The reality of a long recession is dawning across the world. All businesses will be affected, not necessarily disastrously – the total economies still remain a formidable market – however all businesses will need to refresh themselves, all will need to rethink their model, where they focus their energies, how they motivate their people, and for many what standards of performance they should set to survive.  John Toppin and I will be writing a monthly column in the RIBA Journal backed by a growing number of articles on my website www.jamescookecoaching.com. John’s website is www.nomizon.co.uk. This blog is an important third leg of our effort. We want to hear your comments, your thoughts and your experiences – please use it.

9 Comments
  1. Shropshire Architect

    March 17, 2009

    I was made redundant at the end of last year because the practice I was working for worked in the commercial and retail sector.
    I have been very lucky as I managed to find a new job with no break in my career. My new company is quite busy and undertakes a lot of domestic projects. We do work on larger projects and are lucky enough to have business clients with well funded organisations.
    The recession could make big changes to the way people work in the future and with all the companies going bankrupt the business world will be quite a different place, once the market picks up again.

  2. Rono

    March 19, 2009

    Thank you for your blog.
    Did you listen about Ambrogio Frangiolli (1798 – 1870) Italian architect and painter.
    I think you’ll be interested. He created his own Scuola di Decorazione (E: Decoration school) and designed numerous interiors of famous residences in Rome, Turin, Vienna and Milan.

  3. James Cooke

    March 24, 2009

    Dear All, I’m very keen on this blog. Hopefully it will give John Toppin and me a regular and growing feedback on how you are thinking and feeling. Today I want to pick up on the first comment from “Shropshire”.
    Its good you have found a new job, and so quickly. However be very careful, the recession/depression has barely begun, and many professional firms are going to be threatened in the months ahead. The challenge for them will be hard because they have few defences.
    Let me explain. Most architectural practices, like most other professional firms are dangerously undercapitalised. Partly this is a consequence of the ludicrous inability of partnerships to retain and hoard their earnings in the good years and hold them as underpinning for the lean times. Partly it is because they never generated enough cash in the first place – surpluses are typically very small, one reason we see so little R&D within the sector.Partly it is because they have large semi fixed costs in terms of highly trained staff, and partly it is because they have enjoyed boom years for a long time and have not appreciated how each boom year was not only covering up the lack of real earnings from the last year, but was also taking them ever closer to the day when the boom cycle stopped.
    For all these reasons many, probably most, are critically vulnerable to a downturn in trade – and that is what we are all facing now.
    So “Shropshire”, well done for finding a new bolt hole. Especially given it is robustly placed – but now is the last chance saloon to refocus marketing, recalibrate costs, to hoard cash, and to get everyone working more closely with your clients.
    I’m getting more and more gloomy – we are forecasting a rolling 3 year challenge – if you still have time well done, but use it to act and to act fast. All the best, James.

  4. John Toppin

    March 26, 2009

    Staying with the theme of redundancy, I’d like to hear in this blog from “Shropshire” or others who have been made redundant from architectural practices about what support you were offered by your firm on being made redundant. For example, what kind of assistance, if any, was provided to you to find your next role, was outplacement offered?

    “Shropshire” was fortunate to walk into a new job, however I suspect this is the exception rather than the rule. What is your experience.

  5. Shropshire Architect

    March 26, 2009

    John
    As I worked in a small practice I received statutory payment for my redundancy and not a lot of help and advice. However, I did not seek any advice or assistance from my employer as my main objective was to get a job.

    My employer did contact a few colleagues in other companies, to see if they had a vacancy for me but with no success. It was after he told a local practice of our situation with a view to partnering or working together that the new company approached me directly.

    At this stage I was considering becoming self employed and was starting to think about working outside the field of Architecture.

    I would say that I was very lucky to find a new job so quickly.

  6. John Toppin

    March 26, 2009

    Thank you “Shropshire” for sharing that.I wonder if this is how things are done in smaller practices and whether being in a larger practice is any different?

  7. Shropshire Architect

    March 27, 2009

    John
    I think that larger practices have a lot more policy and admin issues to deal with and may be run more formally. We were three strong, including the Principal so there was no hoops to jump through and I know that my employer would have helped a lot more if I had asked.

  8. John Cottam

    April 22, 2009

    You may be interested in the picture outside the UK.I have a small practice in Cyprus, which has an entirely different business culture, with little or no professional ethic or protection for either Client or architect, a deeply embedded element of corruption and nepotism,inefficient and non liable planning system and an alarming record of fraudulant activity by developers,contractors, lawyers and others.
    The style and title “architect” is given to untrained and incompetent persons,with questionable or non architectural training, such as interior designers, civil engineers.Fee levels are low, the professional service provided is minimal and partial, and fee payments for completed work are withheld or dealyed.
    The recession has of course hit hard here, as the steady stream of expatriate buyers (victims as is often the case) has evaporated due to the Euro / Pound exchange rate,fall in UK property values,poor quality construction and design,difficulty and delay in obtaining Title Deeds to purchased property (a combination of huge backlog in title deed application and the improper remortgaging of the property by Developers to finance that or other development.A ten year delay in the issue of deed and title in most cases)There is also the factor of a vast over supply of poorly built, under specified and poorly designed apartments, “villas”, town houses and lower end housing,constructed in the gaderene rush for easy money which are unsaleable, as well as a vast number of resale properties on the market.
    All pretty grim.
    I have,in addition to the architectural business, and on a small scale and exclusive level, a Development Company, which, in effect offers for sale single building plots, with Title and Planning Permit, high end well designed “one off” houses, which are then designed and fine tuned for individual Clients,cost controlled,competitively tendered, constructed under contract, and architect/engineer supervised on land owned fully by my company.
    I am actively seeking a market in Scandinavia, Israel and other places, but anticipate little or no activity for 2 or 3 years.I think that is the reality.
    My survival stratergy, if it can be called that, is to cut overheads by dispensing with the office (work from home)Take on as much expert witness and defects survey work as I can find,increase new business potential/leads via my partner (a Cypriot architect)Architects are not allowed to advertise here, which has been a major problem for me.(I have met many expats with major problems say “if only we knew you were here”
    Very frustrating!
    Land values are holding here so that is some consolation.
    Thanks for your interesting and expert blog.ANY ADVICE welcome!
    Expat Architect

    I am, on a small scale,an architect / developer, able to

  9. Three years later, I find it interesting to visit this blog and I wonder if the recession has been any different from what was imagined back then. I was also made redundant in 2009 and I went to set up on my own until now; survival has been a sign of success I guess but I went I started I really didn’t know if it would work out at all.

    It might be interesting to revisit this theme and draw some comparisons and conclusions.

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