Having worked in the planning industry for nearly 25 years and managing his own successful business, Sean Hedley talks to BQ about his story so far.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words
Inspiring, motivating and driving the team forward. Three simple but effective words which guarantee success for our clients and us. I also invest considerable amounts of time with clients to understand what makes them tick and ensure we achieve, or often exceed, their project ambitions.
I’m a hands on manager, who enjoys the cut and thrust of negotiations to secure planning permissions and site allocations. Securing positive outcomes reflects the strength and robustness of your case but also your negotiating skills. Planning doesn’t stop once permission has been won - there are still many hard miles until delivery.
What is it the company does?
We are planning experts who assist landowners, developers, investors and private individuals to secure the best return or outcome for their land, property and assets. Our planning strategies unlock land and development opportunities; while the advice provided to national housebuilders, developers, institutions, and construction firms helps them plot a profitable path through the complex planning system.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
I spent five unforgettable years studying town planning at Newcastle University. This included a year out at Castle Morpeth Council in 1994, under the leadership of Hugh Edmundson. Interesting times: no mobile phones or computers - just a pad of paper and a pen.
My first full time planning job followed at Edinburgh-based national surveyors, Montagu Evans, where Roger Durman delivered a first class lesson in the art of being commercially aware. He was a highly intelligent, articulate man with a calming influence, who invested the patience and foresight to ensure those around him understood every aspect of the property world. He was inspirational in shaping me as a fair, even-handed leader, who has time to guide as well as listen.
Roles then followed with Barton Willmore and Knight Frank in Leeds before I returned to Newcastle, working in the planning department at Sanderson Weatherall on Grey Street. Again, a great experience as the role developed into a national one working across five offices including the larger than life characters in their Teesside office. My time with the firm enable me to become involved in specialist planning areas such as compulsory purchase and dealing with distressed assets.
It also fired my desire to go it alone, so I launched Hedley Planning Services in early 2013, drawing on my years of experience working with some great people, to deliver a commercially aware planning service which unlocks development in much needed areas. I also wanted to be involved in inspiring developments that challenge and change the way we see and use our built environment.
My first year of trading exceeded all expectations; working with inspirational people such as Andie MacKay at County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Authority to deliver the new Sniperley Station, redevelop the former HQ in Durham and a host of other new stations across County Durham.
We continue to go from strength-to-strength. We’re currently working with national housebuilders from Berwick down to North Yorkshire and beyond. Our skills and expertise will carry us into a brighter tomorrow, winning planning permission for major projects. Our future is clear: work hard, enjoy the moment and company of fantastic clients, and deliver planning outcomes that change the landscape.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
Patience, hard work, and the capacity to be humble.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
Unquestionably, it’s about getting the work/life balance right. Running your own business is tough, challenging and rewarding. However, nothing is more important than home life.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
I love a game of squash and more recently, table tennis - I think my days charging around a court are coming to an end. Meeting friends and family is also a terrific stress-buster, together with travel.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A footballer. I always wanted to play for Newcastle United (or Liverpool - the team of the 1970s). Meeting Kevin Keegan, one of my all-time heroes, was a joy, too. What a man - he just loves ‘it’ and life. I would have also loved to have been a judo instructor and meet Brian Jacks - one of the sport’s all-time greats - but I’m still working on that one.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
None, I love being in the office.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
There are certainly challenges ahead, but we have ambitions to continue to grow the business. I’m looking at expansion, with possible plans to open another office and invest even more in our great team.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
I remember Sean Fitzpatrick reminiscing about his time as captain of the all-conquering New Zealand rugby team. He explained that the All Blacks don’t necessarily do anything magical. However, they’re efficient and effective when it comes to the nuts and bolts – the basics. Simply put, get the fundamentals right, work hard on your core skills, and success will follow.
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