New London Architecture

Five minutes with... Del Hossain, group managing director, Adrem

Friday 04 September 2020

David Taylor

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ

David Taylor catches up with Adrem group managing director, business coach, psychologist, Bartlett tutor and now podcaster, Del Hossain about inspirational people, the lack of business savvy some practices have, how to cope through recessions, and the ‘in passing’ people-benefits of being back in the office versus productivity and no-commute gains

David Taylor: Del! 

DH: David! 

DT: How are you doing? 

DH: I'm alright; I'm good. All things considered, I'm incredibly optimistic and well. 

DT: Good! What have you been up to?

DH: I have really enjoyed the opportunity to spend some time with family and focus on some things, because I'm juggling quite a lot. There’s the new cohort that I teach at The Bartlett, so I'm juggling the new Masters programme and writing some new stuff for that. And I've got a podcast coming out, which is quite exciting…

DT: Great! This is just you, is it? 

DH: Yeah, it’s going to be me, but it's going be me talking to people who are just inspiring, really!

DT: Fantastic!

DH: Yeah. It's getting leadership, thoughts, ideas and different people who are just regular, interesting heroes who are not always acknowledged, you know? I won't bore you with it but I've got a whole host of people; some from design and architecture who have done interesting things or have an interesting journey, not even necessarily their architecture sometimes, but just them as individuals – what they've done to overcome hurdles. And then also other people; some sports people, some people in music, people in the forces – what they've gone through and experienced; basically, human beings doing their best, and trying to push themselves. Hopefully they can inspire other people to push themselves.

DT: Fantastic! When’s this coming out, this ‘Del-pod’? (laughs) Or what’s it going to be called? 

DH: (laughs) It’s called The Wow Mind, and basically the ‘WOW’ bit is the World of Wonders. It's about the point at which you see something and it totally lifts your imagination, lifts your excitement level, gives you a shot of electricity to the arm and you go: wow! It’s that moment that makes so much more of your day feel exciting and feels like you're getting somewhere, or you're learning something. An awful lot of it is to do with people just growing and building themselves, building their learning, building their psychology, and you tend to say this at the point - at which you feel that you generally have got a surge of ‘this is new to me’, you know? So that's what I've been doing through lockdown, as well as trying to make sure the business is as healthy as it can be, all things considered.

DT: Recruitment particularly, or the business coaching that you are now involved with?

DH: All things, really. The recruitment side is a big one because, during lockdown and probably what we will see by the end of October, is a lot of redundancy from all the furloughs kick in. We set up a thing called the Think Hub during the lockdown, and that was really to support people, and it was a pro bonothing. I've had lots of partners and practices, and practice leaders just saying: ‘what do you think, what do you think?’ And advice on things – everything from: ‘I can't get people to come back into the office’, through to ‘my God, I'm really short of cash, what do you think I can do?’

DT: Yeah

DH: I've been doing a lot of advice stuff, and I think you just realise you have being around and seen downturns before, and what the acceptable ways of behaving and keeping calm are. I think the furlough has helped a lot of practices but they're now getting anxious, as it's beginning to peter away. Most practices seem to have been living on an orderbook from the end of last year. They’re building through the existing work, but what a lot of people have said is: ‘God, it has been really hard to get the new stuff on because we just can't meet people face to face in the same way’. And as much as Zoom has been a real Godsend, in a way, you can't really build the same rapport. From that point of view, I think a lot of practices who feel that they are people-businesses even with their own staff, to try and get your own staff to harmonise, people are trying to do it online but they've missed that human connection.

I think that's been one of the biggest things. As much as I think it's been a huge mindset change for people to say: ‘yes, they can work from home’ and a lot of practices before who had an Industrial Revolution mentality of: ‘if I can see my workers on the shop floor then I know they're working’, they have now changed and they feel: ‘yeah, okay, we know we could do the work and we're grateful to the technology’, even though they may have had the technology before. But what they do miss and I think particularly for the more junior people, is the engagement with the more senior people where you feel somebody just looking over who just gives you that little bit of encouragement and says: ‘that looks good, well done’. 

DT: Yeah. Mentoring. 

DH: Mentoring, yeah. You don't get that. I think there will be a generation, probably the 2020 generation, of people, who will in the future have a skills gap here. And we will feel the full force of it, probably in about three to five years. It’s a bit like taking a line of people out.

DT: I wanted to ask you two questions here really. To what extent do you think the recruitment market is a bellwether for the broader economy, and secondly, do you think that architects are actually business-savvy enough?

DH: Really good questions. Are they a bellwether of the economy? Historically they have been a bellwether of the economy. You speak to so many practices and a lot of them are friends and you just say: how is it? How are you feeling? And how brutal is it out there? And you get feedback. They know that you've helped them build their businesses over the years, so they're quite up front with you. They're not selling anything to you. 

What I have said to myself is ‘look, do not go around trying to get recruitment work; don't do that’. But what you can do is just make sure people are okay. That's the very least as human beings we should be doing now; to make sure people are all right. The funny thing is, when you start to look out for other people, you often stop worrying about yourself, and it gives you more hope, you know? And even when you hear those stories of people who are saying: ‘Oh my God, you know we've gone down from 20 to 5 or whatever and then you say to them: but how do you feel? they say: ‘I feel calmer’. They feel calmer because they're not having to feel they have to generate the cash to pay for this number of people, but they're mindful they need to start getting work before they can start rebuilding their business. I think we're in that transition, which will probably be like this until the New Year.

By the New Year, people will be saying we have got to get on with this; we have got to get used to this, and they will start activating themselves. Also, that subconscious psychological jump into the New Year… you know we have the countdown by the London Eye and everybody says: ‘right, Happy New Year!’ and they genuinely feel it at that moment. Then, when the new year starts you go in and you think even the whole epiphany of saying to yourself: I'm going to make this a good year.

So, I think people go with the intention that they want to do that. But this year coming up, more so than ever, they want to be victorious, not a victim. It’s a positive mindset that will be coming through quite a lot, with the human spirit, human nature.

DT: And the business savvy question?

DH: You learn during these times, and they will be business savvy after this, but a lot of them are not, particularly the younger, smaller practices. If you've only ever had success, and you’ve just seen your practice grow and you have to deal with these kinds of times, it's really hard because you're seeing it for the first time and you panic sometimes. The main thing is staying calm at that point and saying: ‘look, this happens’. It’s like the ebb and flow of the sea. A lot of people need to experience this to feel calmer. Bizarrely I feel so much calmer this time round than, say, in 2008.

DT: Do you? Why?

DH: I do, because in 2008 it was so horrible – and it's not that this isn't, but this time round I kind of know what to do. I know how to behave, what to focus on, and in a way the world still turns, so you have got to pick yourself up and get on with things whereas in 2008 I thought well canI pick myself up? Having gone through it, then you say, yeah, I can, actually. And this time round you think, well, I can; it's just a question of: now the choice is whether you want to, and how much do you want to go for it, and how much do you want to move forward?  I think people are finding themselves as to what they want to do. 

A good thing has been that people that have never had an opportunity to stay at home, to look at their lives to look at their gardens, and grow vegetables. If you think so many architects are drawing about life that people should be leading, and not actually having that life themselves. It's not necessarily even down to the building; it is about the way we behave, and the way we live. I mean, you're a really good example, David, in a way. Your Instagram lifts me up quite a lot…

DT: Oh, thank you very much!

DH: Because you are always cycling, you're always on the beach…

DT: (laughs)

DH: You’re always looking like: here's a man who is enjoying his life…

DT: Yeah, er, I do a bit of work as well, I have to point out (laughs)

DH: I guess occasionally you do! (laughs) But the main thing is though, that you've kind of said to yourself in spite of whatever is happening in the world, there are great things to be done, and you don't necessarily have to be flying off to the Algarve or anything like that. You can be here and you can be doing things as simple as water, as simple as a bike. The quality of life. I think people have started to appreciate the quality of life.

I'm at Liverpool Street at the moment and it seems fairly empty, still. There are not many people here, and the roads are still pretty empty. But people are working and they choose not to come in. In my office at the moment, I’ve said to them, look, if you feel safe to come in, come in. If you don't feel safe, work from home. And it's interesting, because most people are choosing to work from home.

DT: But most employers are not like you in that respect. Do you think with the government’s ‘hectoring’ – I’ll put it that way – of people to go back to the office, people will feel a pressure to do that more?

DH: I think there isa pressure to do that more. But when you work together there are wins that you get by working with people and with the influence of the other people.  In practice, where you are working on a project together, you can often say some stuff just in passing, whereas when you're doing it online it can drag out a long time before you get to the same point. I get that, and it is the same with what we do. You can talk to someone and say: does that work? I think you miss the short cuts; but you win a bit of time because you’re not wasting so much time travelling, and to be honest you’re not wasting so much time in small talk. So you might gain by being at home three hours, but you might lose two hours by travelling and stuff like that.

DT: Final question, because we have run out of time. What's your one tip to a practice owner to get through this period?

DH: Your mindset is everything. So, my one tip would be: say to yourself: ‘I can do this, and this is the greatest test to me personally’. There are ways, and if I don't know I can go out and find the people to talk to. I can find ways to get through this and it will create innovation for me. I will be more innovative than I've ever been, and that's the way I've got to be.

DT: Brilliant. Thanks Del. That’s amazing. 

DH: Thanks for inviting me, I really appreciate it. Take care. 

The Wow Mind podcast comes out later this month


David Taylor

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ


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