30 Years & Counting: Richard Flisher Reflects on Three Decades with CPMG

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15 Aug 2023

Our Managing Director celebrates an amazing 30 years with CPMG, but where did it all begin? Richard joins us for a Q&A.

Earlier this year, our managing director Richard Flisher celebrated an amazing 30 years since joining the business. Working with brilliant people on so many fascinating projects, Richard says, has made the experience an absolute pleasure. But where did it all begin? Richard joins us for our latest Q&A to reveal all.

Why did you choose Architecture and what has the journey been like at CPMG?

If it weren’t for influences when growing up in Bristol, then maybe I would have chosen a different route than architecture. On my way to school, my journey involved travelling past the newly completed Roman Catholic cathedral (Clifton Cathedral Church of Saints Peter and Paul), which really caught my eye. It’s not as iconic as Liverpool Cathedral, for example, but it stood out to me during my formative years, I made my own drawings of the cathedral and remember loving art class at school.

The cathedral was designed by Ronald Weeks, who I sought out and eventually ended up working with during the early stages of my post-university career.

I entered the industry as a trainee architect, like most others, and every new project has captured my attention and excitement ever since. Throughout my career I have been interested in travelling and fortunately being at CPMG has allowed me to do so in a professional capacity. I’ve recently returned from a trip to China to visit our team based in Hangzhou and view progress on site of our Inlong Narada Resort project in Jiangsu Province - Inlong means Dragon Valley in Mandarin.

Workplace design has always been another interest of mine and, again, I have been able to pursue this niche through wonderful projects like the British Sugar headquarters in Peterborough. I think the combination of interest and enjoyment has contributed to my career progression – it hasn’t necessarily been my main driver, but ultimately has benefited me.

What is your role at CPMG today?

In short, strategic direction, medium- to long-term planning, ensuring progress is made every day and helping people get better at what they do. Elsewhere, I do still get my hands into project work, leading by example.

As alluded to previously, I am our leader in workplace design and specialise in offices for both corporate and developer clients, while also working in conservation, transportation, green energy, residential and civic building design.

Can you tell me more about your international work and how this came about?

The desire to work abroad comes from being interested in how other places do things and having the opportunity to collaborate with new people in new ways. Design is an international service and can take you anywhere. I am also fortunate that British design travels well and is always held in high regard.

My first international job with CPMG was a small task in Vilnius, Lithuania, secured through a contact in Nottingham. This led to a much larger scheme in Bratislava, Slovakia, consisting of 5,000 apartments, a new shopping centre and significant urban extension. I lived there and focused on the project for 18 months. I loved it, despite the project never reaching construction, and I made lifelong friends.

Outside of Europe, I have worked in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on aviation manufacturing facilities and then in China.

What do your values, people, purpose and place, mean to you?

Architecture is wide ranging and touches on art, science and social science. For us, it’s primarily a social science because without the people architecture means nothing. Our mission statement is to design places that feel better so everyone enjoys spaces more.

What is the legacy of the 2011 management buy-out?

We have all worked hard to understand what CPMG is and what it wants to be. People, purpose and place are our future.

We are also more sustainable than ever before and invest a lot of time into measuring our Scope 1,2 and 3 carbon emissions. We are very proud that we have reduced them by 48% since our 2019 baseline and practice what we preach, continuing to learn and hold ourselves to account.

In the past, projects ahead of their time like our operationally carbon negative office building at Watermead Business Park, completed in 2012, encouraged us that there is an appetite for building better. More recently, ensuring that we’re involved in industry initiatives like the RIBA 2030 Climate Challenge – to which we are a signatory – reassures us that we were thinking along the right lines all those years ago.

What is the biggest change between when you started at CPMG and now?

Diversity. The gender balance has become more equal, and different ethnicities and nationalities have become evident across the industry. We are conscious of the change, which was needed, and are proactive in making a difference. We survey our diversity annually, this year recording 39% female and 33% BAME. Design is international, so there is no reason we can’t all be more inclusive. As demonstrated in our offices, the working environment is better for it too.

What is your favourite project?

It has to be the award-winning British Sugar headquarters in Peterborough. Our design means the floor space is flooded with carefully controlled light and fresh air. It’s a very structured building with a lower floor focused on social interaction and collaboration, and studious areas above. On the upper floors there is also a graduation from collaborative spaces around the atrium to quiet working areas at the perimeter, next to the glazing and views out.

There are 400 glass external louvres fitted to the external elevations that track the sun and control the level of internal light without obstructing views. The differential of light between inside and out means you can see through them and their appearance changes depending on the sun and time of day. Wellbeing principles have always been important to me and this building is an example of best practice. I’m extremely proud to be in a position to improve the way people interact with different spaces but some examples like this particularly stand out.

If you would like my alternative answer, then my favourite project is always the next one. I’m endlessly fascinated by the opportunities that arise and am pleased that our team of amazing Architects can share their solutions with clients just as I do.

What challenge are you most pleased to have overcome?

I know it has been well covered, but helping the business see the other side of the pandemic was a relief. This was especially pleasing for us because we decided to relocate in the midst of lockdown. We signed up to a new lease and undertook the refurbishment of 13 St Peter’s Gate knowing it was the right thing to do – and we haven’t looked back since.

What is your one piece of advice for budding architects?

Go for it and be brave!

What is your hope for the future of the architectural industry?

I believe that British architecture will always be successful on the world stage because we produce such high-quality designers. However, I think that how we do things will change over time. For example, the introduction of artificial intelligence will happen, despite the form this will take being currently being unclear. I look at these changes as opportunities to evolve and hope that others will think the same.

And finally, what do you do when you’re not working?

I am currently trying to do as much cycling as I can to train for a cycling event that my friends and I have signed up for this year.

I do enjoy other sports as well as time outdoors. I have missed only one CPMG charity walk since they began in 2009, which was due to an ankle injury. I even made it through the year that I drove from the airport straight to the starting point after a flight back from China. I won’t be doing that again!