Gareth Stapleton and Mace co-founder Bob White are behind an eye-catching young company with a growing reputation for solving problems. So how have the pair made such an impact in the space of five years and where are they taking Rise next?
Nearly 30 years ago Bob White co-founded a business that pledged to find a different way of delivering projects for clients.
Over the next two decades, that business grew to become a £607.6m-turnover firm, offering project, construction and facilities management.
That business was Mace. Then, in 2008, Mr White walked away.
Roll on 10 years and he is again at the helm of a company that is claiming to do things differently from the rest of the industry.
This time it’s project and construction management consultancy Rise, which Mr White runs with his business partner Gareth Stapleton and which celebrates its five-year anniversary this week.
What’s the secret?
Rise has been growing in reputation and size, winning major clients including Amazon, the Royal Opera House and the British Museum.
Its rapid rise inevitably begs the question: what is the secret to the company’s success?
Set up in 2011, Rise boasts that it offers tailored solutions for clients operating mainly in the property and construction sector. Despite being only five years old, the company has already faced forks in the road, with one of its founding directors Ian Eggers exiting last year.
But that hasn’t stopped Mr Stapleton as chief executive and Mr White as chairman from winning a number of major deals including a fit-out contract for Amazon’s new UK HQ in London and a multi-million-pound construction management job with regeneration specialists U+I this year alone.
Since its conception, it’s fair to say that Rise has built up a reputation for being very good at two things.
“It’s appalling… when the so-called ‘good companies’ do things for clients way beyond any explanation of time, cost and quality and they’ve done it for months wasting the client’s money”
Bob White, Rise
The first is that the company is a problem-solver – a tag Mr Stapleton is quite clearly happy to have, as he explains how it played a big part in one client’s decision to work with the team. The second, on the other hand, is the more controversial, prompting what can only be described as nervous laughter from the chief executive: project rescue.
“We probably have got the best part of 10 projects that involve an interjection at a point in time, either post-planning or on site,” Mr Stapleton says.
Rescue vs enhancement
Clients operating in the sector have been hit with a rapid rise in construction costs in recent years and are quickly trying to find better value for money, whether that’s addressing planning issues, changing contractors or turning to project and construction managers to reduce costs.
However, Mr Stapleton is quick to add: “I don’t think many clients would want their projects described as project rescue. Let’s not call it project rescue. We’re enhancing the value of their project.”
He certainly comes across as the more cautious of the two, choosing his words carefully, unlike Mr White, who in his own words, “is quite easily riled”. Mr Stapleton continues: “We are developing a model where we can step in and understand the project culture quickly and how we can add value.”
Rise Gareth Stapleton
What Gareth says about Bob
“Bob’s the builder of the two of us and that’s what clients like,” says Mr Stapleton (pictured).
“My background is architecture into management consulting and that is a very different skillsets than being somebody who has delivered numerous construction management jobs and knows how to build, but they are very complementary skillset as we see the market develop and change.
“He is tenacious, gets the job done and does not give up on any situation we face as a business, so he’s very strong. We can flip occasionally.”
Developer U+I had intended to deliver the second phase of its £150m Edgware project through a design-and-build contract but has opted to go down a construction management route, with Rise “to be closer to its supply chain”. The CM contract has a value of £36m, with a construction programme of 78 weeks.
Once it has been appointed to a job, Rise prides itself on its principled way of working. “[We don’t say], ‘Your scheme is fantastic and there’s a fee’,” Mr Stapleton asserts. “We are an independent consultancy and we should be giving sound advice.”
It’s here that Mr White interjects – that fiery personality revealing itself. He believes that some consultants are complacent on jobs and are failing to deliver value for money.
“We still have professional institutions which silo, manage and protect their own interests, and [as a result] there is this lack of young people coming into construction”
Gareth Stapleton, Rise
“It’s appalling,” he says, slamming a hand on the table. “This is when it really starts to bite and you feel the bile start to come up, when the so-called ‘good companies’ representing the profession do things for clients way beyond any explanation of time, cost and quality and they’ve done it for months wasting the client’s money.”
Mr White believes there is a reluctance to go against the norm on schemes, which he puts down to complacency. “Part of the problem is there’s not enough willingness to question it and I don’t know why. One of the problems with the British [generally] is we are complacent about everything – everywhere,” he sighs.
Rise of construction management
So how would Mr White sum up this move away from contractors, towards project and construction management? “Good business, to be quite frank,” he laughs, although this fades as he turns his attention to the wider discussion taking place around construction management today.
Issues around financing and risk-sharing have been brought up as sticking points within construction management of late, despite management consultants such as Rise, Tower 8 and Opera establishing themselves in recent years.
“There have been mentions of CM not working (recently) and all this sort of shit, and actually we know a few people who do CM and we’re all as busy as hell doing CM – so I wonder where this is all coming from,” he says.
Mr White believes this unease around construction and project management is being spread by quantity surveyors. “[QSs] want as much fixed-price work as they can get because that’s where they make money and have their influence,” he says.
Rise Bob White
What Bob says about Gareth
“Gareth is much more of a client-facing project manager than I am, in terms of his attitude and approach. He is a calming influence,” says Mr White (pictured).
“I’m a nutcase sometimes, it’s quite easy for me to get riled – not in a stupid way – but I do get cheesed off by occasional attitudes and people’s concerns about themselves over their business. Gareth tends to be a bit calmer about those things.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if some of my colleagues think I’m a right bloody idiot. But having said that, one of us has got to be – that’s part of the game: somebody has got to occasionally be Mr Nasty.”
The pair clearly have a bug-bear about companies and individuals who are out to make a quick buck, without wanting to put in the “hard graft”.
It brings them onto the wider discussion about the state of the industry and work that needs to be done to encourage younger talent into the construction sector. “We still have professional institutions which silo, manage and protect their own interests, and [as a result] there is this lack of young people coming into construction,” Mr Stapleton says.
“We could go on for a long time about the characters in the industry who talk about the issues and sit on various boards but actually don’t do anything – it’s just all talk”
Bob White, Rise
He believes professional bodies need to come together as “one major figurehead” to get younger people engaged in the sector. Mr White agrees and criticises some of the larger players in the industry who “preach” rather than act over some of the big issues affecting the industry, including skills.
“We could go on for a long time about the characters in the industry who talk about the issues and sit on various boards but actually don’t do anything – it’s just all talk,” he says.
Mr White is in a strong position to be questioning industry standards. Aside from having 30 years’ experience in the industry in senior construction posts, he has also held the role of chairman of Constructing Excellence.
His and Mr Stapleton’s passion to change the industry is genuine. “[We want to leave] some sort of legacy that says, ‘When those two guys got together something happened,’ because I think that’s very worthy,” Mr White says.
Rise Bob White Gareth Stapleton 1
Rise is proud of the young talent in its company (see box), the youngest of whom is 22 years old. Not to mention its diverse workforce.
“We’re not afraid to have some odd bods in the business,” Mr White says with a smile, before being hastily corrected by Mr Stapleton, who suggests that “mavericks” is probably a more appropriate word.
Both trained as architects. Mr Stapleton has 18 years’ experience in the industry, working for firms including Wilkinson Eyre and Hawkins\Brown, before developing a career in project management. One of Mr White’s earlier roles was at construction company Bovis (before it became Lendlease), where he worked with Mace co-founder Ian Macpherson.
“I have never got up in the morning and thought I don’t want to come to work. Apart from the fact I creak a bit more when I get out of bed, it’s the same”
Bob White, Rise
Mr White’s stature within the construction industry no doubt set Rise in good stead when he and Mr Stapleton started up, but he says this isn’t the reason for the company’s success. With the exception of developers Stuart Lipton and Peter Rogers, who Mr White worked with when he was at Bovis, most of the people he knew then have “disappeared out of the market”, he says.
So with many of his peers no longer working in the sector, what made Mr White start all over again and build a company from scratch?
“Stupidity – it’s ok, you can say the word, you won’t hurt my feelings,” Mr White jokes. “Quite honestly, I think [Gareth and I] feel the same: I have never got up in the morning and thought I don’t want to come to work. Apart from the fact I creak a bit more when I get out of bed, it’s the same.”
Rise Bob White Gareth Stapleton 4
An average day for Mr White starts at 5am – sometimes followed by the gym - reaching the office around 7.30am before most people are out the house. “That’s habit and I enjoy watching big cities waking up,” he says.
This contrasts with Mr Stapleton, who is the night owl of the two. His long commute in from the Cotswolds means he prefers to watch the city wind down. “I will be here later but that’s part of our working relationship where we have all bases covered in the working day,” Mr Stapleton explains.
“We couldn’t sell professional services to clients if they perceived we were looking to become a developer”
Gareth Stapleton, Rise
That close working relationship is evident from talking to them. “We end up finishing each other’s sentences because we are coming at [things] from such a similar thought process,” Mr Stapleton laughs.
When three became two
It’s easy to forget that Rise had a third founder, ex-Mace director Mr Eggers, who parted ways with the company last year.
“Over time Ian’s heart and interests moved into the world of development and that was natural separation for us,” Mr Stapleton explains. “We couldn’t sell professional services to clients if they perceived we were looking to become a developer.”
But it wasn’t only that. Mr White says Mr Egger’s approach to work was different from theirs. “He was so enthusiastic about being able to do something on a big job, like one that came up, that he just couldn’t leave it alone,” Mr White explains. “He was taking leads and opportunities and was trying to chase them down, [but we’d] think that’s not one for us, we’re not big enough.”
On site with five rising stars
Rise’s Bartams £30m project covers the construction management of 59 assisted living flats in Hampstead for client Pegasus Life.
The team consists of project manager Alex Wenden (33), construction manager John Gilleece (32), procurement and design manager Francesca Falzon (27), site manager Rob Farrow (29) and building co-ordinator Alma Uddin (27).
Construction is currently into week 18 of 100, with subcontractor Carey London making progress on the groundworks, sensitive party wall works and the frames of two out of the scheme’s four towers.
Rise says its young onsite talent provides “a good blend of experience and academic knowledge”, which is backed up by some of the firm’s more senior construction team.
“The benefits of a young team is that everybody is hungry to learn and keen to prove themselves while developing the invaluable knowledge of completing a job from demolition through to handover.”
It’s clear the Rise team wants to remain focused on project and construction management, rather than expanding out into other areas of delivery. So with that in mind, is it fair to say that becoming the next Mace is certainly not their end game? “We’re going to buy Mace,” Mr White jokes, not long before Mr Stapleton interrupts with an important clarification: “The end game is to not be like that.”
He explains that the first couple of years Rise had “that tag” of being a Mace spin-off, given that both businesses had been co-founded by Mr White and both their origins were firmly rooted in project and construction management. But Mr Stapleton adds: “We have set ourselves to have a slightly different market proposition, working with clients in the way consultants do – I don’t think either of us have a desire to have 7,000 staff.”
Rise Bob White Gareth Stapleton 3
So what’s next for the company?
First and foremost, Rise will be celebrating its achievements over the past five years by throwing a party. Mr White says the celebration date was put to a vote – “democratic as always” – and will be held in the “fancy” Hurlingham Club in Chelsea. Further afield, however, Rise’s story is far from over, as it plots a strategy to become more niche.
Mr White smiles as he explains that after demonstrating their competence in the market and winning plenty of repeat custom, the time will come in the next two years for the company to specialise in a certain sector and a certain type of work.
An exciting beginning to the firm’s next chapter – one likely to offer further proof that Rise is determined to stand out from the crowd.