Office fit-out specialist Daniel Taylor could have been a roadsweeper like his dad, but instead he’s on JP Morgan’s list of the 100 most influential black people in the UK. He tells Emily Wright what got him there
Daniel Taylor has no qualms about celebrating his success. Whether it’s the lucrative projects he’s won, the accolades thrust on him or the type of car he drives - a BMW X5 twin turbo SUV with £50k worth of “extras” thrown in for good measure - he wants to shout about it.
And, to be fair to him, he has a lot to shout about. Just 13 years ago, he was running his fledgling design-and-build office refurbishment business out of his car - and it was unlikely to have been a Beemer back then; he had three clients and just one designer working for him. Now, Metro Design Consultants has 32 employees, is turning over £20m, and has more than 1,000 clients worldwide, including Harley-Davidson and Boeing.
The success of the business has led to Taylor winning a place on JP Morgan’s 2010 list of the 100 most influential black people in Britain, alongside luminaries such as Baroness Scotland and Tidjane Thiam, who, as boss of Prudential, is the first black chief executive of a FTSE 100 company.
“It is an honour to appear on that list with some of the most influential African and Caribbean people in this country,” says Taylor. “But I earned it. This business has been built on my own grit, determination and tunnel vision.”
It may sound like a slightly egocentric version of events, but it is hard to argue with the fact that these have been common factors throughout a career during which Taylor climbed from south London poverty to a life of fast cars, chic hotels, and an unusual approach to motorbike storage.
Taylor has a bone fide rags to riches tale to tell. He was born 49 years ago in Clapham Junction. His parents had moved from Jamaica in the forties on the Windrush. His mother worked as a cleaner and his father as a roadsweeper.
I don’t think there is any other black person in this industry, at my level, who runs their own design-and-build firm. Even in Europe
“We were just poor, coloured people,” he says, sitting in Metro’s office in Southwark, just up the road from his childhood home. “With West Indian families, a lot of people gave up something to get onto a boat. So I couldn’t stand the thought of wasting the opportunity I had been given.”
He adds that although following in his father’s footsteps would have been an acceptable career path - enough for his parents to “hang their hat on” at least - he wanted more: “I became very money orientated.”
Spurred on by his desire to make enough money to live the life he wanted, Taylor got onto a design course at the Royal College of Arts and qualified as an interior designer. After spending the early part of his career with big US design conglomerates, he decided to set up on his own in 1998.
Thirteen years later, the success of the business has elevated him to a unique position in the design-and-build sector: “We are niche, not a household name like McAlpine, but I don’t think there is any other black person in this industry, at my level, who runs their own design-and-build firm. Even in Europe. That makes me different; clients like different.”
Bikes in the boardroom
So it would seem. Metro’s client list is a mix of staple and glamour, with the likes of Disney, Skype and Cadbury Schweppes dotted among the local health authorities and government associations. And the property and construction industries clearly rate Taylor, as Knight Frank, CB Richard Ellis, King Sturge and HOK are also his clients.
Apart from Boeing, whose London offices Metro designed, the other client worth a specific mention is Harley-Davidson. Metro won a number of contracts with the US motorbike group in 2007 and was responsible for the design and fit-out of its offices in Barcelona, Paris, Oxford and Johannesburg.
Taylor says the Paris job was the most exciting as it included some fairly unusual ideas: “At the start of that job, we turned up at their old offices at La Défence. A row of Harleys belonging to the employees were lined up outside the building which looked fantastic. But the area of Paris they were moving to wasn’t the most salubrious and they were worried about leaving the bikes outside - these were classic bikes, 50 years old and worth a lot of money. So we came up with this idea for them to bring their bikes up to their work stations. In the Paris office now, the design includes bike parks next to people’s desks. There are usually bikes in the boardroom, too. That’s the best kind of branding you can get for a Harley office, I think.”
Before the recession hit, there were plans to roll out Metro’s Harley office designs across Europe - starting with Germany. The tough financial climate has put the brakes on this for now, but Taylor is confident that when the market picks up, the bikes and the boardrooms will be back on his portfolio.
Talking of the recession, aren’t services in high-end interior office fit-out and refurbishment like Metro’s particularly vulnerable when times are hard?
“The last 18 months have been tough,” Taylor admits. “Lots of people are sitting on their hands at the moment, not doing anything and not committing to spending money. We have a lot of government clients, too, like health authorities, who are obviously having to make enormous cuts. The past six months have been the toughest I have ever seen. Margins have gone down to single digits on big jobs as competition reaches new heights. It’s very aggressive.”
I would say we are one of the few companies at our level with the credibility to break into the African market. Ghana would be top of my list
But he is quick to add that Metro hasn’t suffered any more than pure construction or architecture firms: “I have not had to make anyone redundant or cut pay. My strategy has been to focus on the core clients who have a history of giving us decent work and then servicing the hell out of them.”
In a rather unorthodox twist, Taylor doesn’t have a financial plan for the business. And never has had: “Obviously we’re looking to grow but I couldn’t say by how much. I don’t set myself goals to make x, y or z in terms of profit. I always end up reinvesting it in new technology anyway. But we are a profitable company and the plan is to remain so and keep growing.”
And how does he plan to do that? On top of building up client contacts in the UK, Taylor is looking to international markets, with a particular focus on the US and Africa: “If we won a couple of jobs in Africa, I could probably double, if not treble turnover.”
This is one market where Taylor believes his colour and background work as a distinct advantage. “I would say we are one of the few companies at our level with the credibility to break into this market. Ghana would be top of my list. They have just discovered oil and gas there and I think it will become the Dubai of Africa. South Africa is worth considering too, as well as Nigeria.
“I also have eyes on the States. I can see us taking our successful model out to New York, Atlanta and Chicago in the future.”
Although he may not believe in having a worked out financial strategy, Taylor has thought way ahead when it comes to the future of his business. And he wants to keep it in the family. Naomi, his 18-year-old daughter, will be trained up to take over when he eventually retires - that’s if she is allowed out of the house by then: “She is grounded right now,” says Taylor, smiling and rolling his eyes. “There was a party last weekend and we were waiting up for her to come home until 6am …” Enough said.
Despite her teenageness, Taylor has every faith in Naomi as a suitable successor: “She’ll be coming from a marketing and business background which I think will be very good for the business. Designers need good managers to back them up.”
You get the impression, though, that he is more excited about what his succession plan will mean for his own role - an opportunity to take a step back and enjoy that success he talks about: “I would be a glorified chairman who walks around in between playing golf - here to advise my daughter - like the mafia. That’s how I like to imagine things. A mafia-style set-up. And I’d be the don.”
A Taylor with style
Watch … I am wearing the Mont Blanc today but I am a Cartier man. I don’t like the Rolex. It’s ugly. My absolute favourite at the moment is probably the Cartier Roadster. I have three - one gold, one part gold and one silver. I have about 10 watches in total.
Car … It used to be my Porsche Cayenne Turbo. I had one of the first 50 in the country and I called it the beast. I sold it last year and now have the BMW X5. There is no dash - the dashboard comes up on the windscreen when I start the car. I feel like a fighter pilot.
Restaurant … The restaurant on the 70th floor of the Shangri La hotel in Bangkok.
Paper … The Daily Mail
Gadget … The iPad. I just got one and it’s great.