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Graeme Bone is banging the Drum for Aberdeen business

Categories: Kingswells | Author: Administrator | Posted: 08/06/2013 | Views: 1006
Daily Record Profiles the man running Drum Developments
Graeme Bone of Drum PropertyThe Daily Record profile the former solicitor who now runs the UK’s biggest commercial development outside London. [16th May 2013]
Graeme Bone of Drum Property [Daily Record_16th May 2013]
Photo by: Derek Ironside/Newsline

THE life of a solicitor no longer appealed to Graeme Bone when he decided that there weren’t enough hours in the day.

The man behind the UK’s biggest commercial development outside London – the £500million Prime Four business park at Kingswells – left Hazlehead Academy to study law at Aberdeen University when he was still 17, graduating before was 20.

He did a postgraduate diploma for a year before joining the law firm Cooper & Hay but said: “I fairly quickly worked out it wasn’t for me.

“I didn’t particularly enjoy the work but also it was obvious that selling hours as a business model, which is what lawyers do, isn’t really scaleable.

“There are only so many hours in the day so there are, therefore, only so many hours you can sell.”

He decided that property investment and development provided both the challenge and the opportunity he was looking for, but it was seven years before he was able to switch careers.

Throughout that period he spent his spare time refurbishing and converting buildings and flats and selling them on and also doing land deals to build the foundation for his future operations. Eventually, it got to the stage where his legal work was holding back his property development, so he gave it up.

He said: “It was quite a big decision at the time because I went from being in a partnership which was reasonably secure and with an established way of working and an established way of life to basically going into a room and waiting for the phone to ring.”

He admitted that “waiting for the phone to ring” is perhaps an over simplification because he had a reasonable workload of domestic and commercial property development and he had also started doing retail schemes.

Like many developers, the 43-year-old capitalised on the booming property market but perhaps, unlike many, he and his fellow directors in the Drum Property Group decided in 2006 that it was time to sell the vast majority of their portfolio ahead of an inevitable overheating and explosion.

During 2007, the business was put on the back burner as he successfully battled cancer and then, following the crash of 2008, he decided to capitalise on the major market downturn.

He said: “The property landscape in Scotland had been decimated and having been reasonably prudent during the good times, we’re able to get into some potentially game changing situations which will hopefully allow us to build an organisation of some scale and credibility across the country during next property cycle.”

His fellow directors are Paul Doherty in Glasgow and Alan Wilson in Aberdeen and they were recently joined by Stewart Oag, former head of finance for the Stewart Milne Group. The game changer is Prime Four which, when finished in five to seven years, will have cost about £500million and will be home to companies employing up to 7000 people.

“This is a big scheme for Aberdeen and an important one ,” he said. “The provision of office accommodation in the city really is relatively poor when you consider Aberdeen’s status as the energy capital of Europe.

“Part of that is because of the city’s response to the discovery of oil in the 1970s, which was to create these special industrial estates we all know and love around the city centre.”

He said over the last 15 or 20 years the economy has morphed into a white-collar knowledge-based one, with much of it being exported, but the commercial property market has failed to respond.

“As a consequence you have a pastiche of different uses in industrial estates. You might have a half-decent office building next to a pipe yard where somebody rolls up with a burger van at lunchtime.

“We have all seen those and what Aberdeen didn’t have was a world-class office park and that’s what we are providing.”

Demand had been unprecedented with interest long before there was even planning permission.

“I think major occupiers understood what we were trying to achieve and why it would work. We have about £150million worth of investment committed between what is being built at the moment and the next batch of buildings which we are about to start.”

The first occupants, later this year, will be Apache North Sea Limited, Nexen Petroleum UK Ltd and Transocean Drilling UK Limited, with the latter also basing their global training HQ there, a decision which will see thousands of students passing through every year.

Work is about to start on an HQ building for Premier Oil and De Vere hotels are to build Scotland’s first four star Village Urban Resort on the site – a 150-bed hotel with a leisure complex hoping to attract 4000 to 5000 members from the local community.

He said one of the aims of Prime Four is to enable those whose companies are based there to strike a good work-life balance.

He said: “We would all like to come to a single location, park easily, drop off the kids at nursery school, work in a nice office and at lunchtime, go to the gym or for lunch or a pint – which is what you will be able to do.

“I am sure that kind of holistic approach to work-life balance means that what we are doing here at Prime Four is very attractive to employers.

“We are also introducing what hasn’t been done in Scotland before – a concierge-type service culture. It’s almost like a university campus for grown-ups with five-a-side football and a range of other inter-company events on a daily and weekly basis.

“If you wake up on a Monday morning and feel your life will be incomplete until you learn Japanese, you can contact the park management who will go around the campus and find five or six others who think the same way and will arrange for a teacher to take the class.”

He said that in the midst of a skills shortage, companies were continually looking for ways to help attract and retain staff and Prime Four had these perks built in. Outside central London, the north-east is one of the few places where property development is thriving.

He said: “I’m in London every week or 10 days and I have never heard Aberdeen get as much air time as it is receiving right now.”

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