Twenty Twenty-Two represents my thirtieth year at TwentyTwo!
As I say… I’m really not that old. I started in short pants, but for those who don’t know the story behind the very long journey I’ve been on, here’s the shorthand version.
What was I thinking?
In January 1992, on my first day back from leave, I was made redundant from my first job out of university. When I joined the AMP Society in January 1989 as a graduate, I was grateful for a job as the NZ economy had stalled after the 1987 share market crash. Jobs were very hard to find as the commercial property market recession followed a wider economic contraction. While Wellington and property management wasn’t plan A, it was a start.
Three years on, the economy continued to face recession and AMP decided to cut its large NZ team. For some carefully-thought-out reason, I was one of a small number of staff to be welcomed into 1992 with a 5pm handshake and a brown box. Not their finest hour… but ironically probably mine!
Finding yourself on the steps of the beautiful AMP Building without a job but with a statue of Mother Amicus overlooking you (accompanied by the words “a sure friend in uncertain times”) was a defining moment for a confident, but non-conformist 20 something! I stood there and steeled myself. This is never going to happen to me again. I will be in control of my journey in the future, not some ‘shiny-arse clerk’ from Sydney.
I made two phone calls the next day. One was to Peter Dow. Peter was the Chair of the Wellington Branch of the Property Institute and I was his dutiful secretary. We had an upcoming committee meeting and we were quickly trying to remember what we had promised to do from the previous month. Seeking his counsel, he told me in no uncertain terms that he wouldn’t employ me but there were opportunities and to come and see him at some stage… or words to that effect. A couple of weeks later, I met at his home (his kitchen table office) and he encouraged me to start my own consultancy! I thought ‘what do I know with three years’ experience?’ But I leapt into it and within a few weeks had managed to find some work from some generous people who took an interest in me. So I launched my consultancy career.
In what would become a pattern, I didn’t hear from Peter again for several weeks. When he called to ask what I’d been doing, I politely explained I had been following his advice (no thanks to his help)! At that moment, he asked if I could help him at Radio NZ – his main client – for a week. After a week laboriously ploughing through every property file (and building a stationery collection of pads and pens at the same time), he called to check on progress. In 1992, Radio NZ was still a single entity combining National Radio, the commercial network and transmission assets and was somewhat of a hangover from the old NZBC. During our call, I told him “it was a mess” and there was weeks’ work to even understand the portfolio. I therefore agreed to carry on sorting out Radio NZ while balancing my other clients. Later in the year, as more work continued and new opportunities to hone my consultancy craft emerged, we agreed it made sense for me to join him full-time.
First 10 years
Those early years shaped my consulting skills that I continue to draw on today.
We were involved in many transformational projects for the time as government and private sector businesses reacted to the recessionary times and to the deregulation of the economy that had started in the mid-80’s. The work included major property strategies and portfolio restructures for clients like Telecom, DIA, Trust Bank, extensive work across government (as the Crown restructured its office accommodation portfolio), all of the property work in the health sector to establish the Crown Health Enterprises (CHEs) (a precursor to the DHBs), and some of the first property-related Treaty settlements including the sale of Wigram Airforce Base in Christchurch to Ngāi Tahu – all while managing Radio NZ’s large national portfolio.
I really cherish the memories and learnings from this period. It was a hectic roller coaster, but heaps of fun. Peter was in the prime of his career and I had to literally run to keep up with him; his energy and work ethic was incredible. There was many times we did ‘all-nighters’ to get deliverables out the door and Peter once actually fell asleep in a client meeting one Friday afternoon. I had to take over!
While it’s hard to claim for sure, I suspect we were the first tenant/occupier-centric consultancy in New Zealand. We were one of the first members of CoreNet in NZ and carved out a niche in those early years for being independent and client-first. Principles we still hold true today.
Next 10 years
In 1998, six years into the journey, I took the reins of the business and became Managing Director. Now it sounds more glamorous than it really was. We were still essentially a business based around Peter’s reputation, but I started to take more of an interest in understanding how we could use our market position, experience and client base to develop a sustainable consulting business.
There were plenty of ups and downs, but we began to hire more staff and broaden our offering and reach beyond predominantly government and Wellington.
One of the key moves was bringing Duncan into the business. We’d collaborated with Duncan for some years in his role as a fitout architect with clients like Telecom and Meridian, but after sitting next to each other on numerous flights to Christchurch for mutual projects, I convinced Duncan and Peter there was an opportunity in this emerging area of ‘workplace’ that fitted with our positioning of being occupier-centric.
This move led us not only to develop our workplace – and more recent workplace technology practice areas – but to positioning our property strategy offering as the market leader, being more about how the investment in infrastructure property/workplace supports an organisation’s core intent and strategic aspirations (as I often say management consulting with a property lens, not property consulting with a business lens).
On the back of our strategic advice, we continued to be involved in a wide range of major transactions, leasing and new building projects across the country and cemented our reputation for providing acute commercial advice.
This included pioneering some of the tools that have become market norms, like using an ROI/RFP to create competitive tension in the market, developing the first BPS (for NZDF), using a Term Sheet to hone the early commercial conversation and becoming intimately involved with leading the negotiation of development agreements and tenant-friendly leases.
Near the end of this period, as the business became more focused on its core offering, Peter decided to pursue new opportunities away from consulting.
Last 10 years (TwentyTwo)
In 2012, we rebranded to TwentyTwo and set forth to consolidate and grow the business. This has proved to be an important initiative, moving the business away from the directors and positioning it as a sustainable entity in its own right.
This journey included the appointment of David Lambie and recently Don Smith (to the leadership group) and the development of the next generation of leaders. We have also significantly shifted our client base to ensure it is very diverse, across most sectors and real estate types and across all regions. On the back of this change, we have also expanded our practice areas to support clients through their overall property lifecycle where possible, including re-establishing our outsourced/portfolio management offering (where the business started way back in 1990).
The business is in good heart and we are continuing to grow and finetune our offering to ensure we remain client centric. As ever with a small business, there is plenty to do but I still enjoy the challenge – the challenge of scaling a business and making it less dependent on me and the challenge of solving complex problems alongside clients.
I owe a big thank you to my wife Sunder who still works with me in the business. There has been a lot of long hours and weekend efforts and she has been the constant looking after the family and everything at home. That thanks extends to my children, Grayson and Cody, who have also been part of the journey.
I also thank my fellow directors (Duncan, David and Don – collectively we are known as the 4Ds), the awesome team we have developed, my long list of clients (many of which are lifelong friends) and all of the TwentyTwo alumni (many of whom I’m still in contact with).
About the author
Loves anything blue. Avoids routine and making plans. Dreams of playing golf on the senior tour. Should have been a chef or writer. Fond of chardonnay and food (any kind).
Dean is one of NZ's leading property advisers with 30 years of consulting experience acting for major tenants and owner-occupiers. He specialises in property strategy, tenant representation, project leadership and major transactions. He also continues to provide peer review advice across all major projects.
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