Tom Bloxham MBE, Chairman & Co-Founder of Urban Splash, is one of AMAGAZINE’s 10 Most Influential Mancunians. Here he talks about his career journey and the future of our city.
“In the 19th century, we made money from making things; last century we made money through trading with the world; this century, we’ll make money from ideas.”
What makes Manchester a great place to live and work in 2018?
Manchester in 2018 couldn’t be more different from the Manchester I arrived in as a student in the 1980s – a far cry from the vibrant, buzzing city it is today. And, as much as I loved the place (it’s been my home ever since), I’d often walk around, perplexed at how quickly it became a ghost town each night. There was very little nightlife or culture – least of all a dense urban population.
What there was, however, was a plethora of beautiful old buildings, but they were dark, dreary and unloved; they cast even more of a shadow on the city each night and something had to be done.
The regeneration that’s followed since, with the emergence of new areas of Manchester, such as the Northern Quarter, New Islington, Ancoats and Castlefield for example – all of which Urban Splash has been involved in creating – has made for a brilliant city. Anyone can thrive here; there are great places to do business in, great people to do business with, and plenty of homes, cafes, bars, restaurants and cultural institutions all around us.
Why do you think so many businesses have chosen Manchester as their central hub?
Because of what’s been created and what’s yet to come. Apart from London, Manchester has more cranes on the skyline than any other city in Europe; it’s a great city with a great local authority, great cultural assets, great universities – and of course two great football teams (Manchester United and Manchester United Reserves!).
The expanding workforce is great for us all as it brings more skilled, talented and ambitious people into Manchester.
What do you think Manchester needs to raise its profile on the international scene?
I think we’ve done lots already; the Manchester International Festival (MIF), which I chair, was the world’s first festival of original work and special events. Every two years we host something for everyone with a fortnight-long programme of events that have an international outlook and engage the world.
As that gets bigger, especially with the creation of a permanent MIF home at The Factory in St John’s, it’ll help raise our city’s profile. Add to that even more innovation and great business leaders from the region promoting their ideas on the global stage – the likes of the Kamani family fashion brands, Lawrence Jones with UK Fast, Matthew Moulding’s HUT Group, AO.com, Booking.com and property peers like Chris Oglesby at Bruntwood – and the great things happening here will stay in the eyes of the world.
What does Manchester need in terms of new talent coming through?
Obviously, business leaders, in general, need to embrace and invest in bright young talent, but in terms of my own views from the property industry, we just need to keep creating brilliant workspaces and living spaces so that people who come to this city have world-class design choices.
We need to ensure they have apartments to live in and, as we’re doing with our House at New Islington and Irwell Riverside developments, make sure there’s an urban housing provision too. The more well-designed spaces and choices people have when deciding to base themselves in Manchester, the better.
What are the essential qualities that people must have to be a part of your business?
There are two sorts of people in this world – those who think they can, and those who think they can’t. And they are both right. It’s about being ambitious, about being optimistic and about being positive. Another way of putting it, if you don’t know what your destination in life is, you’re unlikely to ever get there. It’s about being focused.
I want those people around me at Urban Splash. And I want to be able to learn from all my colleagues; a rule I stick to is to do business with people I like, and people who are better than me – I’m our least qualified board member so this is definitely true.
How has the working world changed from when you started your career compared to now and how have these changes affected your industry?
Massively – and lots of the change is down to technology. When we founded Urban Splash 25 years ago social media didn’t exist, email didn’t exist, Amazon didn’t exist; the list is endless. Fast-forward to 2018 and lives are lived out online, decisions are made electronically, it’s shifted so far beyond recognition – and that’s largely a good thing.
For us, it’s enabled our business in many ways; from amplified marketing techniques that have allowed us to use digital and social media to promote the communities we’re creating, to our decision earlier this year to buy our House factory in the East Midlands.
Using technology there, we’re creating customisable, customer-designed homes; we have the capacity now to create up to 400 per year.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve overcome in your career?
Many. Surviving the global financial crisis of 2008 for one, but also turning around run-down areas like New Islington, Park Hill in Sheffield, Smith’s Dock in North Shields and Port Loop in Birmingham which we’re working on now.
I’m proud though that they’re each now wonderful, communities for residents and businesses alike. I always like to look ahead to the challenge; for us right now that means delivering more and more modular housing.
We’ve created them so far created and fully sold them at New Islington in Manchester, Irwell Riverside in Salford and Smith’s Dock North Shields – and just launched our next scheme at Port Loop in Birmingham. Our challenge is to increase production and create more, much-needed homes – starting in Manchester in 2019 when we’ll launch more of them at New Islington.
What would you say to people who feel they haven’t ‘made it’ yet?
Keep going. If you’re at work, work hard. Build your network and surround yourself with people who are better than you are to help you along the way.
In what ways would you like to see Manchester businesses giving back to their city and community?
Manchester businesses already do so many great things and support so many of the city’s initiatives; the support that came in May 2017 is a testimony to that.
There’s always something to get involved in; we’ve done it in many ways at Splash mainly through supporting and encouraging community amenities in places we’ve helped to create. At New Islington, for example, we were part of a bid team to bring the New Islington Free School to the area – now an OFSTED Outstanding institution
Arts have also been intrinsic to our communities too and we’ve given our developments as platforms for emerging artists and creative ideas; the Cow Parade in Manchester for example. But, we can all always do more.
Personally, too I’m Chair of the Manchester International Festival and trustee of the Manchester United Foundation and involved with other charities.
What industries do you think will be booming in Manchester over the next 5 years?
The business world has always changed; in the 19th Century, we made money from making things; last century we made money through trading with the world; this century, we’ll make money from ideas.
In the next five years, I think we’ll see the obvious growing tech sectors prevail – the recent announcement from Amazon about their move into Manchester is testament to that, but I also have great confidence in the modular and offsite industry as it becomes a more popular method of construction – including more of our Urban Splash Houses!
‘10 Most Influential Mancunians’ sees some of Manchester’s most inspiring professionals talk about the future of our city and share their career journeys. If you’d like to get involved with 2019’s ‘10 Most Influential Mancunians’, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.