James is a Modern History and Politics graduate from the University of Oxford, who leads the Central Research Laboratory (CRL) Programme at Cathedral Group, one of the country’s most innovative property companies specialising in large scale urban regeneration projects. James got about half way through a Post Grad in Public Financial Management at SOAS before life and work took over.
The CRL is one of Cathedral’s most innovative endeavours, dedicated to supporting entrepreneurs and early stage businesses. CRL is doing this by creating world class facilities that provide start-ups with inspiring workspace, cutting edge prototyping technologies, expert mentoring and membership of a supportive, collaborative community, and by working with leading experts across a number of fields to create the perfect environment for product innovation to thrive and new business models to develop. The CRL was conceived as part of Cathedral’s commitment to economic regeneration. In many of the places they work, creating jobs and sustainable growth is a core part of their role as developers and the CRL model is designed to deliver just that.
Currently James is involved in establishing two flagship facilities: the first at The Old Vinyl Factory in Hayes, West London and the second in Cathedral’s Preston Barracks development in Brighton.
What is your background? Why are you doing this?
I’m passionate about urban regeneration, and helping to create cities that are more vibrant, more equitable and have more ability to react to changes in the economy. I’m also passionate about doing whatever I can to increase the number of high quality, meaningful, impactful jobs that exist in the UK. People thrive when they are engaged in valuable and enjoyable work. And they thrive when they live in dynamic communities. Founding the Central Research Lab business at Cathedral Group gives me a chance to pursue those goals; to create environments where entrepreneurship thrives, jobs are created and value is added to the economy.
True entrepreneurship is found in the drive to create something genuinely new and innovative that changes our lives for the better. The term has become synonymous with the pursuit of financial gain. But that’s really a very small part of the story. True entrepreneurs make the world a better place by thinking differently about the way we live.
I used to be a management consultant, helping entrepreneurial groups set up new organisations. I loved looking back on the process and seeing something built from nothing. When the opportunity came up to lead the set-up of an innovative new enterprise, I jumped at the chance.
So what would you say are the top skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
I think the ‘skills’ vary wildly depending on the domain. But there are some common qualities. In particular, resilience in the face of persistent challenge and genuine creativity. By creativity I mean the mental agility require to come up with new ideas again and again whilst never losing sight of the vision.
Learning a huge amount and the potential that what you’re trying to create might have a huge impact.
What individual, company or organization inspires you most?
I draw a lot of inspiration from our parent company Cathedral Group, and Richard Upton, who founded the business. In an industry (property) where innovation is hard to come by and entrenched ways of doing things are found at every turn, Cathedral always innovates. They deliver some of the most complex urban regeneration projects imaginable and do so with creativity, flare and dogged determination. Well before I knew who Cathedral Group were, I walked past their schemes and was impressed by what they had been able to achieve; delivering great design and genuinely mixed us communities in the midst of recession.
Thankfully, I often get 5 minutes or more with the leadership team at Cathedral. When I do, I’m always keen to get their view on the bigger picture. It’s easy to get bogged down in the detail of delivering something; and detail’s vital. But what I love about talking to big, strategic thinkers is their ability to take a step back and place things in the wider context. They look not just at the next month or year, but how the work they do fits into long-term industry trends and economic cycles. That’s a rare skill.
For a while I was lucky enough to have a job managing the set-up of innovative new specialist schools, including an amazing one called East London Arts & Music in Tower Hamlets. ELAM embodies innovation and creativity in a way no other organization I’ve interacted with does. It’s delivering a world class education in music and digital arts and provides unbelievable opportunities to its trainees. I recently went to ELAM’s inaugural annual awards ceremony and was blown away by the trainee’s talent. That was my most satisfying moment. To have been able to support the people that made that happen in a small way was great.
I’m sure there are loads. But the biggest is that it can be easy to get absorbed in the tiny details of a task or project and forget to give the people you work with the time of day. I’ve done that a few times and it’s always a mistake.
Resilience is key, because creating something new, innovative and worthwhile is insanely hard work. Resilience comes from being passionate about what you’re doing and having support from great people around you. If you can get those two things risk you’ll probably be fine.