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Sunday, 07 February 2016

Ewan Dodds BSc FRICS, CEO


Culture - “what is it good for, absolutely nothing” in the words of the cult “Frankie goes to Hollywood” song, or, “it’s that stuff grown in a petri dish- innit!!”, where you grow small bacteria or small mosses apparently as we were taught at school.

This was as far as my learning went, and the cause of me staring pretty vacantly at my rather prosaic plastered and painted wall (pretty much my outlook each day) over the top of my laptop in the corner of my office, picture window to my left overlooking the parked cars and listening to the rather annoying sandwich van who visits our business park at 9.12am each day beeping the horn irritatingly to try and entice my fellow occupiers to buy their wares.

“Is this what it’s all about?” I was thinking that Monday morning some three years ago. Is this how my life and business will be defined? Where had it all gone wrong, when can I get off the business roller coaster that pretty much defines my life from 7am each Monday to around 7pm each Friday and increasingly much of the weekends too.

I recalled some sage counsel I received from an old client (and friend!!) some years ago when I told him I was acquiring the business I had been working in since 1987 following “retirement” to the rural idyll that was Colchester from the bright lights of the West End, who asked why on earth I should want to get involved with that, as it’s a “poisoned chalice”. Occasionally later I revisited his words but essentially I was happy and determined to prove them wrong and me right, centring my work life on working hard and long hours, being there for all our clients and applicants, assuming, in my naivety that my staff would work likewise and follow me.

Therein lay the problem and the cause of high staff turnover, the loss of numerous key colleagues over the years as they looked at me, and must have thought “I don’t want that”, “I can’t keep up”. So what was I to do as I stared again at my plastered and painted wall? Through my family business and one of the major banks fast growth programmes, I was introduced to a fantastic coaching business from Australia with whom we have engaged since and who have now worked closely with all our staff.

Their initial Fact Find I remember well and one of its key conclusions that “at Whybrow, there is a belief that nothing will change”. This was my first challenge, the second being my understanding that for the business to change, first I must too. The second key eye opener for me was to be introduced through our coaches to the inspiring Roger Philby of Chemistry and his views on culture. A life and game changer as suddenly I could see the type of business I wanted to be part of, and to create.

This would not be the Goldman Sachs model of all consuming hours, but of a softer, integrated culture where people fully supported each other, where our success would be championed together, where an individual’s sense of purpose and achievement would be fully recognised but in conjunction with the team’s alignment to each other and ultimately to the companies’ compelling vision.

And so I set about the transformation, firstly with myself and then with the team. Breaking habits built up over years is very difficult and “being” rather than “I am going to” became my mantra, living it rather than aspiring to it, a vision you rarely actually reach (remember all those business plans we have written stating “Whybrow aims to become one of the leading Chartered Surveyors practices in the Eastern Region delivering the highest levels of personal service, professional advice and commercial solutions to clients, while providing a quality working environment for staff and continually striving to excel through innovation”.

Leadership I was starting to realise was much more than blood sweat and tears, it was about creating an environment where others could grow, felt included and valued, were willing to work for you and not for the money, but for something far greater. Leadership is also focused on behaviour for us- get the behaviours right and the rest will follow.

My transformation is not yet complete (some who know me might counsel they have seen no change), but I recognise it in myself, those who work closely with me say they do as well as have some of our clients.

The basis of this change is all about culture. I recalled Roger Philby’s staff voting Chemistry as the “best company in the Universe to work for”. How powerful is that? What had they done? What could I learn from them? Who could help me create the right culture for Whybrow?

Mandy Franklin, one of my longest serving team members of 10 years, and formerly our “Director of First Impressions” who together with one of our other longer serving administrative staff of 9 years was now running our Functionality project, following a rather stuttering start under our full time project manager (who quickly left!), agreed to take responsibility for this and is now our “Queen of Culture”.

Culture is now central to all we do at Whybrow and is the basis upon which staff numbers have grown by 115% in recent years as we build our growth platform, and the one that is taking us towards our vision (no longer our ‘mission statement’). To quote Michael Henderson, corporate anthropologist, “a high performance culture clearly defines and inspires people to be at their best, perform at their best and to serve others”.

We know that culture lies in the business, is not responsive to the markets or economies, and it belongs to the people who live in it. For us at Whybrow, this is beyond perks and centres on our interactions with each other, our behaviours, attitudes and intellect and how we and I, as CEO, present them in conjunction with our strong values and ethics around being inspired, generous and driven.


Ewan Dodds BSc FRICS Biography Synopsis

Ewan Dodds was elected an Associate of the RICS in 1986 and a Fellow in 2000. After graduating, he worked with Debenham Tewson and Chinnocks (now DTZ) in their industrial and business department based in central London where he dealt with major schemes in Swindon and Milton Keynes and advised various national organisations including Royal Sun Alliance and Initial plc.

He joined Whybrow Chartered Surveyors in 1987 and became Managing Director in 2000. The company regularly advise a wide variety of clients including Pension Funds, residential and commercial developers, private companies and individuals on a range of commercial and residential property throughout East Anglia but with particular reference to north Essex and south Suffolk and have been involved with in excess of 1m sq.ft of new development in the town.

A past President of Colchester Chamber of Commerce when he also sat on the Essex Board, he was invited to become the Lead Partner for Business on Colchester 2020, the town’s Local Strategic Partnership to promote business, increase employment opportunities, educational and skills attainment in the local area in 2005 until 2012, when the LSP was disbanded. Since 2010, he has been instrumental in continuing business collaboration in the town by forming the Colchester Business Group, comprising the leading members of all the main business forums in Colchester.

Ewan has been married to Julie since 1985 and has three children, Cameron, Bryony and Rhiannon who are now flourishing.


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