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Andrew Mason: real estate developer with an ethical approach

Who or what was the spirit that captivated Andrew Mason one dark and gloomy night when he broke through the barrier that surrounded three semi-abandoned mills? It may sound like something of an Edgar Allen Poe mystery, but the idea that perhaps Henry Mason, who built Victoria Mills near Shipley in West Yorkshire in the mid-19th century, somehow had an influence on the restoration project is attractive.

The fact that Andrew Mason, managing director of Newmason Properties, took his wife’s last name when he married in 1993 only adds to that sense of positive doom. Henry Mason, Andrew Mason, Newmason and perhaps one or two masons seem to have conspired on a unique project worth an investment of £80m.

Henry Mason built his textile mills during the Victorian era when the industry was booming. Model employer Sir Titus Salt had already established his unique town of Saltire nearby with his innovative approach to providing a safe, caring and positive environment for plant workers. Titus Salt built houses and streets named after his eleven sons. He provided a library, restrooms, reading rooms, schools, a church, and a mechanics institute for his workers on the grounds that a good work environment was not only good for individuals but also good business practice.

His influence on the textile industry was enormous and lives on in the Newmason approach to the project that Andrew Mason started just four years ago. “I’m flattered by the comparison. I’m purring like a Cheshire cat here because this construction business is wonderful. It’s incredibly rewarding to start with a plan and an idea and really make it happen. Titus Salt clearly had a mission at Saltire and our mission now it is similar in many respects.

“My Aunt Mary worked at Victoria Mills and my father remembers it all very well. He worked as a carpenter and he remembers swimming in the canal here, walking 14 miles to earn three and sixpence, for example. Yes, fashions change and his memory of Being tasked with converting all of Saltire’s six-panel doors to flush doors that have now been restored to their original condition is a good example of how fashions change and come full circle.”

But the property lives on and these wonderful, sturdy mills with their huge windows and high vaulted ceilings are being restored and preserved for future generations. They will not be spinning alpaca or cotton, but they will be the places of residence of the new generations in the peaceful environment of living history.

“People’s needs and demands change over time. We’ve gone from providing bathrooms and reading rooms to offering a tennis court, a sauna and a gym, a panini bar and I think a wonderful atmosphere, but we’re doing it with awareness of what we want. have here”.

The site, which was a working mill until the 1990s, is five and a half acres within the buffer zone of a World Heritage site. The buildings themselves are listed and the old interiors have not been ripped out. Instead, the demands of modern planning for fire safety and health and safety have been integrated without compromising tradition. The interior stone stairs remain; the steel support pillars still support the building and the new roofs come with a 150-year guarantee that puts the entire project into perspective.

“I have two sons, ages 9 and 11, and I want them to be able to stand in this spot and be able to say, ‘Daddy did this.’ We love what we do. We are absolutely committed to delivering the best quality in every way here, and that means using the right materials, like oak and stone, and craftsmen who take pride in their work.”

In fact, Andrew Mason’s relationships with his staff reflect a set of values ​​that Titus Salt would have been completely comfortable with. “Environment is everything. If people are happy at work, like I am, then they will take pride in using their skills and improve the game to the best of their ability. It’s about creating the right environment for people to thrive.” We want people to feel happy to come to work.”

That’s all very well, say the cynics, you talk the talk, but what about delivery? When it comes to the bottom line, when it comes to profit, all this ideology just goes flying out the window, doesn’t it? Not for Andrew Mason, who stocks the office refrigerator every Monday with a wide variety of snacks and drinks that his staff helps themselves to; that he make sure construction workers aren’t forced to use nasty, basic toilets on site, but instead have decent facilities.

“If you treat people with respect, they will respond to that. It shows very clearly in the bottom line because we have very, very few sick days and no one has left the company in the last four years since we started this project.” .”

However, it would be a mistake to suggest that respect and an egalitarian structure are a kind of escape. Andrew Mason does not shy away from difficult decisions nor is he afraid of conflict. What is clear is that he does not need personal arrogance or pomposity to prove his worth. He is a shining example of the adage that he is the humblest of men who are the greatest real contributors.

In Andrew Mason’s opinion, that enviable record is not due specifically to his own personal skills, but to the entire peer group that exists around his workforce. People talk and chat with him; they meet him on the site every day and share football results as well as new ideas on development. Andrew was extremely pleased when the Investors in People assessment team revealed that management, staff, subcontractors and suppliers shared the same positive view of the company.

Andrew Mason is living his dream on two levels: he is restoring and renovating the mills that surrounded his childhood, and he is implementing an ideological framework that, while fashionable in the 1850s, he has managed to reshape to fit today’s business environment.

“It’s about positive reinforcement. When we worked at Byron Halls in Bradford, we were very sensitive to diversity issues, so we went and knocked on people’s doors. We explained what we were doing and why, we visited the mosque and we worked to reach agreements that we would not accept any deliveries on Fridays so that there would be no parking issues for Friday prayers.

“We all saw enough antagonism and confrontation in the days of the mid-1960s when people were promoted to incompetence and labor relations broke down into the winter of discontent due to the ‘them and us’ approach. I can’ Honestly, I remember telling someone on the site to do something. I’ve asked them. I’ve never taken the “I’m the CEO” kind of approach. You will do what I say” because it makes people angry. It is much better to try to attract them and show them that you love and respect them.

“There’s a man here right now whose wife, I know, is about to be fired and that’s going to be tough for them. We have to be a little more flexible there. Another man is studying for an MBA. He gets permission to study but he doesn’t affect his vacation. If he only had permission to study, his wife would never see him and he also has the right to spend time with her.”

In the Newmason lexicon, the values ​​of a bygone age are preserved not only in the fabric of the buildings, but also in the immense goodwill and loyalty apparent in the workforce. Tellingly, Andrew Mason adds, “It’s not just about altruism, either. Goodwill pays tenfold on the site.”

“As 18, I worked on North Sea rigs and learned from the tough, tough people of Glasgow, then concrete factories and later in places like Costa Rica, Chile, Nicaragua and South Africa about social housing schemes where I saw the terrible situation of much of humanity, I am very grateful for what I have and have achieved here.

“We’re creating something in Victoria Mills; a community that people want to live in and are enjoying. Like the redskins who don’t have a word for ‘ownership,’ I see myself as a steward. My name can be on the title deeds, but they don’t really own these properties. We’re protecting industrial heritage for our children and our children’s children. What we do today will affect several more generations and we’ll leave it in a much better state than when we did it. we find. .”

The property, bricks and mortar, has a satisfying solidity that is lacking in other investment portfolios. Money invested in something so fundamentally durable and essential should be as safe as houses, or mills, in the hands of Andrew Mason.

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