Mash meets...
John Rowan and Partners

Mash meets Paul O’Connor

Welcome to our first Mash Meets video podcast, where we get to know a little bit more about people we work with and those within our business. This month, we’re talking to Paul O’Connor, who heads up the RDR team.

Mash: Hi, Paul. So obviously I’ve known you for a very, very long time, but for everyone else’s sake, tell us a bit more about you and how you ended up at John Rowan and Partners?

Paul: I’ve been with John Rowan and Partners for nearly 25 years. After completing a construction and surveying GMVQ at the College of Northwest London, I faced a choice: continue my education or seek employment.
Unsure of my path, but leaning towards quantity surveying, I consulted the Yellow Pages. Among the two quantity surveying firms listed was John Rowan and Partners.
Ealing was close to my Northwest London residence, so I wrote to them, introducing myself and my plans to pursue an HNC in surveying. That letter began my journey with the company, and the rest is history.

Mash: Then you suddenly met me, and the rest was history -is that what you’re saying?

Paul: I cold mailed and got an invite for an interview with Tim Young. Most of the conversation shifted from my academics to my footballing abilities mentioned in my CV.
Interestingly, Tim joked about not employing me when he learned I played as a goalkeeper, the same position he played.

Mash: But you did replace him! And you became the choice for the RICS even, as well as the John Rowan and Partners team.

That’s right yes, so I was able to then play for the RICS through John Rowan and Partners at the time and, I did actually take Tim’s place. So maybe he shouldn’t have offered me that job.

Mash: I think you were definitely a better goalkeeper, Paul. So, 25 years is  along time! What’s one of your memorable moments? You might have more than one?

Paul: I’ve spent a significant amount of time at John Rowan and Partners, both professionally rewarding and personally, having also met my wife here!
A standout phase in my career was around 2011, during the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquakes. An ex-colleague from Miles Construction reached out, seeking Kiwis who might return to New Zealand to handle the sudden influx of work.
At that 11-to-12-year career juncture, I was contemplating a change, even considering the Middle East. With no Kiwis available to return, I volunteered.
My tenure in Christchurch was transformative. Reflecting post-experience, I understood the depth of my personal and professional evolution. I worked closely with the business owner, managing and nurturing a new team.
This 15-month experience wasn’t just about the job; living amidst the aftershocks taught me resilience and empathy. It wasn’t just an assignment; it was a journey that significantly shaped my professional trajectory.

Mash: And it’s probably quite rewarding, having seen that devastation all around you. And helping rebuild a major city?

Paul: Upon arriving in Christchurch, the devastation was more severe than research indicated. It felt like a war-torn city. My initial day was overwhelming; by evening, I questioned my decision. It took a few months to adjust culturally and professionally, but I embraced the experience.
I made lasting connections, including with Al, and I cherish my time there. This venture, facilitated by John Rowan and Partners, became a pivotal part of our international expansion, spanning New Zealand to Dubai.

Mash: We’re always quite adventurous, aren’t we? And then you came back to the UK, met your wife Lily, and most recently you’ve been promoted to head of the RDR team, so just explain what RDR is, and what we do to support clients?

Paul: The Residential Development and Regeneration (RDR) Team, within John Rowan and Partners, primarily serves public sector clients like housing associations and local authorities.
We also collaborate with private developers, especially in joint ventures combining public and private sectors. Essentially, we’re the new build development arm of the business, often playfully termed as the “sexy side.”
Our main offerings encompass project management, joint venture supervision, and commercial support. However, this doesn’t confine our capabilities. When asked about our role, I’d say we’re adaptable and ready to address any challenge presented.
Essentially, we’re problem solvers. Think of us as the “Ray Donovans” of the new build sector—efficient “fixers” who find solutions and alleviate clients’ concerns.

Mash: In terms of your recent promotion to head of RDR, (filling some big shoes). what’s your vision and plans for it?

Paul: So yes big boots to fill! That comes with its own pressure and especially given the legacy and vision of the team and business. While we’ve worked closely and maintained a consistent vision, I anticipate some minor changes in our approach. Our primary focus remains ensuring the team is motivated, always going the extra mile for clients, and doing so with team spirit and positivity.
The industry is undoubtedly facing challenges. From global events like COVID, geopolitical tensions, and Brexit to industry-specific events like the aftermath of Grenfell, we’re in a tough spot, which I often describe as the “perfect storm.” These events have added layers of complexities and costs to our operations. Conversations with clients and partners reveal a similar sentiment; it feels like everything’s against us.
Yet, I firmly believe in our resilience. The need for social housing and affordable homes persists. To navigate these challenges, our approach must be adaptive. We must think differently, find innovative solutions, and diversify where necessary. Despite current hurdles, I’m optimistic that with time and effort, the situation will stabilize, and we’ll move forward, focusing on our core mission of building.

Mash: Well, we’re still going to be here fixing problems, but I think you’re right. You and I have the experience of going through a few recessions and downturns in the marketplace and, but we’ve always remained resilient, strong, flexible, agile, and that won’t change. So, what do you think the clients RDR work with value the most at the moment?

Paul: Our business thrives on the personal touch. We consistently go the extra mile, emphasising building genuine, trusting relationships with our clients.
This trust means they can reach out to us anytime, knowing we’ll find solutions and address issues promptly. Many clients we’ve worked with over the past 25 years return to us due to this relationship. Trust is crucial; if clients trust us to always deliver, they continue to partner with us.
Our approach is about more than just business—it’s about genuine connection. We communicate directly, are pragmatic, and always strive for fairness, even when faced with conflicts. This approach ensures lasting relationships and effective problem-solving.
It’s all about the personal touch.

Mash: Absolutely right. People thinking about people!  So, final one for me. You’ve been here 25 years. what’s kept you here? What have you enjoyed the most? And, and you can’t say because of me!

So, I can honestly say it’s not you, Mash. But seriously 25 years ago, when I first walked into the office for my interview, I felt an immediate connection with the warm environment and the genuine people. This feeling has remained unchanged over the years. The core values that guide my personal life resonate deeply with how our business operates. We prioritise and care about our people, both those we work for and with.
John Rowan, the man behind our name, epitomised this ethos. Contrary to my initial impression that he might be a distant figurehead, he was present, approachable, and deeply involved. His approach set the tone for the entire business – personal, accessible, and devoid of any hierarchical pretence.
The relationships I’ve cultivated over the years with colleagues and clients are testament to the nurturing and family environment we’ve fostered. Our philosophy is not just about work; we believe in striking a balance, ensuring that there’s room for fun and camaraderie. At its core, our company feels like a family, united by shared values and a genuine care for one another.
And it’s not all work, work, work, we have plenty of fun along the way, we’re definitely a family.

Mash: We certainly live by our value, working hard at having fun and having fun working hard!