Steve Burne, former managing director of AEW Architects, prolific networker, fundraiser, and friend to many, has died of a rare form of cancer, aged 48. Tributes to Burne have been made from across the property industry.
Burne started as an architectural technician and quickly rose to become director and then managing director of AEW Architects, based in Manchester, before leading a management buyout of the company in 2010. While growing the practice to 75 staff, and focusing on bringing in new business from the industrial, sports, leisure and commercial sectors, he was a familiar face on the property networking circuit, and worked hard to promote the industry through his involvement with the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce. According to one of his closest friends, Ian Sherry of Glenbrook, he “built a successful business, but once he had clocked off he was great fun, had an infectious personality and was always the last man standing on a night out.”
In May 2017, Burne found out he had a rare form of cancer in the shoulder and chest, called synovial sarcoma. The following month he stepped away from the frontline of business to focus on fighting the illness, but by October had been told the cancer was terminal. He was given a few months to live, and just weeks after the terminal diagnosis almost died when he suffered several cardiac arrests. This near death experience made him particularly focused on doing as much as he could with the time he had left, and he set an ambitious target to raise £250,000 for Ronald McDonald House, a charity he had been involved with prior to his diagnosis. McDonald’s and later Ronald McDonald House were clients of AEW.
Ronald McDonald House provides accommodation so families can stay together near hospitals while their children are being treated. Burne hoped to raise enough money to provide three new rooms for the charity in Manchester, however due to a massive effort from himself and fundraising teams across the property sector, he had to increase the target twice. The total raised currently sits at £380,000, enough to deliver five new rooms, a memorial garden, and the refurbishment of existing rooms. More than 50 teams contributed to Burne’s JustGiving fundraising page, and Burne himself was staggered by the level of support.
Burne is particularly remembered as being very sociable, a keen networker, and a regular speaker at events for the Chamber, Women in Property, and Ronald McDonald House fundraising dinners. Even in his final six months, while undergoing chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and multiple operations, he still appeared at events and spoke on stage to encourage people to give to charity. His several catchphrases over the course of his illness sum up his character: “life is beautiful”, “fuck off cancer”, and “I’ve got cancer, it hasn’t got me.”
In his final months Burne was especially focused on making memories with his three sons Daniel, Adam and Sebastian, taking them to Manchester City football matches, and rejecting doctors’ advice in order to take some last family holidays abroad. Eddie Bredenhann of Pochin’s said: “Steve never did anything in halves. He approached the last 18 months the way he approached everything; he gave 100%, he was immensely stubborn, he wouldn’t give in. He dealt with his work life, family life, and social life in the same way, he gave it everything.”
Sherry continued: “The fundraising showed just how many people had affection for Steve, it was something really unique and not something I’ve experienced before to see so many people rallying around one person.”
Andy Critchlow, managing director of AEW, said: “Last week we lost a superhero. All our thoughts are with Steve’s family, in particular his boys, Daniel, Adam and Seb. We will continue to honour Steve’s legacy with our work and future fundraising for Ronald McDonald Manchester and the Steve Burne Charitable Trust.”
Alex and Vicky Russell, from Property Alliance Group, said: “We’ve been lucky to have worked hard and played hard with Steve in life, sharing a love for property, Jägerbombs and Ronald McDonald House, which he inspired us to get involved with almost a decade ago.
“Keeping families together through this great charity is something that we will proudly continue with and build on his inspiring legacy. We will miss him dearly at the Ronald McDonald House Charity dinner in November, where so many of his friends from the property industry will celebrate his courage and passion for life.”
Michelle Rothwell, founder of Watch This Space, said: “When I was setting up my business, Steve was always there to talk to, he gave advice and always had something positive to say. He was never someone who would just sit back, or complain about something without trying to change it, which was why he got so involved with the Manchester Chamber of Commerce. He wouldn’t just talk, he’d act, which is what he did right up to the end, raising so much money for charity.”
Chris Cheap, senior director of GVA, said: “I think we all identified something in Steve that we hope to have in ourselves. A motivation to turn all the emotions of fear and anger into a positive force. I did some fundraising for The Steve Burne Rooms, not because Steve was ill as the illness didn’t define him, but because Ronald McDonald House is simply a great cause championed by a man who believed in it so much. I knew Steve as a businessman, leader, fundraiser, inspiration and friend and will remember him for smashing each of those roles out of the park, whether chosen or placed upon him. Farewell pal.”
Kate Healey, director at Inform PR & Communications, said: “Steve and I have known each other for over 10 years, firstly meeting through work and then finding we had a mutual appreciation for good rosé. We would often call after a property event for a debrief on the night’s antics! Over the last few years, he became a closer friend as a dad at the same school as my children and an adviser in helping me to set up and grow my business – often telling me not to work too hard. He was a great support to me and I hope I was to him – I’m very proud to call him my friend.”
Stella Bowdell of The Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce said: “Steve supported the Chamber for many years and was a vice-president of the Chamber board. He was well loved by the whole team, not just for his commitment to the Chamber and his work in the sector, but for the sense of fun that he always brought, and his genuine interest in and support for the team here. He was always really nervous when he had to deliver keynote speeches, and he usually remedied it (at the evening events at least) with a few glasses of wine beforehand. But he didn’t need them, he was always on form.
“We were proud to announce last week that our annual Apprentice of the Year Award will in future be called the Steve Burne Apprentice of the Year, to thank Steve for his work in setting up the award in 2013 and supporting young people in the industry that he loved so much.”
- If you’d like to donate to Ronald McDonald House through Steve Burne’s fundraising page, visit: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/steveburnerooms