Oooh, the glamour! Last week I was in Sheffield on Monday, I was in Birmingham on Tuesday. And I was in... er... the Dorchester Hotel, Park Lane, on Wednesday morning. Well, somebody has to. I hope to get around to telling tales from all of this, but in the meantime, let me tell you this: what goes on tour certainly does NOT stay on tour! I have come back brimming with ideas and new contacts (not to mention a shed load of sites to give the lovely Jon Bull-Diamond of JLL a bit of a headache, ha-ha! Bread-on-the-water JBD, don't you dare complain!). It's been a right giddy whirl!
And I was OK, you know... at least, I held my own, with my new vision. But I seriously did meet my match on any sort of "vision-thang" that night! The keynote speaker, Lee Strafford, just blew me away. What a top bloke! And what big ideas! Indeed, Mr Strafford made me look somewhat unambitious in my (modest and unassuming) aim of turning around the fortunes of regeneration in the UK. I have never met a bloke with a bigger picture.
Now, Lee Strafford (should be called "Lee Sheffield") was the man who made his name with the Sheffield internet provider PlusNet, which he took from 7 to 200+ people and from £0 to £100m market cap, with the company eventually being sold to British Telecom for (a mere) £67m. And all this before he was barely out of his twenties. Scary, scary bloke. He is what I think you would term a "boutique disruptor". He was controversially "let go" from PlusNet (victim of being a Big Man with threatening ideas, I reckon; there was certainly never any impropriety proven) and has spent much of the time since the sale of his company working with Sheffield City Council and the two Sheffield Universities with a view to helping to create more technology start-ups in the region and establishing better support for existing technology businesses.
This just has to be the way to go. In December 2010, Lee became a founding private sector board member of the Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership, and, boy, are they lucky to have him. He is working with a specific focus on the creative and digital industries agenda for the city region, a key driver for economic growth as a whole in the city region; and I think they're pretty well starred.
Mr Strafford is renowned for getting a little carried away; John Mothersole, CEO of Sheffield City Council, was running a book on how long Lee would speak for, with the happy result that £50 was raised for charity with no effort at all. But in the most luminous collaboration on cloud computing and data centre technology, I would put money on Sheffield truly succeeding on a global platform as a high-skilled high-earning City region.
And the lessons from all this collaboration, for the regeneration and the property sector, are clear. Hats off to my OBF Martin McKervey at Nabarro (and to my NBF Tim Bottrill at Knight Frank) for hosting such a bold brave contribution to our thinking. As Keith Shivers of Vinci (also there that fateful evening) observed so admirably and succinctly: "If Lee Strafford's vision was to be truly embraced by our industry, life would be a much better place". And, as I say, the food (and its PR) was OK too.