Professional Builder visits a building company determined to make a difference in people’s lives.
Dressed in a sharp black suit, the ebullient property developer Louchavan Lemard grasps me excitedly by the hand as I turn up at the latest house he and his team are working on. Having heard his story on the news, it was primarily the Nottingham based entrepreneur I’ve come to visit, but he is eager first to introduce me to the entire team, who have assembled themselves in the kitchen and are busy chatting away like old pals.
Next he bounds around the house showing me each room and telling me about the project, before I can suggest we go somewhere quiet, we are deep into conversation and Louchavan’s enthusiasm for his work is literally bursting out of him.
“So, there are two problems we’d like to tackle, first – we need to provide affordable, good quality housing, because there’s not enough of that around, there is a lot of exploitation.” Straight off the bat, it’s clear ‘property developer’ is not the right term for the co-creator of Think Big Developments, “the other issue is that a lot of chief executives are baby boomers, right, and they seem to think that the younger generation are lazy and don’t want to do anything, so they don’t give them the opportunity.
“I’ve looked into it, and the reason I was given my opportunity in life was because I happened to go to a grammar school, and the interviewer knew it was a great school – that’s it! This is a class system that hasn’t gone away. It’s taken me ten years to work it out, and now I’m fighting against it. So, we employ based purely on attitude.”
The opportunity Louchavan refers to was being accepted onto a heating and gas apprenticeship as a teenager. Having left school with no GCSEs or qualifications, Louchavan was, by his own admission, at a risk of falling between the cracks of society.
He details to me the challenges of his life outside school, which he says contributed to his lack of academic success, including sleeping on the floor of a kitchen on a council estate during his formative teenage years. Luckily the ambitious teen wasn’t in the mood for self-pity, and he was straight out getting an apprenticeship with a local plumbing and gas company.
He explains: “The only way for me to get out of that situation was to educate myself. I enrolled myself at college and did a four year apprenticeship to become a qualified plumbing and gas engineer. I got my commercial and domestic qualifications. Then I did my HSE building services qualification. In my last job I was a project manager running multimillion pound contracts.”
It was, in fact, running that last job that spurred the young manager on to do something more. Eschewing what would have been a comfortable, reliable job, he decided to go into property development – with a twist: “The last job I did was a distribution warehouse, and on that site there were no apprentices at all.
“They just relied on cheap labour with no concern for training and the quality of work was really poor as a result. I raised this issue to the relevant operatives on site and the response was, ‘it’s not our problem, we’re here to make money and hiring apprentices isn’t cost effective’. I thought, that’s all well and good today, but the current generation of skilled workers and engineers is eventually going to retire, and what do we do then? My business partner Ryan and I took a step back and started Think Big Developments.”
As I talk to Louchavan, it feels like I’m talking to someone with wisdom well beyond their years. His perspective on the building industry, the need for apprentices and life in general shines a light on the pressures the youth of today face. “I hated school, but I love education,” he tells me, channelling his inner Oscar Wilde, “there’s a mentality in this country that if you perform well in school, you’ll be successful in life, and that’s wrong! All it means is you enjoyed school and your answer was the same as the teacher’s. In real life, there is more than one answer.
“In school, it’s all about taking simple tasks and complicating them, whereas real life is the opposite, it’s all about taking complicated tasks and simplifying them. For instance we’ve got one student working with us who can’t read or write, but I’ve seen him work and deal with other people. He’ll be a project manager one day, mark my word.”
And with that, we join the laughter downstairs, and Louchavan even breaks out a bag of sweets for everyone (including a few for the road). I leave, convinced that if every company were to operate like Think Big Developments, we might just be ok!
For more information on Think Big Developments click here.