, in 1965 an ambitious cost planner (me) has his first disaster when he works out that the car showroom extension he’d budgeted at £35,000 was in fact going to cost £41,000. I had to ring the architect who had gone out on a limb to appoint us. I’d put the call off for ages but eventually we worked around the problem. The lesson: start your day by making the call you don’t want to make.
The second was in 1990, making the call to our broker to inform him that the profit Bucknall Austin forecast six months ago was going to be a loss. The question was basically how do we announce a profit warning. That wasn’t pleasant.
Has your personal life been affected by work?
My relationship with my children is great, but I regret not being there when they were growing up as much as I’d have liked to have been because of my long working hours. During my career, your social life was much more stitched to your work. You made your colleagues and clients your friends. I wouldn’t like to count the number of dinner and dances I’ve been to.
How big is your contacts book?
It’s very extensive and still growing, even at my age. For me, it was always vital to twin up in business. You don’t guard contacts or keep them to yourself, but go and see them with colleagues. You bring people into relationships and that’s how a business grows and prospers.
Give us some advice.
Do a bit more for clients than asked for. Inform people and involve them. And have fun.
CV - David Bucknall, 68
Qualified as chartered quantity surveyor, Aston University, Birmingham
Silk & Frazier (now part of Faithful + Gould)
Partner, Charles W Bucknall
Grew the practice from four to 25 people and opened branches in Newcastle and Sheffield. In 1970, struck a deal with David Austin and the practice became Bucknall Austin.
Senior partner, Bucknall Austin
Opened more offices across the UK and expanded overseas with major projects in Europe and Asia.
Chief executive, Bucknall Austin
Led teams on projects including Birmingham’s ICC, Hong Kong International airport and rebuilding Windsor Castle after fire damage.
1998 - 2003
Director, Barn End Securities
Director, Bucknall Day & Lein, Berlin
2003 - present
Chairman, Bucknall Austin
David Bucknall is fronting Protégé 2007, a competition to find the sharpest student talent in consultancy, in conjunction with Building’s sister title QS News. For more information, visit www.protege2007.co.uk