Interview | Jon Tweddell

In Conversation With..

Issue 39

"We don't just do planning, we help put deals together."

What were your career ambitions growing up?

I didn’t really know what I wanted to do growing up. I liked the arts and design, loved drawing, so thought I might do something around graphics, architecture or design. When I left school I did a year out in an engineering company and got an insight into town planning. I went on to university to study it. I’ve always been motivated, so whatever I did, I knew I was ambitious and would work for myself one day.

Tell me about your career path so far

I started out in private practice working for a planning consultancy. As an inexperienced graduate dealing with major developments, I felt out my depth. I sharp realised I needed some experience in the public sector and took a position as a planning officer in Morpeth. This provided me with great experience at the sharp end of planning, processing planning applications. From there I went back to the private sector but I always wanted to work for myself and soon realised I couldn’t keep working for other people! I started Jon Tweddell Planning in 2005 and have never looked back.

What are JT Planning’s defining qualities?

Put simply, high quality advice at a reasonable cost. We are still a small practice and I pride myself on being fully involved with all projects. Although a planning consultancy at heart, our remit has changed over the years. Many of our clients expect us to create opportunities and provide them with their next development site. Given our wide network, we are always happy to do this when we can.

What is the greatest challenge you have faced so far?

Without a doubt getting through the financial crisis of 2008 onwards. We had a lot of clients who struggled in that period; many simply went out of business. Our fee income dropped by about 60% during part of this period, so we really had to work hard for less money while chasing a smaller number of jobs. We got through it and have grown the business significantly since then.

What is your greatest achievement to date?

My greatest achievement to date is securing a commission for 350 new homes, which we achieved very recently. Most people said we would never be able to handle this scale of development, but we have some clients who really trust us with everything, whatever the scale of the proposals. We have numerous other, smaller scale achievements that we are equally proud of. We have had numerous successes at Appeal. This is always a great achievement getting a development approved at Appeal, when the local council has originally refused permission.

Is there a mantra you aspire to do business by?

Not really. We work by some simple principles and that is providing honest, well thought out advice; being very honest; keeping things simple for clients; and making sure that you engage well with your customers. Humour is also very important -you have to make work fun, it brings out the best in people!

What is the best piece of business advice you have been given?

My friend’s dad gave me quite a bit of advice when I first started out in my own business. His advice has always stuck in my head, but at the time I didn’t really get it. The advice was to always bring some humour into your business dealings. Laughing relaxes people and makes the day pass quicker. It also puts people at ease and I feel all people are much more engaging when you have a bit of a laugh along the way.

Who are your heroes in and out of business?

In business, I have to thank two extremely good teachers and mentors. I actually worked with them before I created my business but their input into me as a town planner has been incredibly influential. Those two people are Nicholas Lawrence who I worked with in private practice some years ago and Hugh Edmondson who I worked with in the public sector about 16 years ago. Out of business, my hero is my wife, Vicki.

How do you maintain a healthy work/life balance?

I have two young children who I want to see grow, they always come first. It’s really easy just to work all the time, but you end up losing focus. You must work to live, not the other way round, I will always make time for my family. I work very efficiently so I don’t normally need to work evenings or weekends.

How would you like to be remembered?

Just for being a nice guy.

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