Bricks, balls and bevvies: Remembering John Rowan
You know our motto, people thinking about people. But as we celebrate 40 successful years in business, we’re thinking about one person in particular. John Rowan, our founder who passed away in 2006 and left a towering legacy that defines everything we do to this day.
A well-known colourful character in property industry circles of the 80s, 90s and early 00s. While some of those who worked alongside John have since retired, many of his earliest hires are still in the industry and still working at John Rowan and Partners.
So, here’s a little about the man himself, what he believed in and stood for, in the words of the people who knew him best.
Unorthodox from the start
If you cut John, he’d bleed Yorkshire. His approach to life and business was bold, grounded and outgoing in every sense. Unsurprising that he’d cause a splash in the London scene, it took him a while to get there. He didn’t go into property until relatively late in his career, first working as a baker for years in his native Bradford.
Thankfully for us, John finally decided that baking wasn’t his life passion and he decided to make his bread elsewhere. In 1982, he set up shop in his own front room in Ealing. It was a gamble but he had a secret weapon: he knew how people work.
He didn’t go about seeking jobs through the normal, noisy channels. He developed relationships down the pub or through his other lifelong love affair, football. John was fundamental in the creation of the RICS football team, helping to organise the early tours to the Eastern block and plan the games.
Being both handy on the pitch and fantastic at building relationships started winning him contracts from engineering firms and local councils. By building on these relationships, he started to grow the company and soon it was time to start hiring.
Expansion and early success
John is responsible for a lot of long-lasting careers at John Rowan and Partners. His first few hires joined him in his home office, where the atmosphere was relaxed but hard working.
To begin with, it might have looked strange for the boss to show up to work at 10am, in his own front room no less, when others had been there since eight.
However, it all made sense when you realise that he’d been up working until three in the morning. Sometimes that meant taking care of business, other times it meant networking with new clients in London’s clubs and restaurants. You can take the lad out of Bradford, but you couldn’t take Bradford out of John Rowan.
That easy-going nature seeped into every facet of the business. John hired talented, motivated people and left them to do their jobs because he trusted them implicitly. In turn, they trusted he was doing what he did best: winning work and growing the business.
The team expanded steadily by word of mouth or encounters on the football pitch, famously he once put a job advert out asking for footballers who could also do a bit of quantity surveying!
When you ask many of the current Equity Partners why they originally joined the business, the answer is often similar – they were fed up with their job and looked at what was going on over here. They saw a business with a clear direction, delivering great results and having a laugh at the same time. In many cases, jumping ship was a no-brainer.
One of these young bloods was Andrew Nycyk, now an Equity Partner and our Head of Hospitality and Leisure. He recalls, “I got to know John while I was a student. End of my first year, would’ve been 1984, I sent loads of letters to loads of firms. Got replies from virtually nobody but John was local to me and he said, look, I’m happy if you want to come sit in the office for a few weeks and I’ll talk to you.
He always had the ‘gift of’ the gab, you could say. And he didn’t mind rejection at all; he’d call somebody and he wouldn’t care if they hung up 50 times. He’d get them on that 51st try. He kept the business fed, he’d love to see how people have matured into their roles 25, 30 years on.
He was also a champion for putting family first, back in a time when that often wasn’t the case – he lived for his boys and would leave work at the drop of a hat if they ever needed him.”
Always focused on the next step
Even as the business got bigger and bigger, John retained his keen eye for talent. He was a pro at taking promising newcomers under his wing and helping them navigate their early careers. It was personally important to him that people felt they could achieve their professional ambitions on his watch.
That’s not always the easiest burden to take onto yourself. When recession hit the UK in the 90s, it came with redundancies for the business. Those who remained had to take on extra duties, including cleaning the office. Yes, the toilets too. It was tough for John to take, but he’d never ask anyone to do anything that he wasn’t prepared to do himself.
Pulling together, the company survived the hard times and got back on its upward trajectory. By that time, our fearless founder had discovered a knack for marketing. A natural communicator, it made sense for him to use his unique voice on behalf of his business, but he had to work hard. It was only late in life that he got a formal qualification from the Chartered Institute of Marketing.
One of John’s early mentees was, Mash Halai, now Chairman of the company. He remembers, “John never cared about rank, he would take you under his wing and put a huge amount of time and effort into you. For me, he was instrumental in teaching me about marketing and business development. Back in the 90s, it was all about large events, but I remember John saying, ‘right we’re changing this, we’re getting targeted with our networking – it’s time to focus on building those one-on-one personal relationships at all levels,’ and that became our strategy that we use to this day.”
This drive for lifelong development became a core part of our ethos. In fact, so much personality and philosophy came across in his marketing that we don’t need to ask ourselves ‘what would John do?’ It’s right there in blue and white. Our values as a business come direct from things he said and did over an incredible career.
Marian Rimmer worked closely with John throughout the 90s and still works with the company in finance. She remembers, “I got my first secondment opportunity for a Plc client, basically, from John telling me, ‘You can do this, there’s no reason why you can’t!’ He had that belief in you, that you couldn’t see yourself. He would push you to achieve things. That’s my fondest memory; he pushed me in ways that I wouldn’t have thought of myself.”
A proud legacy for a unique individual
All of us at John Rowan and Partners are his living legacy. Forty years of delivering outstanding results for our clients, career development for many of our team and having a giggle with one another at the same time, that’s all John. He was a real human being who set us that example of being our better selves.
We know he would be proud, and pleased, that not only are the people that he once trained now running the business, but that the business still holds true to company culture and values that were intrinsic to him.
Of course, nobody’s perfect; John had a fondness for painful dad jokes and microwaved sardines at lunch during what became an annual ‘diet’ period. That second one nearly started a mutiny. But what stays with us will always be his charm, wit and determination. A fighter to the end, it’s fair to say they don’t make them like John anymore.
Whatever you end up doing to celebrate our anniversary, spare a thought for one of our industry’s rarest, most authentic characters.