David Clements, chief executive of FUTURE Designs, speaks about maintaining success through recessions
Photography Gareth Gardner
Those who can recall 1991 will remember the colossal interest rates of 16 per cent and unemployment in the heady heights of eight per cent and still going up. Many homeowners were plunged into negative equity and were literally posting their keys back to banks and building societies as their repayments soared monthly, whilst their properties’ value plummeted far lower than their original value. This was the most severe recession of my lifetime.
That all seems a long time ago but to me it will be remembered for forming FUTURE Designs (FD). Not exactly the most buoyant market to start a new company, plus none of the banks wanted to lend a penny to a start-up business. What I didn’t realise then but I am ever grateful for now is that I had to make a business successful without credit accounts, no overdraft and virtually zero reserves. It taught me that cash is king, so treasure it like a prized jewel, insist on getting paid on time, take no excuse, and pay your suppliers because they are the lifeblood of your business.
Fast forward 10 years and we are at 9/11 – we all know where we were that day, when the world had to contemplate a new level of terrorist threat. This triggered another recession in which the construction industry was particularly badly hit. Then in 2008 came another unforeseen event, the collapse of Lehman Brothers. The image of the trader walking away from their headquarters in Bank Street, Canary Wharf with a cardboard box will be remembered by many of us and that day started the longest recession in my life. Which brings us to 2020. Coronavirus, COVID-19, ‘the virus’ will in one way or another aff ect every one of us.
This contemporary lighting raft made from illuminated cubes that create a focal point in the executive space at JP Morgan’s headquarters achieved with drawings from the architects, Gensler.
So sitting here in our 29th year of trading feeling chuffed that we have made profit in every year and never made a redundancy, I want to reflect and dissect why and how FD has managed to be solid and permanent fixture in the lighting sector. I never had a distinct plan, I didn’t have a vision of ‘do this do that’ – but I did have a strong belief that still sits at the heart of what we do, which is ‘do everything exceptionally well and employ the very best people, not just with talent and skill but with positive outlook and enthusiasm.’ Negativity can be a massive emotional drain personally and commercially.
We were an early adopter of 3D printing and this has been the single most valuable tool within the division in recent times. An architect can now sketch a concept and we can produce a prototype sample within days instead of many weeks for a fraction of the cost (see Barr Gazetas).
Photopia virtual reality photometric software drastically reduces the testing time of all new or amended products. We can test in-house, which proves our continuous investment pays dividends and has enhanced our design credibility. When the transition from fluorescent to LED happened some 10 years ago, we invested hugely in adapting our factories and assembly facilities to become a high tech, solid state technology hub.
Of course, all this technology and cutting-edge software is a marvel but is worth zero without the human element to utilise these wonders and drag the very best from it!
As with all successful businesses the core personnel are the vital glue. We have been so fortunate in attracting, and most importantly keeping, key staff. Their knowledge and experience is invaluable and their skill in passing the FD ethos to everyone, from the junior graduate to the new sales director.
FUTURE Designs worked closely with BDG architecture + design to create a cohesive lighting scheme at WPP Amsterdam. A striking piece of VANE at over 60 metres in length links the expansive and spacious (eight-metre-high) ground floor reception and café area reception and lobby area.
If nothing else, in this extraordinary time we find ourselves in of remote working, we want to collaborate personally and be alongside someone we are presenting to and explaining to. Whilst we may now all be more adept at using the voice-conferencing tech, it will never replace walking into a meeting and greeting like-minded souls.
We opened FD in the worse recession I have lived through and succeeded, and we are about to do the same again! Last year we planted the seeds of an autonomous lighting organisation that will major in the areas FD is not active in.
So, after 14 months of planning and strategising, we are now about to launch human lumen, from the same stable as FD but with a specialism in the hospitality, retail and education sectors. We discussed long and hard as to whether we should delay the launch until we expect to have some semblance of normality but there is no time like the present so watch this space.
Personally, I have to say I chuckle whenever I think back at the diff iculties, hardships, knocks, untruths told to me, bad debts, and more. Why?
Barr Gazetas approached us to assist in the design and development of a bespoke copper light fitting for a project in Regent Street, London.
Because in spite of the bad times the good times massively outweigh them! The FD success story is a good one. One of which all involved are immensely proud, even when, like this morning, our full team video link crashed and I was tempted to fling my PC through the window.Of course I didn’t I just thought of it. Thank you if you got to the end of this. It is just a snapshot of my thoughts my passions and my opinions.