Having spent the last 20 years in Lincolnshire, Johnny Dudgeon couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. The Director at Savills in Lincoln may be a Scotsman at heart, but this county has won him over.
Originally from Edinburgh, Johnny was brought up as part of a farming family — but being the youngest of five children, didn’t have the opportunity to farm himself. “Being in the land industry, a rural business, is to me the next best thing. That’s what led me that way.”
“I went to Agricultural College at Cirencester for three years and then qualified as a surveyor. I suppose at that stage in my early 20s, I didn’t know that I would necessarily have that career as a chartered surveyor, but I have no regrets.”
With a love of hunting, Johnny came to Lincolnshire for a Hunt Ball 20 years ago. He heard that there was a job going at Savills, so he bought a typewriter, had his wife type up a CV for him and handed it in. After a successful interview at head office, he never looked back.
“If you had said to me that I would end up in Lincolnshire, then I might have said ‘hogwash ‘as a Scotsman — but I have and I love it. I feel hefted to Lincolnshire now.”
Johnny has worked his way up through the company over the last two decades and has, for the last five years, run the office on Doddington Road. But this is only a very small part of his job.
“I’m a jack of all trades and master of none. I do arbitration work, expert witness work which is in the courts when there might be a judicial claim or a valuation aspect. I do estate management for a lot of private clients and institutional clients throughout the midlands and I do portfolio evaluation work which is for year-end accounts.”
Working with the courts
When it comes to going to court, preparation is key for Johnny. “Most of them get settled on the steps before you actually enter the domain, but providing you’re prepared, then it can be quite enjoyable.” However, court cases can come in all different shapes and sizes when it comes to property.
“There may be a valuation that was done some years ago and there is a statute of limitation of about six years, so it is in the recent past, and it might be judged to be wrong. I have been called in quite often as a joint court-appointed expert to reduce costs. If there is one valuation report done and if that is significantly different to the original valuation, then there can be a few sparks flying around in terms of why the original valuation was what it was.
“Each case is different, so sometimes it’s a house and some land, other times it can be just a farm. There are no two cases the same. That’s what makes it interesting actually, variety is the spice of life.”
Savills, which was founded in 1855 has grown significantly over the last 30 years as a national company, is the UK’s leading agency group by turnover. “This year will be the first time that we have turned over £1 billion. So it has come a long way in a short time.
“There is no aspect of property that Savills can’t deal with or get you an answer in a very short space of time. We are not all things to all people and we don’t try to pretend to be.”
Johnny couldn’t be prouder of the people in his team and believes that they are the strongest aspect of the company. “The people are fun to work with and work long hours as well as have a bit of banter. We know how to enjoy ourselves but we are professional.
“We are constantly evolving. My personal motto in life is ‘adapt or die’. I am a great believer in looking forward and I hope that we continue to grow the business.”
The future of the property market
Even though he is optimistic about the future, Johnny is realistic about what the election could mean for the property market.
“I think that 2014 has been a good year for Savills and the property industry. I think that in 2015, the election in May is going to cause some uncertainty, therefore I perceive, a level or steady start to 2015 in the property world because I think that some people won’t move till they know what the election will bring and what different taxation aspects will come through with a new government.
“With the mortgage market review that the government brought in, our research department is telling us that the mainstream market this year will be a bit more flat lining and have a modest growth, which I don’t think is a bad thing really.
“What we want is a sustainable marketplace. We don’t want the boom and bust scenario that we have had in the past. I think that part of the difficulty is we are only building 110,000 housing units in the UK in any one year and the government tells us that the demand is 240,000 housing units. So there’s a bit of a shortfall.
“I know that markets, certainly stock markets, don’t like uncertainty and that’s what we have at the moment. You’ve got the chance that there may be another coalition government but which pairing up, who knows?”
Effects of the crunch
It has been a trying few years for the property business but Savills have fared well under the pressure. “In 2007 everyone thought that the world was coming to an end. It was very tough as certain parts of the business were finding it very hard in terms of development for example, and there wasn’t much house building going on, and that’s when the market collapsed. Most businesses in the property sector, if they are being honest, would say the same thing.
“But what it did do was refocus attention on costs and issues for a leaner, meaner fighting machine moving forward as a result of that. I take a positive from that. Coming out of the recession, the company is on the up.”
Overall Johnny is proud of how they have fared throughout the hard time and what his team have done to help their customers. “We are heading in the right direction as a firm and we have been a good barometer of what has been going on in the marketplace. So I am very positive about Savills in terms of where it is going and its growth going forward.”
In his spare time, Johnny enjoys hunting and shooting game with his two sons aged 17 and 19. He and his wife, Biddy, who is originally from Lincolnshire, also enjoy to play tennis together.
This feature interview was first published in issue 14 of the Lincolnshire Business weekly magazine.