Paul McNeive: 'Father and son have taken HARVEY to the next level'
The "sole practitioner" has become a rare breed, as has a tradition of children of the founder of a business following their parent into a practice. But one such example is HARVEY (formerly William J Harvey & Co), a firm that probably appears as a potential acquisition target at every large firm's annual strategy meeting.
Bill Harvey established the company in 1979, specialising in industrial property, and has been a thorn in the side of the bigger agencies since, as he handled a disproportionate share of deals on Dublin's industrial estates.
Now, Bill's son Philip is the managing director and the firm has taken on new directors and expanded into new areas. I met Bill and Philip to hear more:
Bill Harvey trained with Battersby & Co and JLL before setting-up on his own, and he readily admits that he was more suited to life as a "lone-wolf" than working in a big firm. I was involved in many deals with Bill over the years and he is a great dealmaker, and a believer in marketing, and long-term relationships.
"I always felt that it was important to get an extraordinary price, to counter the perception of being small," he told me.
Much of his success he puts down to what he calls "farming the industrial estates."
This process started by driving around the estates with a dictaphone, noting the occupiers of every unit. This gave him, over time, a great database and he then maintained contact with everyone, via mailshots of postcards, advising of units he was selling and deals done in the area, together with a strong newspaper presence. The philosophy was simple. As Bill explained: "As soon as anyone wanted to buy or sell - who was the first person they would think of?"
Bill Harvey was an early adaptor of new technology and was often "first to market" with the latest digital cameras, scanners and software for mailshots. He believes that William J Harvey and Co's was one of the very first websites in the business.
He also sub-contracted all measurement to a draftsman, which saved time, and allowed him include plans of buildings on brochures. These innovations contributed to plaudits including the Irish Independent Industrial Agency of the Year award.
Meanwhile, Bill's son Philip was qualifying in accounting and finance, and, ignoring Bill's warnings that estate agency was particularly hard work, Philip joined Costello Commercial, where he trained in general practice.
In 2001, Philip joined forces with Bill, and despite a pay-cut enforced by his father, the firm has flourished and is expanding its horizons.
It's not hard to see how the dynamic works. Bill, who has taken the role of chairman, remains a marketeer and a dealmaker, and Philip has added more structure.
Following "a lot of debate" about upsizing, the firm has expanded steadily and added surveyors from other firms as directors, such as Kevin McHugh and Siobhan Convery. Whereas Bill traditionally spent most of his time handling transactions, with relatively little "professional work", HARVEY is now handling a lot of rent-review and valuation work, which is an obvious synergy.
Philip Harvey is also targeting the investment and development part of the cycle - another logical extension, and the deals are flowing.
He took me through a menu of large logistics deals the company has handled, with several big-ticket prices in excess of €25m. Land deals are another target and Bill's database of industrial estates has proved invaluable, following the re-zoning of estates like Cookstown in Dublin 24. According to Philip, HARVEY handled 38pc of the approximately 100,000 sq m of space transacted by all of the Dublin agents in the first quarter of the year.
The combination of a dealmaking culture, with a structured professional services back-up, is a potent one, and the name change to HARVEY marks another modernisation.
The firm is 40 years old this year and as Philip concluded "the future is bright".