Thirty years in property and investment

10 December 2020
  • Graham Davies Investment Director Cooke & Arkwright Cardiff
  • Graham Davies Investment Director Cooke & Arkwright Cardiff

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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. Today, we hear from Investment Director, Graham Davies, who has been with Cooke & Arkwright for 30 years.

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

I have always had an interest in buildings and the built environment, and my initial plan was to be an architect. After school I studied Architecture at University of Wales Institute of Science & Technology (now Cardiff University), but it became clear that what I enjoyed more than ‘design’ was the economic and legal factors that affect buildings and development. Therefore, after graduating at Cardiff I was fortunate enough to get a place at Magdalene College, Cambridge to read Land Economy. This was an amazing experience on every level and provided a route into the property industry.

After Cambridge I wanted to return to South Wales (primarily to continue my then rugby career). I joined Cooke & Arkwright in the summer of 1990 and started in the Retail Dept where I went on to gain my MRICS qualification. One of my first instructions was as letting agent on the then newly developed Capitol Shopping Centre. That seems a lifetime ago!

In early 1993, the firm’s Partners decided that they would like to form a dedicated Investment department. I was invited to apply and was ‘interviewed’ (I remember very intensively) by the late Robert Knight, along with Roger Thomas and Ian Metcalfe. Despite there being more capable and experienced candidates, I was given the job and under the initial guidance of Robert and in later years, Roger, set out on what has been a fantastic journey.

From day one I was given huge opportunity and so much independence to do the job. I am indebted to the trust shown in me, both then and now, by my colleagues and my clients!   

How has property investment in Wales changed over the past three decades?

Back when I started, it was some feat to persuade investors to ‘cross the bridge’! Thankfully over the last 30 years the profile of Wales, and of commercial property in Wales, has grown massively and so has the nature of investors. Commercial property is now a sophisticated investment sector and the use of technology and data is a far cry from the landscape I faced when starting out.

One of my first instructions was acting, jointly with Healey & Baker, on behalf of the Welsh Development Agency (WDA), to sell their industrial portfolios. This was a huge learning curve but provided invaluable experience. Marketing meetings were held with at-the-time property giants: David Rowe-Beddoe, the-then chairman of the WDA, now Lord Rowe-Beddoe; Sir Paul Orchard Lyle, and Robert Knight along with John Barber, an associate from Healey & Baker - and me. It was sink or swim!

Today, all investors – from institutions, private equity, family offices and property companies, to high-net-worth investors from literally, across the globe - have Wales on their radar. Adapting and evolving and being entrepreneurial whist always striving to give best-of-class local knowledge has, and continues to be my goal, whoever the client or investor is.

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

Most of the deals done in my early career were with old-school property companies and private investors, many of which continue to be clients to this day.

One stand-out deal was the purchase of Portmanmoor Rd Industrial Estate for Helical Bar PLC, for whom we went on to carry out a number of landmark deals in the 1990s. Portmanmoor was my first ‘big deal’ of over £5m, which at the time was a seriously large transaction for South Wales. As part of the process, I attended a meeting in London with Roger Thomas and the legendary Mike Slade. I must say I learnt more in the hour-and-a-half we - well they - discussed the deal, than from all my subsequent CPD sessions since! We completed the purchase on the same day as my first daughter was born, in October 1993.

I have been ever so fortunate to act for some terrific clients and over the years been involved in some landmark transactions. I have also been given the scope to expand the geographical boundaries of my activity and carry out instructions, particularly acquisitions, right across the UK.

I have always focused on a relatively small group of clients to understand their specific instructions and, I believe, gain their trust. I have also enjoyed forming a network of reliable contacts across the UK with whom we have partnered on many occasions to ensure best possible advice to clients.

Your 30th milestone has coincided with the firm’s 120th anniversary and a global pandemic! How has your area of business been impacted and how it has adapted and performed?

Property investment is constantly evolving. Market conditions, whether they be impacted by economic or financial markets, the political landscape, alternative investment performance, or as has been the case this year, a global pandemic, all impact the supply and demand of commercial property. Not one day has been the same, but I must say 2020 has been the most challenging year, even worse than the months following the financial crash in 2008. But as a department we continue to explore every available opportunity and I genuinely see a little light emerging as we head towards 2021

What are your thoughts on how the property industry will develop over the next 10 years?

In terms of property advice, there will be more and more reliance on technology, data and financial analysis, all set against a global backdrop. Property will also be progressively impacted and will need to adapt to meet the “carbon neutral” world society is progressing towards, while lifestyle and working habits (as we have seen in 2020) will also shape the specification and location of much commercial property. However, I hope the personal element of the industry will remain central to how the industry operates. It is by far and away the part I have enjoyed most throughout my career. 

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

Family and friends are very important to me, even more so now as I have just become a grandfather!  Spending time with my three daughters and wider family and friends is when I am most content, ideally over a good meal and with a nice glass of wine.

My rugby playing days are long gone but I remain interested in sport of all types and I try to remain as fit as possible and regularly get out in the fresh air. Music has always been a huge part of my life. I really enjoy playing the piano and I am very involved in the local church where I live.

Lastly, my wife and I love to travel. We hope we will be able to tick off a few more of our ‘would love to visit’ locations, post pandemic.

Cooke & Arkwright advised ABP over the life cycle of its major waterfront mixed use development schemes in Cardiff and Barry. The quality and commitment of their people working alongside us were a key factor in the successful delivery of those schemes.

Byron Lewis, Estate Surveyor, Associated British Ports