Career view: James Groombridge of Acorn Cardiff

This week’s interview on a highly successful career in housebuilding is with James Groombridge, who has made his way through a number of roles to become regional managing director for Acorn Cardiff, the Group’s division in South Wales.

Please tell us a little about yourself and your role.

I am a family man with four wonderful children and live in a delightful part of Wales in the Wye Valley. As regional managing director for Acorn Cardiff, my first task was to establish the Acorn Property Group brand in the area and let the market know we are serious players in the land market.

A large proportion of my role is based around land acquisition and helping to design the bespoke homes that make Acorn Property Group stand out from other developers. That said, I am heavily involved in all projects from acquisition through design, planning, construction and sales as well as financial reporting.

What career path has brought you here?

I left school at 17 and started work in estate agency before getting my first role with a housebuilder in my early twenties, based in Guildford, Surrey. From there I spent the next 15 years in sales and marketing roles in the industry and got my first director’s role aged 30.

Before joining Acorn Property Group, I spent most of my career working for large industry players including ten years as a managing director for Barratt David Wilson.

I have relocated more times than I can remember, working across southern England, West Midlands and South Wales.

When did you first become interested in a construction or housebuilding career?

I wish I could say it was planned but I just fell into property development and was soon hooked. It’s been 35 years now and I am old enough to recall a time when sales offices, show homes and directly employed sales staff just didn’t exist.

There have been huge changes in the whole sector since then and not just on the sales side; build quality, design and customer care all play a much bigger part now. And, of course, the fact that we are developing sites that are much more complex.

My love of development has rubbed off on my children with both my son and eldest daughter embarking on careers in the sector.

Have good careers advice and the support of family and friends been vital to your progress?

Developers need to do far more work on promoting the sector, starting with solid careers advice. There is a general perception that housebuilding is easy but it is hugely complex.

How many jobs these days cover buying the raw material (land), designing the product and getting approval, manufacturing the product, then selling it and finally dealing with customer care? Not many sectors provide this ‘whole life’ opportunity.

What is it about your current position that you really enjoy?

I have been part of the Acorn family for five years and I am constantly learning and facing fresh challenges.

We have completed our first two projects in Wales – an apartment scheme with sea views at Ogmore-by-Sea and a city development, Cathedral House in Cardiff – and we are underway on another three: a coastal regeneration project, The Links at Porthcawl; a rural new build development, Cottrell Gardens in Bonvilston; and Bookers Edge, a new homes scheme in Hay-on-Wye.

It is brilliant to see the effort taken in design becoming a reality and it is something to be really proud of.

Are there any past mentors and projects that have been particularly inspiring?

I have had two main mentors. Nigel Davies was group director for Crest Nicholson, who I worked with for almost 10 years; he developed a brilliant sales culture and training programme. During my 13 years at Barratt, it was Geoff Hester. He guided me, pushed me hard and supported my progression to MD. I still quote many things he taught me.

In terms of projects, it has to be my current one, The Links at Porthcawl. I had tracked this site for over 10 years but knew Barratt would never be brave enough to do it. Once I joined Acorn I started talking to the owner and we are now jointly developing.

Half the 70 apartments are in a Grade II listed building and it has been a real joy to give the building a new lease of life.

What is it about working for Acorn Property Group that you find most rewarding?

The great thing is you never know what’s going to land on your desk next. I have always taken pride in all the projects I have been involved in but at Acorn I feel I can make a real difference and deliver projects that are really quite special.

What’s your advice to those considering or applying for a job in housebuilding right now?

Just do it. I have no regrets about devoting my working life to the sector. How many career paths can see people progress from a sales advisor to managing director, or an electrician to construction director? Try to understand what really interests you and follow that path but do not be afraid of making changes.

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