How do you even begin to sum up Tom Bloxham? Founder and chairman of Urban Splash, a company which has made a huge contribution to the regeneration of Manchester over the past quarter of a century. Chair of the Manchester International Festival, a trustee of The Tate and Manchester United Foundation and former chancellor of the University of Manchester.
He was awarded an MBE for services to architecture and urban regeneration in 1999, was a member of the judging panel for the RIBA Stirling Prize in 2007 and last week was named Property Personality of the Year at the 2016 City of Manchester Business Awards. He is currently working on HoUSe, an exciting new bespoke made to order scheme which is turning new build housing on its head. He also happens to be the first person I worked for when I came to Manchester.
I caught up with Tom at Breakfast with Bloxham hosted by Downtown Manchester at the Piccolino Caffe Grande.
What got you started in your field of work?
An expensive beer habit is one way of answering that. After I started college, first selling records and then posters. I was crap at that. I managed to secure 6000 square feet at Affleck’s Arcade and made more money from subletting the space than I did from selling the posters. I just fell into property like that.
Who have been the biggest influences on your work?
I’m not sure there were really any big influences. I suppose I love great architects, walking round the city and being inspired by so many great buildings you see, and wanting to do better than the mediocre ones you see. Then of course, people like Richard Branson, whose career I’ve followed quite closely. And a whole host of Manchester businessmen I’ve been inspired by over the years.
Tell us one thing about yourself people might be surprised to hear!
I’m actually the world’s least musical person. You know how at school, no matter how bad you are at playing instruments, the teachers always encourage you to keep going? Well, I was the only kid at school they actually told to give up I was so bad.
What is your proudest achievement so far?
The next one. Actually two things. Seeing crappy old buildings that are derelict being converted to things of beauty, to buildings that win awards. And the other thing, the best definition of leadership is surrounding yourself with the right people that help you achieve. I’ve been lucky throughout my career to do just that and I’m proud of that.
What does your typical day involve?
I wake up about 7am. I will be at work by 8.15am. If I’m in the office every minute will be spent in meetings, taking conference calls. If I’m not in the office, I travel to most of our sites to see how things are going. Plus I like to get out and about and meet people. You don’t find new business sat in the office. So there’s no typical day, but when I’m at work, I’m working hard.
And how do you relax on your days off?
I like drinking, I like socialising, I like cross-country skiing, watching United, and going on lots of holidays. Those sorts of things.
What is the best advice you have been given or can give?
There are two sorts of people in this world – those who think they can, and those who think they can’t. And they are both right. It’s about being ambitious, about being optimistic and about being positive. Another way of putting it, if you don’t know what your destination in life is, you’re unlikely to ever get there. It’s about being focused.
If things hadn’t worked out, what else could you have seen yourself doing?
I always wanted to be a pop star! Only two things stopped me. Talent and ambition.
Red or Blue?
Name your three favourite places in Manchester
I love the Castlefield Basin. It’s the most amazing criss-cross of all the touring canals, the original transport interchange of the world’s oldest railway station, some great bars and open spaces. Secondly, Cotton Field Park New Islington is a recently rediscovered part of Manchester and the first new park built here for over a hundred years. It’s a great new development that will be one of the best new places to visit in Manchester. And the third one, the Town Hall in Manchester, is an amazing example of gothic architecture which shows the civic pride of the leaders then – Manchester businessmen.
If you could change one thing about Manchester, what would it be?
More primary schools and more parks in the city centre. Encouraging more young professionals to not just work, but also live here.
And finally, what do you love most about Manchester?
People would be the easy answer. But more than that, particularly in these times of Brexit, I love the way Manchester has always looked out. It has always been a very welcoming city. Look at some of the names of the streets and buildings, Poland Street, Bengal Street, India Buildings etc. It’s a trading city, built by migrants. Still so. Irrespective of where they are from, it’s where they are going that counts.