Supporter's Column: Tim Bowder-Ridger

Conran & Partners management buy-out in the autumn of 2022 changed the structure and future of the practice - confidently moving themselves forwards, despite the political and economic context.

Stopping to Think

More often than not, big decisions are not made when things are going to plan, but rather are made at moments of uncertainty, and boy-oh-boy have we not all had our fair share of those over the last few years? With few moments of respite, we have had a relentless series of one national or global crisis followed by another. This started with Brexit, followed by the pandemic, followed by Putin’s murderous attack on Ukraine, followed by the energy crisis ...and then Liz Truss!

In amongst all of that, as a practice we lost our founder, Sir Terence Conran, moved out of our home of 30 years in Butlers Wharf, and could not get to our Hong Kong studio for almost three years, due to draconian travel restrictions. You really could not make it up!

So why did we (the ‘Partners’ of ‘Conran and Partners’) decide to undertake a management buyout last autumn, with all the risks that entails, just at the point when the world thought the UK was a political and economic basket case, and our industry, so reliant on the sentiment of the markets, was staring down a big hole?

Firstly, as architects and designers, it is in our DNA to be optimists and default to seeing the opportunity in every situation. We are far more than the problem solvers we as a profession often describe ourselves as being. Yes, the world has been determined to keep throwing hefty punches at us, but as painful as they have been and will probably continue to be, for our sanity, we have got to believe that the worst is over, even if boom times are unlikely to return any time soon.

Secondly, it might sound obvious, but we are very excited about where we could take the practice we all have invested years of our professional lives into building up. Over the last decade of Terence’s life, he gave us increasing space to take what he (with Fred Roche) had started in the early 1980s and drive the practice forward. In fact, he would have been very excited about the opportunities of designing for a very fast changing world without losing sight of the long view.

Thirdly, opportunities like this do not come around on a regular basis. We have long been dreaming of having actual, as well as our long standing emotional, ownership of the practice. This is where luck comes into the equation. We were extraordinarily fortunate that after Terence’s passing, amongst all involved there was a genuinely shared wish to continue his legacy and ambition for the practice, which made coming to a mutually beneficial agreement far easier than it could have been.

Finally, from a personal perspective, having spent the last 13 years as MD and then CEO, the buy-out enabled us to restructure the business with a far flatter top layer, where we now, as five equal Principals, equally share the burden of decision-making that once would have fallen mainly onto my shoulders. Reassuringly, as we know each other so well, this has not slowed the process at all, quite the opposite if anything.

There is always a bit of a personal journey in letting go and changing habits, but on reflection it is too easy to allow ‘career progression’ and responsibilities fog the reasons why we became architects in the first instance. My time is now far more focused on our craft and creative ambition, which is a privilege that is too easy to take for granted as we battle on. So to end on a note to self: don’t wait so long to stop and think.


This article was written by Tim Bowder-Ridger, Partner at Conran and Partners