In the latest in a series of interviews with the region’s place makers for the Christmas period, Place North West asks David Topham, chief executive of developer CTP, about his proudest achievements and why his alternative career choice was being a chef.
Why did you choose a career in property?
I was brought up on building sites at weekends and holidays. If one wanted pocket money, the building site was where to get it even if the shovel was bigger than I was, until later years. My family was in construction and my father was an architect, so buildings and making them was in my veins. However, it was when we got into commercial development that I realised it was this part of the game I wanted to pursue and be a part of. The creativity and delivery is what interests and excites me.
Who was your mentor and what was the best piece of advice they gave you?
Two people have made a lasting impact on me: James Welsby, the esteemed Manchester chartered surveyor, and [surveyor] Keith McCormick, who I worked with after a long stint he did at Manchester City Council. Respectively, they taught me courtesy and respect in all one’s relationships, and to listen and try to anticipate the other side. I hope I have lived up to their excellent example.
What building or project do you wish you’d delivered?
Bloomberg’s HQ [on Finsbury Square] in London.
What key lesson have you learned from 2020 and the pandemic?
The future is always uncertain and it’s never easy to forecast, but equally there are always solutions to what seem like intractable problems. Work hard, be diligent and show patience.
What was your lockdown hobby? Did you get ‘Covid-fit’ or gain the ‘Covid stone’?
The school run for Clara, aged four, has been my unexpected pleasure and hobby in lockdown, which – but for Covid – I would never have done on a regular basis and once that time is lost, it is lost. It was an unexpected and pleasing silver lining.
Spend or save? What was your most extravagant purchase, and what are you saving up for?
Spending on good wine, local bread , wild fish and tasty cheese, and saving for a luxurious break sometime, please!
Are you a rebel or a conformist?
A conformist rebel!
What keeps you awake at night?
Too much cheese, and thoughts in the early days of lockdown of what the financial impacts of all of this would be. We have an end in sight now and the hit to confidence will abate as next year dawns.
What is your proudest achievement?
During lockdown, it was mastering the technology to keep in communication with my tribe and contacts. Over the years, my proudest achievements have been marrying Marie-Claire (a real coup and punching well above my weight), and my family. Professionally, I am proud of the delivery of St Paul’s Place in Sheffield, and The Round Foundry in Leeds.
What’s your biggest regret?
That it took three attempts to get marriage right!
What’s your top wish for 2021?
A flight to somewhere…Anywhere!
What was the best book you read this year?
Mao by Jung Chang – 814 pages – and Chris Patten’s East & West, written in 1998 after the handover of Hong Kong in 1997. It was evident then, in reading these books, just how China was to evolve and emerge on the world stage in the present day, with its shocking brutality and total disregard for dissenting voices, cultures or human rights. How should we respond, is the big unanswered question.
If you hadn’t gone into property, what would you have done?
I would have been a chef. I was brought up in a hotel and love the hospitality game.
Of your own projects next year, which are you most excited about?
Pall Mall Gardens in Liverpool will emerge next year as the city’s new top offices location. It is really exciting.
What trend do you believe will have the most profound impact on the placemaking industry in 2021?
The awareness of the importance of good public spaces, offices and the workplace as an experience, and environmental, social and governance issues will come to the fore, driven by the investor community.