If Sam Elkington, 56, has learned anything from his love of rugby, it is how working as a team is crucial to achieving targets and the same applies to business. He has always held of the view that usually the best team will succeed and he feels that this is the case with Hodgson and Elkington.
Having studied land economics at Sheffield City Polytechnic and qualifying as a Chartered Surveyor in 1982, Sam decided to take his career into his own hands with his then business partner Chris Hodgson, and set up Hodgson Elkington in 1990. But the history of the firm goes back longer then that.
“I was a partner in a firm called Earl and Lawrence, founded in 1867, of which Chris Hodgson was also a partner in. We sold that business to Prudential in 1986. Then in 1990 when the Prudential wanted to get rid of that business, we took the commercial element of the business and the residential management and set up Hodgson Elkington in November 1990 with a total of 12 staff.”
Thanks to existing clients coming over to the new firm, it gave Sam and Chris a solid foundation. But starting a new business during a recession was certainly challenging along the way.
“When we set the business up we thought that the recession would be over, but it actually lasted until 1996. That was a very big challenge, but we held the business together during all that and grew it. Property goes in cycles, just like the economy goes in cycles and even during the last recession, which was very property focused, we have managed to grow the business. We have grown the business every year since it has been formed. We have never seen a backwards step.”
Knowing the market is Sam’s strength and he has played to his it to survive. “In a recession there are people and businesses who are facing different challenges. There is still a sale to be had, or a letting to be had of that stock. So it is having the ability to have good clients and then just being able to see the challenges, adapt to them and shift the business focus accordingly.”
Along with his current business business partners, Dan Race, Tim Shaw and Marie Gutteridge, he feels that Hodgson Elkington is continuing to grow after they recovered from the untimely loss of their former partner Stephan Bradford in 2012. The company will be celebrating its 25th anniversary in November.
Picking the right team
Sam believes the team is just as important as the leader. Hodgson Elkington now employees 35 people of all different backgrounds. “I am a big believer in encouraging youth. So we see graduates come through the business to get qualified and then stay. We had three of our graduates qualify last year and they have all stayed with us and been promoted, so they are all chartered surveyors and we have another graduate starting next month.
An ongoing concern with many businesses in the county is being able to obtain the right skillset in their employees. “We have to recruit nationally sometimes, but when we are looking for employees, we try to look locally and then look at what skill sets they have, and if they are clearly team players on their CV, then this can help in the selection process because we are a team.
“To me if someone is playing in a sports team or the like, then it is more likely that they will adapt to a work environment where there is a cross section of 35 people, that’s two and a bit rugby teams.”
It is not just the employees that make up Sam’s team, the clients are a major part of what he believes makes the perfect match. To say that the company had succeeded in obtaining a strong client base would be an understatement.
“We pride ourselves in giving a very personal strong service to clients. With certain clients, we are dealing with the third generation of supporting them. We have acted for grandfather, father and now we are acting for the son. Because we have a good cross-section of skills in the business, we have been able to adapt to the clients individual needs.
“Over the years, I have concentrated in building up those client relationships and also identifying property opportunities. We have some working relationships that go back over 30 years and I have some clients that have been with me all of the time.”
Sam focuses on the long term relationships with all of his clients, whether they are private or public sector. “Long term relationships are what this business is built around.”
Getting a business boost
The business was able to grow every year, which is something not many companies can boast. The real boost for Hodgson Elkington came when both Sam, Chris and their other business partners decided to move out of Lincoln city centre and into premises on Doddington Road.
“A defining moment for HE was the move down here. We came here in September 2005 and sensed that there were opportunities to be had in the property market and that by having well presented modern offices, if we presented ourselves correctly, we could grow the business significantly.
“The business grew 25% in the first 12 months and we have kept that level of business and grown it further the 10 years that we have been here. That growth in the first year showed what latent growth there was in the move here. It is better for clients to come and visit us because for a lot of our clients and people coming into Lincoln, it means that we are very accessible.”
As Hodgson Elkington Chartered Surveyors expanded, they decided to move away from the residential industry, selling HE Lettings, which was run by Sam’s wife Jill, to Countrywide.
“The residential lettings and management business has changed significantly over the last five years. We took the decision to sell it. We had been made a good offer that was opportune to accept and that enabled us to concentrate on this.”
Sam’s proudest accomplishment has been the success of Teal Park which is 90 acres of employment land and a prime site in Lincoln for businesses. This project has allowed Hodgson Elkington to help their clients interact in a range of areas such as negotiating with the county and district councils and highways authorities — but most importantly making sure that Siemens was retained in Lincoln and located on Teal Park.
“Because clearly that puts the stamp on Teal Park as being the premier employment site in the East Midlands, with two further development schemes expected to start later this year.”
Working on the end game
There is no challenge too hard for Sam as he takes everything in his stride. “You look at the challenge that you’ve got and you break it down. You work out what the component parts are and then how you are going to tackle each one to achieve the goal at the end. It sounds very simple but it does take a lot of thought and also having the vision to see the opportunity. Being an agent you have to be in there first because there are few prizes for coming second.
“I do a full day’s client work as well as run the business which makes it very challenging and means long hours. I have a very understanding wife so she is fully aware of what it entails. But if you like it, and you enjoy your job then you just need to get the work done.”
This feature interview was first published in issue 30 of the Lincolnshire Business weekly magazine.