Advance to Mayfair: John Caudwell & Richard Bosson on PCL’s epicentre, philanthropy & delivering ‘the best building that has ever been built’

PrimeResi meets the duo behind the hugely-anticipated Audley Square project – mobile phone tycoon John Caudwell and his long-term friend and business partner Richard Bosson – to discuss how they plan to deliver a true legacy building in London’s Mayfair, and why philanthropy provides far greater rewards than wealth creation…

In a corner of London’s Mayfair, one of the UK’s most successful and high-profile businessmen is creating some of the world’s most luxurious – and valuable – residences.

The Audley Square project is transforming a former car park into a collection of 29 apartments and townhouses designed by US starchitect Robert A.M. Stern, which are widely tipped to smash all price records when they eventually become available.

As the scheme begins to take shape, PrimeResi meets the duo driving the venture – mobile phone tycoon John Caudwell and his long-term friend and business partner Richard Bosson – to discuss how they plan to deliver ‘the best building that has ever been built’, and why philanthropy provides far greater rewards than wealth creation…

John Caudwell

You have invested heavily in Mayfair, both personally and professionally; what is it about this particular part of London that attracts you? Are there any other enclaves (UK and globally) that hold similar appeal?

The more time I spent in London and got to know it, the more I realised that Mayfair was in fact its epicentre. Despite changing dramatically over the years, it retains so much character and charm and is home to so many beautiful buildings. If I ever wanted to go to a restaurant, it would be in Mayfair. It had the best shops, lovely classic antique shops. I came to realise that Mayfair was the future.

When it comes to property investment, location is without a doubt the most important consideration. The area I have invested in, in south west Mayfair, I like to call Mayfair Village. It hasn’t got much traffic and is not hugely commercial and yet you have all the hotels, restaurants, and amenities you need within a five-minute walk.

I have always been fond of the South of France, in particular Cap d’Antibes where I came across Le Provençal, a derelict Art Deco hotel from the 20s and 30s that I am now converting into exclusive residences.

Do you think the pandemic will have a long-term impact on this and other urban areas, or are you expecting a swift return to normality?

As the capital of the UK, London will remain timeless and resilient. Mayfair is inherently the best of London, even top of the monopoly board and will always be desirable.

There is no question that the super prime market has been prevented from functioning normally throughout the pandemic, but as we have already seen in the latter quarter of last year with significant uptick in interest and transactions in the super-prime market, there is still a huge amount of demand.

With considerable pent-up demand from international buyers, and provided there are no significant changes, this is something we expect will only continue as travel restrictions ease, especially for the right product.

You are one of the most successful businessmen in the UK, but super-prime property development is a highly specialist area; where does your passion for real estate originate, and do you have any advice for achieving success in the field?

I have always loved property. My first property was a two-up, two-down in my hometown of Stoke-on-Trent. I was penniless in my twenties, but friends lent me the money to buy it as a home for me and my wife. The house had a little galley kitchen, maybe four-feet-wide. One Saturday while my wife was out, I got out a sledgehammer and started to knock down one of the walls. Unfortunately, I ran out of time and left a hole in the outside wall, where the RSJ rested. That remained so long that the birds built a nest in it. I’ve come a long way since then.

Unlike my father’s generation, I understood from an early age that equity in property was just as valuable as money in the bank, so buying investment property has always been part of my portfolio.

My strategy has never been to build purely for profit, but to create a legacy of beauty, creativity, and quality

When I sold my last business, real estate seemed the obvious choice for me. Not only does it give me more time, but it allows me to be creative. I have always had the ability to visualise the final product and see past the dereliction, to create an exciting transformation. My strategy has never been to build purely for profit, but to create a legacy of beauty, creativity, and quality. My focus became longer-term projects where we could afford to take our time to build something that will stand the test of time. I wanted to create properties that leave a legacy and that will still be there in 300 years’ time.

Are there any particular buildings that inspire you, in the UK or around the world?

While I’m in London I would say the Natural History Museum is a particularly inspiring building, with its Victorian Gothic architecture inspired by the natural world. It’s a landmark with rich architecture that has stood the test of time, a legacy we are aiming to achieve for Audley Square.

Your residence on Chesterfield Gardens has been called “Britain’s most expensive home”; is the finished article exactly what you were after and is there anything you would do differently? Do you have a favourite room, or design element?

I spent a long time looking at every aspect of the space planning, to make the house work in the best possible way, to have the most magnificent rooms and to have the right balance of facilities, that would be expected of a residence of this size and quality. The project took longer than we anticipated because every detail, no matter how minute, was meticulously considered. All of this expertise, passion and quest for perfection has been transferred to Audley Square, and even reinforced significantly with a world class team. It would be very difficult for me to find something that I would do differently because it’s a spectacular house in every way shape and form.

I have so many favourite rooms but one in particular is the ballroom, the one I use for charity events. Every time I visit the room it takes my breath away, it’s a very formal, yet spectacular space for entertaining guests.

You have committed to giving away 70% of your wealth to charity. Do you have any practical advice for others looking to give back?

I believe that those who are most privileged have a moral responsibility to give back to society

Charity is at the forefront of everything I do, and I don’t understand why it’s not a priority to other billionaires or high net-worth individuals. I believe that those who are most privileged have a moral responsibility to give back to society. What’s more, when they do, they are likely to find – as I have – that philanthropy provides far greater rewards than wealth creation. There are an unprecedented 2,755 people who have made it onto Forbes’ 35th annual World Billionaires List.

That’s 660 more billionaires than a year earlier and rising. And yet, I am one of only 231 of the world’s wealthiest who have so far signed the Giving Pledge. [NB: as of Dec 2021]

What is the best advice you have ever received?

One good piece of business advice I was given was decades ago, when I was building my business and trying to get staff to work with as much dedication as I was. I went to a young Presidents organisation event where another entrepreneur in the audience asked: How do you get good people? The speaker’s answer was very simple: Pay the money.

I went back to my office, reviewed all our salary packages, and then looked at how I could afford to pay more when filling new positions. More money doesn’t automatically get you the best people, but it does attract the highest calibre of potential recruits, from which you can select the best person for your role and your company.

Audley Square

Richard Bosson

The Audley Square project is a long player, due for completion in 2025. Do you enjoy the process of the development or are you more motivated by the finished article?

The reality is that the day-to-day stuff is a constant battle to make sure that everything is perfect, and that we have catered for anything that the buyer could ever possibly want. Everything needs to be thoroughly considered, from the layout and facilities through to every minute detail. We must ensure that everything is finished with meticulous care, more so than in any other development that has been delivered.

The motivation is the finished article and to be able to look back upon completion and say that we have created the best product that has ever been built.

Many are expecting the apartments at Audley Square to break record prices when they launch. Is this something you’re aiming for and how would you describe your key ambitions for the scheme?

Our aim isn’t to create price records, our aim is to deliver the best building that has ever been built – we’ve got the best site, the best team, in every aspect we have always chosen the best of the best, to allow us to achieve this. We have appointed the celebrated and world-renowned Robert A.M. Stern Architects to design this building. This will be Robert Stern’s first project in London.

We cannot dictate the market or what people are prepared to pay, the only variable that is in our control is the quality of our product. In doing this, we are utterly dedicated to create the highest quality product that will be our legacy and a legacy for London. The objective is to create a property which will still be here in 300 years’ time and still admired for its top of the pyramid status.

A raft of world class developments launched in Mayfair in recent years, including No 1 Grosvenor Square, the Four Seasons Residences and Mandarin Oriental’s branded scheme on Hanover Square. How are you planning on setting Audley Square apart, and where are you expecting demand to originate from?

We have built our team around creating the finest residential building that has ever been built. If we succeed in our ambition, then our Audley Square development will be the highest quality building ever built.

All our competitor sites are either part refurbishments, had to retain their façade or had restrictions on facilities because of basement levels, but ours has none of these constraints

We also have a massive starting advantage over the other sites, as our site was not compromised from the outset in any way. All our competitor sites are either part refurbishments, had to retain their façade or had restrictions on facilities because of basement levels, but ours has none of these constraints. Our professional team have been completely free to design a new building with every aspect of quality being the highest priority, over that of cost or any other consideration.

In terms of where we expect demand to originate from, London is a very international market and so we are expecting buyers to come from all over the world. The only thing that we can’t yet predict is the impact of Covid on that, and the extent to which travel restrictions might continue to affect buyers’mobility. Hopefully, long before the scheme’s completion the world will be free of restrictions, but if not, that might skew where our buyers come from due to the logistics of travel.

Have any elements of the project been amended in light of ongoing pandemic driven trends?

The simple answer to that is no. Of course, our team are doing anything they can to mitigate virus transmission risk and make the building virus proof, making small tweaks here and there, for example, installing different air handling units. Fundamentally though, pandemic driven trends havenot impacted the building, from the layout to the quality, it’s all exactly the same.

Your other projects in the South of France have been selling well. Why did you choose this location and what has been key to its success so far?

Similarly, to the Audley Square development, Le Provençal, situated in a prime and desirable location on the Cote d’Azur is the most beautiful and iconic 1920s Art Deco building. It was the place to go during the 20s and 30s and frequented by celebrities and politician’s alike including Charlie Chaplin and the Kennedys but it was completely derelict when we purchased it. The location is part of Le Provençal’s fundamental beauty, and our plans are to regenerate this building into beautiful apartments applying the same principles of quality and attention to detail. The completed building will set a new standard of luxury and design in French Riviera living and will undoubtedly have a reinforcing effect on the desirability of Cap D’Antibes in the Cote d’Azur.

We haven’t yet completed Le Provençal, but we have completed the Parc du Cap development, which as you pointed out has been selling incredibly well, even throughout the pandemic. There are several reasons for that, the first being quality. We have also created a totally secure, luxury, lock-up-and-leave residential development where people can enjoy a high-quality secure lifestyle, with full concierge services and the convenience of the beaches and local amenities on their doorstep. Equally, the development is in a prime location within a short distance of Nice Cote d’Azur airport.

Caudwell’s Parc du Cap development on the French Riviera

What one change would you make to improve the way the property development process works in the UK?

I wouldn’t change much. I think the most difficult thing is assessing the viability of a site before purchasing. For example, it is difficult to know limitations in terms of planning and enabling issues until you are already quite invested in the site. It’s often hard because as developers, you’ve got a vision of what can be done but you don’t necessarily know until you purchase a site, that what you think can be done, is possible. There’s a lot of risk.

If I could change anything about the property development process it would be to introduce more general planning guidelines for a site, which divulge more information on what can and cannot be done, before any development site goes to market. That being said, it is a difficult problem to sort!

How do you think policy makers and developers should address the issue of housing inequality in London?

London is such a vibrant and diverse city which is what makes it so amazing. We as developers must facilitate this so that a variety of people can come and contribute to the life of the city. We fully buy into this at Caudwell, and we have already done something which many developers have not, which is to deliver affordable housing in the heart of Mayfair. Our delivery on Farm Street, has been designed by MSMR Architects and, testament to its quality, has won the Affordable Housing category at the British Homes Awards 2021.

What is the best advice you have ever received?

That’s simple – work hard. Without any shadow of a doubt. There is always an element of luck and certain outcomes outside your control. But, the one thing for certain, is that hard work and skill help to produce the best possible result.

This interview was conducted before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. John Caudwell has since offered to sponsor a Ukrainian refugee family and host them at his home in Staffordshire. More here