My first role in property was as a humble labourer working on building sites in and around London, so you could say that I’ve learnt the trade from the ground up.
It’s been quite the journey from there to becoming CEO of a growing luxury construction firm with annual revenues of over £12m. It’s certainly felt like a rollercoaster ride at times.
Growing up in northeast Poland, London was always talked about as this ‘promised land’. People my age were going over to find jobs in construction or on farms, but I actually had my sights set on something altogether different – becoming a professional pianist.
As fate would have it, an accident during my teens ended any hopes of a professional music career. I didn’t have a whole lot of options, and I began to give some thought to trying my luck in the UK. At age 18, I pooled my resources and hopped on a plane to London. I had about £200 to my name; it wasn’t the time to be weighing up career choices, and finding work of any kind was the name of the game.
I’ve always been a good networker. After a short spell working the night shift in a food-packaging factory, I was able to talk my way into a job with a small construction firm owned by a friend of a friend.
I started out on site, pitching in on home renovations and developments across the South East. I soon realised that working on the client side was a much better match for my skill-set than pouring cement. I managed convince the owner to try me out in sales.
Now that I was finally in the right role, I could really throw my heart and soul into my work. I spent a good few months travelling in and out of London, setting up early-morning meetings where I’d pitch for construction work.
It was hard graft, but I loved every minute of it. After a full year in the role I’d succeeded in doubling my employer’s annual revenues more or less single-handedly.
At the same time, I was hungry for something bigger. Here I was young, nothing to lose and living in one of the world’s hottest real estate markets – so why not start my own business?
I saw a gap in the market for a luxury construction business that catered exclusively to a high-net-worth clientele. I’d spent the past few months selling to countless successful business owners and executives at FTSE 500 firms.
What they all had in common – other than plenty of money – was that they appreciated quality when they saw it.
These were people whose professional lives demanded the utmost perfection and attention to detail – why should something like renovating a house be any different?
I’d also learnt that they were prepared to pay a bit more for a service if it meant a great end product, and the peace of mind that comes from not having to worry about setbacks or missed deadlines.
It might sound like a pretty simple concept, but you’d surprised at how many smaller firms struggle to deliver these kinds of assurances. When ordinary people talk about the construction industry, it’s always in the context of shoddy workmanship, or projects going over time and budget.
From the very start, Finch Lockerbie was all about offering the highest quality construction services, while instilling a professional, corporate mindset with regards to customer service and project management.
I launched the company out of a small office in Richmond with a skeleton staff of three. We turned over around £200,000 in Year One; it was a solid start and it proved that the idea worked. I’d made a point of only hiring the best workers and craftsmen on the contracts we’d taken on. This meant our profits weren’t huge to begin with, but our work did generate plenty of repeat business and referrals.
Soon enough, we got our first big break. It was a multi-million-pound contract to re-fit a Georgian townhouse on Old Queen Street. The entire eight-storey building was being converted from an office complex into a luxury private residence by a group of private investors. They ordered the works: marbled fireplaces, cantilevered staircases, an oak-panelled study, pearl-coated joinery – no expense spared.
We thrust all our energy into making sure the project was a success. The quality of the finished product was so high that the property ended up selling for more than twice the original purchase price.
This is when things really began to take off. Word spread, and with offers flooding in I brought new people into the business, including Greg Bell – a 35-year industry veteran – as head of operations. Having someone I can rely on entirely to manage things on site frees me up to focus on client management and on growing the business.
We doubled our sales in Year Two – and then again the following year. By the end of Year Four, turnover had risen by nearly 6,000% since we’d started trading – that’s unheard of in this industry.
People often ask me for the secret of our success, but it isn’t really down to one thing. We’ve not had to spend tens of thousands on advertising, for example; it’s all about building the brand organically through hard work and providing a great end product.
I’m ambitious. I want to continue growing Finch Lockerbie and adding new services and markets. At the same time, we can’t let our standards drop or lose sight of what makes us different to all the other firms out there.
Ultimately, it’s my job to make sure every client we work with receives five-star treatment. That’s our business model, and no amount of success will ever change that.
Jacob Lorek is a London-based entrepreneur and business owner. While his commercial experience extends to a wide range of different industries, his primary expertise lies in the high-end residential and luxury construction sector.
Since entering the real estate profession in the late 2000s, He has been successful in founding and scaling up a number of thriving companies, culminating in the creation of his core business, Finch Lockerbie, in 2013.
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