Hammerson boss retires today after 37 years and hints at future industry roles

Everybody seems to love Geoff Wright, construction and project management director at developer Hammerson. That’s why they take the mick out of him. John Richards, chief executive at developer Land Securities, says of Wright’s most important project: “Geoff’s scheme at 420 Fifth Avenue in New York lost £90m. His response? ‘It was on time and on budget’.”

After 37 years at Hammerson, Wright leaves today. Richards says that the 62-year-old had “a bigger impact on Hammerson than anyone else”. Few would disagree, particularly the Hammerson board, which made an exception to its rule that directors had to retire at 60 by asking Wright to stay for two-and-a-half more years.

Of all the schemes he has worked on in that time, Wright has two that he hopes to be remembered for - Birmingham’s Bullring development, a 1960s eyesore that in 2003 was transformed into one of Europe’s most state-of-the-art shopping centres, and the aforementioned 420 Fifth Avenue project.

The latter scheme, which was built in 1989-92, must be one of the most eventful any UK developer has been involved in. There were two murders on site, with one man pushing his supervisor down a lift shaft and another shot after an argument. During one of the many trade union strikes, one man climbed up a tower crane and poured sulphuric acid on the gear box, delaying work for eight weeks.

“And then halfway through, all the city officials were locked up on corruption charges!” laughs Wright, who is renowned for his sense of humour and virtual comedy double act with Benny Kelly, the director of contractor Sir Robert McAlpine.

Geoff Wright

Geoff Wright

People might be challenged by his singular and direct style of doing business

Steve McGuckin

There is a serious side, though, and Wright does indeed argue that Fifth Avenue was on time and to budget. He points out that the property crash sent rents plummeting, meaning the scheme didn’t rake in as much as was hoped once it was built. Hence the loss that Richards mentions.

He is known to be a tough negotiator, and Steve McGuckin, who is project director at Hammerson’s rival Land Securities, says: “People might be challenged by his singular and direct style of doing business.”

Wright is a very frank man, as is shown by his views on the government’s conveyor belt of construction ministers: “It’s quite ridiculous that construction has its fifth minister in five years. People take construction for granted, but it affects everyone’s lives. But then, that’s not a vote-winner.”

McGuckin says that Wright will be missed, before suggesting that Wright “loves it too much to disappear”. He is correct on that point - Wright has already taken up a non-executive directorship with regeneration agency English Partnerships. Wright himself insists that he will advise property firms on major schemes, and adds that he is currently negotiating two other non-executive directors’ roles, which should both be announced by September.

A giant in construction – UK and abroad

Geoff Wright has probably built more schemes than anyone else in the UK construction industry. Starting off at Wimpey, where he stayed for six years, he joined Hammerson in 1969 and has remained there ever since. His work hasn’t just been concentrated in this country – he has also taken on the US, Canadian and European markets. All told, Wright estimates that he has built 24 million ft2 of space around the world, including nine buildings in France, mostly with construction giants Bouygues and Vinci, and a dozen in Germany. Wright was also the first client to be appointed president of the Chartered Institute of Building in the organisation’s 170-year history.