Anniversary celebrations!

26 November 2020
  • Cooke & Arkwright Managing Director Andrew Gardner
  • Cooke & Arkwright Managing Director Andrew Gardner with Robert Evans and Michael Lawley
  • Cooke & Arkwright Managing Director Andrew Gardner

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To mark our 120th birthday, we’ve spoken to some of our longest-serving staff members about their experiences of the commercial property sector over the past decades, and their insights on the future landscape. First up is Managing Director Andrew Gardner, who has been with Cooke & Arkwright for 35 years.

Tell us briefly about your journey through C&A and your current area of work

I joined the firm in August 1985 as a graduate to embark on what was then called the TCP (now APC).  I trained as a General Practitioner, a recognised category of practice at the time which today would be defined as the commercial pathway. I started originally in a department dedicated to ground rent sales, as the firm managed substantial ground rent portfolios. This was part of the professional department and so I was also involved in valuation and some rating work.

When the firm decided to open in Bridge Street in Newport, I was sent as an assistant to the commercial practice where I dealt with all commercial agency and professional work. It was a very varied role and a good training ground.

I then returned to Cardiff office where I was the assistant to Robert Knight, our former Senior Partner and to Mike Lawley, our current Chairman.  My work ranged across general professional responsibilities – security and asset valuation, landlord and tenant, and development.

My current role is as Managing Director which I combine with on-going general professional work for retained private and public sector clients.

How has the commercial property landscape in Wales changed over the past four decades?

Wales has had to adjust to the decline and changes in traditional industries, and some sectors have often had tough cycles, particularly in more remote places given the geography and character of the Welsh landscape.  Cardiff commands a strong profile and has attracted significant investment from both the private and public sector over the years. It is interesting to cast my mind back to how the city centre looked before the arrival of the Capitol centre and St David’s, and to remember Cardiff Bay before the Development Corporation transformed it.

The WDA (Welsh Development Agency) had a massive role across Wales, especially in the provision of the industrial stock and its role to facilitate the investment of businesses into the area. Its legacy remains, but in some respects, we would benefit from more of that role today.

What do you consider to be the firm’s biggest achievement to date?

I am bound to say our longevity foremost, now at the age of 120!

We always pride ourselves on our relationships and commitment to our clients. Some of our loyal client relationships, that we are privileged to still have, are in excess of 50 years old. I find that remarkable. We have to take great care as the current guardians of the firm, that we continue to nurture and service such clients to the very best of our ability, and at the same time provide equal support to new and emerging clients who have a hunger to invest and commit to the area.

Our achievements have been largely due to our people. We aim to recruit the best, commit to their ongoing training and development, and work to keep them. Our track record in this respect is exceedingly high. Most of our board started with us as graduates and have worked their way through the firm to lead their own departments.

Are there any stand-out property instructions or memorable occasions you’d like to share?

Every year the practice demonstrates why we maintain such a high profile in the property world by supporting some of the biggest and best deals in the market, and I am very proud of the many awards and accolades that the respective teams have regularly won. I recall when as a young surveyor, I observed the talents of our former Chairman, Roger Thomas when he was involved in the biggest deals of the time such as the BP Portfolio, Fitzalan Court and Dumfries Place, to mark just a few.  I recognised then that we were among the “big boys” and I am pleased to say we still are, as I witness a talented new generation of our surveyors carrying on where he left off.

Our structure has always allowed us to stick with clients through their journey. A great example of this is to look at the Plasdŵr development. Mike Lawley has worked for 20 years in supporting the client to deliver this amazing project. Cooke & Arkwright is woven into the Welsh canvas; we have played a part and helped to shape the form of many towns and cities of Wales.

Your 35th milestone has coincided with the firm’s 120th anniversary and a global pandemic! What have been the impacts and how is the business adapting to the changing landscape? 

2020 will not go down as my favourite year!  Like everybody we have had our challenges in adapting to the pandemic, which came on top of losing our valued colleague and dear friend Rod Perons. But we have coped well and hopefully will emerge from the other side more agile and flexible. We have always striven to be dynamic in our approach to work and up-to-date with the best technologies, to respond to client and market needs.

We trust in our people – they are our greatest asset – and they have all committed with loyalty and dedication, to help us through such a difficult time. 

Can you say something about how we have performed this year and invested in staff etc?

This year has been difficult for all businesses but we remain very busy. We always hold our own and continue to grow, but at a pace that suits us and responds best to our clients’ needs. We have continued to recruit graduates and qualified surveyors in different parts of the business and have fresh and energetic new talent emerging. This is of the highest importance to us. We like to have teams where new blood is always coming through to keep departments resilient and well prepared for the future.

Beyond the office, how do you like to spend your time?

I am very dedicated to horses, which is my life-long passion, and specifically dressage. I have had the good fortune of travelling all around the world (at least prior to the pandemic) in my capacity as an International Judge, and had hoped to be in Tokyo last July to officiate for the Olympic Games. Hopefully this will come to fruition in 2021, with the pandemic being behind us.

Cardiff Waterside is a significant property holding for Aviva Investors at almost 500,000 sq ft. Our experiences show the benefit of working with a regional specialist where occupational markets can be unlocked with a good team with excellent local contacts. Ben Bolton and his team have done this for us for many years and been fundamental to our success and a very low void rate in Cardiff.

Matthew Leach, Arriva Capital Waterside