Roy, it’s over 20 years since you and Nick Denning founded Procol. What inspired you to start the company in the first instance?
I had over 10 years’ experience working with Nick in the office furniture industry and during that time we saw many companies install our furniture badly. So… Nick and I thought “we could do that so much better than this”, and that was the embryo idea that eventually led us to start Procol. Our first customer was Telecential, a cable TV and telecommunications company. At the time, the telecoms industry was changing massively, and we would get a call to say “we have a new office… please refurbish it within 6 weeks!”… so we did!.
What have been some of the most notable changes in office design since then?
Design is very much like the fashion industry, trends come and go. 20 years ago we were all anticipating paperless offices, hot desking and networking hubs – most of which has come and gone at least once!
We’ve seen more people working in an ‘open plan’ environment, with better integration of managers into the workplace, and less people ‘lost’ in offices. New technology means smaller office equipment and therefore smaller work stations – so gone are the large corner desks to hold huge screens and personal printers and in comes more space that can be used creatively for meeting and fun.
What kind of project do find the most enjoyable or fulfilling?
I have always loved the technical challenges and have been proud to see Procol take on and deliver the projects that other companies fear. More recently, the expansion of Procol into the serviced-office market has created new and different challenges, and it’s been very satisfying to see us master that too. The refurbishment of the former British Legion building in Melksham was our first serviced office… we now have three. We have always designed a luxury look and feel to the buildings. Initially it was like a ‘field of dreams’ moment… “build it and they will come” – and come they did! It is so nice to see our cherished tenants move in and enjoy sharing space and time with us.
What kind of project presents the biggest challenges?
The larger mechanical and electrical projects can include complex infrastructure, equipment and technical challenges. Technology is always changing, but in fellow director Jeff Moore, we have a great asset as he is an expert at keeping up to date with (and ahead of) all these changes.
What would be your dream project – and why?
We once worked with a Microsoft Partner and were given the brief to “Create me an environment that none of my employees will want to leave!”. We love to design creatively with leading-edge green technology in the background. I enjoy any project that allows striking designs. The media companies such as Google or Facebook seem to be constantly changing, and they would perhaps provide that next big challenge.
You’re about to take a sabbatical and sail from the UK to Malta. How long will it take – and when will you be back on dry land at Procol HQ?
The trip will take about 57 days including 8 rest days, and covers over 3,000 miles (depending on the weather of course!). We will be stopping off in around 40 ports in 10 countries before we get to Malta, and I plan to be back in the office in early July.
What are you most looking forward to about the trip?
The Challenge of the Bay of Biscay is something all good sailors like to tick off their lists! Just to prepare the boat for a voyage like has been challenging. As an ex-marine engineer, it’s been very rewarding to do so much of the work myself. The reason I like to sail is that it takes you back to nature, and tests your skills of harnessing the wind and tides. It is a personal test of stamina, confidence and decision making for me, and something that I have dreamt about for many years.
Are there any parallels between sailing and running a successful office design business?
Yes, there are many! Both rely on having a good crew and having harmony among that crew. It’s easy to understand that in both scenarios, you will only arrive at your destination if the crew works well together. The main difference is the sole responsibility you have as the Skipper of a boat, versus the collaborative way we work at Procol, which is much more participative, and relies on people owning their own responsibilities.
Partly as a result of this approach, Procol is now mature enough – and has enough talent – to allow such a sabbatical. Naturally, I extend all my thanks to my trusted friends in the company that will keep Procol running smoothly whilst I’m away. It’s only their support that makes something like this possible.