I was very sad to hear about the demise of Douglas & Gordon last week. D&G was, to me, an example of how a business doesn’t need to be run for cold hard profit – but rather to benefit all its stakeholders, staff and clients as well as shareholder/owners.
I used to joke with fellow office manager Pete Rollings when he was running South Ken for rivals Foxtons and I was running Chelsea for D&G. The difference in style and workload was obvious and there were many in the industry willing to denigrate the way Foxtons worked. The number of their ex-employees now running much bigger businesses is staggering and the received wisdom that profit is all has become a mantra and methodology in many of them. In a business that’s predominantly about relationships I’m not entirely sure that’s a good thing.
D&G was a product of a brilliant MD, one Ivor Dickinson and supportive owners, marshalled [often literally] by a wonderfully old school chairman, Michael Hodgson. The fun and caring atmosphere created, and the fact that it was from the start in 1958, lettings led, created substantial value in the business and led, ironically, to Foxtons buying it.
Ivor created a business that punched above its weight from a PR and, particularly, marketing perspective. A google search might reveal some of the fabulous annual campaigns, many featured employees and/or avantgarde imagery designed to create discussion in a way no one in the industry had before. In particular his series of spoof documentaries [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lE-DOISzue0] was so close to the bone that one conservative rival encouraged managers to send the link to any potential client, so convinced were they it really was about D&G.
The confidence of a business able to laugh at itself is at odds with an industry suffering, like politics, from a radicalised and increasingly outspoken criticism of anyone trying something different. The ongoing vitriol directed at Purplebricks is an example, with everything from a drop in standards and fees blamed on them. Despite their current problems, it’s easy to forget there’s clearly a demand for such a business and as a new generation of buyers and sellers used to click to buy emerges, change will happen. Sitting on the side lines shouting isn’t going to help.
For me personally it was always going to be a tough ask for Foxtons to hive the newly purchased D&G’s sales side off, and despite some commentators claiming it was the best deal since sliced bread, the writing was clearly on the wall.
For me it was a golden era working with some fantastic people – many of whom have gone on to have ever more successful careers. To Ivor [RIP], Michael, Virg, George, Eileen, Patrick, Nic, Nikki, Xandra, Emma and so many more – thank you for some great memories and for teaching me so much.
Ed Mead is the founder of Viewber.
EYE NEWSFLASH! Douglas & Gordon believed to have gone into Administration
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