David Tuffin has spent 35 years in the surveying game and he'll be using all that experience to shake up the RICS. He told Josh Brooks his four-point plan.

David Tuffin is, by his own admission, a masochist. For one thing, the president-elect of the RICS loves the pressure-cooker atmosphere of the witness stand, as he discovered during a five-year legal case in Hong Kong. "The money at stake was massive," he says. "I was an expert witness - I love being cross-examined."

David Tuffin

David Tuffin

Portrait by Tom Harford Thompson

This gluttony for punishment would explain why he is prepared to take over the presidency of the RICS during one of the most turbulent periods in its 138 year history. The institution's QSs have been in a state of disgruntlement with their leadership since Agenda for Change was launched in 1999. This turned into open insurgency in 2003 when Jeremy Hackett launched Stop the Rot, a protest against escalating membership fees, and discontent has since been fuelled by a decision to restructure - effectively to disband - the institution's highly respected public affairs and policy department.

Elected at the RICS' general council in March, Tuffin will formally start his year as president in July 2007, but he is likely to play a big role in the 12 months before then. Graham Chase, who is chairman of property consultant Chase & Partners and will take up the presidency this July, hints that he will draw upon Tuffin's expertise. "He's a very practical man, as you'd expect from a building surveyor," says Chase. "He has a huge amount of experience, which gives him an excellent overall view of the industry."

Tuffin has 35 years' experience of building surveying and 29 of the politics of the RICS. He is managing partner of Tuffin Ferraby Taylor, the surveyor he founded in 1973, and he won his first RICS election four years later: to the seat on the Surrey regional committee. Clearly his colleagues saw that the 24-year-old junior surveyor was marked for greatness. "I was answering a call of nature and messrs Ferraby and Taylor voted me onto the committee while I was away," he recalls.

Since then, Tuffin has serve at nearly all levels of the RICS. He has been chairman of the building services division, the South-east regional board and the council for England and, most recently, vice-president of the organisation as a whole.

These years of service have helped Tuffin develop a clear agenda for his presidency. His main challenge for the next two years is to make the RICS more relevant to its members in their everyday work. "There's been a divergence between what the firms are involved in and what the RICS is doing. That needs to be narrowed." What many see as the liquidation of the policy unit was the most recent example of what many members see as the increasing distance between themselves and the organisation.

Tuffin has four principal policy objectives. Most importantly, and ambitiously, he wants to bring about a shift in members' attitudes towards the organisation. He describes the RICS as a "broad church" that should appeal to big and small firms and condemns those members who snipe at the body from the sidelines. He sees better communication of the RICS' successes as a first step to achieving this.

"It's easy to criticise when everything is in place," he says, "but the RICS is one of the best professional institutions in the world, bar none. The hardest thing is getting people to see that the glass is half full, not half empty."

There’s been a divergence between what the firms are involved in and what the RICS is doing. That needs to be narrowed

Second, he wants to improve its information services. "The RICS is not necessarily the first port of call for market intelligence and technical information at the moment."

His third aim is to promote the body's international expansion - one of the original causes of UK members' discontent - and to argue against the "false idea" that the RICS spends too much money on the international membership. "A good rumour is hard to quash," he sighs.

UK surveyors operate in an ever more integrated global market, and an international presence is therefore essential to service offered by their professional body. "My practice, for instance, is doing a lot of transactional due diligence in Europe; 10 to 15 years ago that was unthinkable."

Finally, Tuffin wants to recruit more young people. Salaries, he believes, need to rise to attract the best candidates, and the industry must open its doors to graduates from other disciplines. "All the professions are fishing in the same pool," he says. "We need people from as many backgrounds as possible."

Tuffin's view of recruitment has been informed by his own experience as a young entrant to the industry. The son and grandson of naval officers, Tuffin resisted the urge to follow his forebears into the military, but says he "blundered" into construction after his O levels. "Nobody was recruiting, so I went labouring for a year on building sites.

That year probably taught me more about construction than anything I've done since."

Stints in building control at the London boroughs of Merton and Lambeth and a short-lived spell at architect Barry Martin & Partners followed before Tuffin struck out on his own in 1973 after a row with his boss (see box below).

The circumstances of Tuffin's departure from that firm are further proof of his penchant for putting himself in tough situations. "One day I gave the company car back and walked out - armed with nothing but a mortgage and a three-month-old daughter."

Perhaps he's a masochist, but Tuffin certainly has the ability to make the tough calls. And in the next two years, as he aims to transform the RICS and its perception in the industry, he'll need it.

The history of Tuffin Ferraby Taylor

David Tuffin set up the practice in 1973 in an office above a fishing tackle shop in Kingston, south-west London. John Ferraby and Michael Taylor, his former colleagues at architect Barry Martin & Partners, joined soon after. Taylor says: “The three of us had been dissatisfied with the boss and having secret meetings in the pub for a while, but one day David just said he’d had enough and that was that.”

Despite the recession the following year – “We really chose the worst time to set up,” says Tuffin – the firm carved out a niche in working with local housing associations upgrading Victorian stock. Tuffin adds that the arrival of the Thatcher government, and its moratorium on spending, brought a “watershed moment” for the firm, forcing it to diversify into more private sector work. Among the new services it offered were fund monitoring, feasibility studies and inspections during mergers and acquisitions. Two of the company’s biggest projects to date have been advising investment bank ING on the £1.5bn acquisition of Abbey’s property portfolio and the £1bn sale of Intercontinental Hotels’ portfolio.

The company now employs 120 staff in six offices across the UK.