Doing things differently

Features Posted 22/11/21
Martin Wood, managing director of Hibau, is on a mission to shake up the South East’s residential construction and development market. Zoë Fryday reports

There’s no denying the fact that the UK is facing a major housing crisis, and this is particularly acute in the South East. Unfortunately, as a result, there has been a surge of mediocre-quality homes being built – cramped, unexciting properties that are stuck in time, lacking character and charm. Recognising that the industry can do better, one new company on the scene is taking a different approach.

Hibau, which launched in March 2021, has a clear philosophy – building the house around the customer, as opposed to the customer having to fit into the house. “The big housebuilders are so obsessed with reducing costs and maximising sales value that they lose touch of what they’re supposed to be doing, which is creating a home for people,” says managing director Martin Wood. “A home, to me, is something we should be proud of, rather than the bare minimum of what you can get away with.”

Martin and the team recently acquired a major development opportunity in Pluckley, Kent. “I fell in love with the site the first time I saw it. It’s a big bit of land – 20 acres – and we’re only building 31 houses on it. Large houses and spacious plots, along with beautiful forests and woodland areas – the Otium Lake scheme is really unique.” He reveals that, whilst Hibau have put a huge amount of effort into designing the development, they’re allowing purchasers to personalise their home to fit their lifestyle, adding: “We’re creating inspiring spaces to enhance people’s lives.”

Martin has worked in property and residential construction for more than 20 years. Before Hibau, he was the managing director of the Cathedral Group, which specialised in large-scale, mixed-use projects. In 2013, the business was sold to Development Securities PLC, becoming U+I, which is still operating today. He was a member of the executive committee for two years and then left to start up on his own.

Each time you grow a company, your management style must change and adapt, points out Martin. “For me, the key thing is that we look after our people, first and foremost – that we treat them with respect. They are our greatest commodity.”

Hibau has a 10-strong in-house team, and the Chatham-based company is currently recruiting. For Martin, it’s all about the team ethos and making people feel valued. In July, everyone went to Dartmoor for a ‘team away’ experience. “We hired a big house and did different exercises with leadership coach Jack Russel – all focused on understanding each other better, how we are going to develop ourselves as individuals and how we can work best as a team. If you’ve got a happy team that’s motivated to do better, you’re more likely to achieve better results.”

Martin has high expectations and demands a strong work ethic from his staff. “Equally, when we work hard, I do believe in playing hard,” he says. “Although we’ve only been officially going since March, we’ve already had two team parties, where we can let our hair down, have a good time and get to know each other better.”

I ask Martin what his top piece of advice to fellow business leaders and entrepreneurs is, and without hesitation, he answers: “Never give up.” He explains that, often in business, when a problem arises, it’s difficult to see through it. “If you feel trapped in a position where you don’t see the answer, keep working – you will always find a solution. It’s better to find that solution and move on than to linger in stasis.”

This ‘won’t quit’ mindset and commitment to do better spurs on Martin and the wider team at Hibau to make a positive impact. The firm is eager to work with customers looking to create their own houses, as well as other developers and landowners. “We’ve got another site that we’re really keen on and we’re actively looking for more,” says Martin. “We need sites where we can keep to our principles. We want to leave a legacy through great architecture and design. The most important thing for me is ensuring that the customers buying our houses are happy.”

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