There are many unsolved puzzles surrounding the hazy inception of the Wye Concordat, and few people willing to put their head above the parapet to bring some clarity to this foggy tale. Funnily enough, some of those who know more than any about this story have little public profile at all, though behind the scenes they appear to wield very considerable power.
Take Mr David Brooks Wilson, for example, who goes under the modest title of ‘director of estates’ for Imperial College. Most of us would think that someone with that kind of job description is essentially some sort of property manager. Not the bloke to phone when you see a fence has blown down exactly, but the one who gets the bill after it’s fixed. And there you would be very wrong indeed, for Mr Brooks Wilson is a powerful and key figure in this whole story, as you can guess from the way he tends to get copied into virtually every important e-mail from the local authorities involved.
David Brooks Wilson: a key figure in the Wye Concordat project
Who is this man? You can find a hagiographic profile of him in the Imperial College online magazine here. We also reproduce, at the foot of this page, the biography produced in 2002 when he was elected vice chairman of the South East England Regional Planning Committee (a position he no longer holds).
Mr Brooks Wilson is certainly above phoning builders these days. He’s there, so Imperial’s own publication states clearly, to get value out of the college’s considerable property portfolio which, after the takeover of Wye College, now includes 800 acres of unspoilt Kent countryside. Let me quote from the article…
For the last few years, his challenge has been to consider the transformation of £1.25bn (reinstatement value) of College estate stretching 550,000 square metres – the equivalent of 3.5 Canary Wharf towers.
‘I try to walk around College sites each month,’ he says. ‘There are still little corners I’ve not seen. I’ve had two years to understand where everything is, how it really operates, how it ticks.’
He seems very well qualified too. Before joining Imperial, Mr Brooks Wilson was property service director for Eurotunnel during its formative years, then managing director of its property subsidiary, Eurotunnel Developments. He must surely know a lot more about land, and its value, in the Ashford area than you’d expect from someone in a job based in London, and, from the outside, somewhat administrative in nature.
We must also add to those talents an extraordinarily broad range of interests for someone whose business card looks like that of a university administrator. That 2002 bio lists a seat on the south east region of the CBI, membership of the London and South East Regional Industrial Development Board, and chairmanship of the Kent Developers Group, ‘an informal group of the managing directors of the major developers in Kent’, not that one would have expected Imperial to fall into that category, at least back then. Plus he was a director of Locate in Kent and the ‘Euroregion Round Table’ consisting of ‘business and political leaders from France, Belgium and Kent’.
He is, or has been, a Freeman of the City of London, a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Gardeners, a Fellow of the Institute of Treasurers, a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators and a Fellow of the Chartered British Institute of Management. As if all that wasn’t enough, that 2002 bio describes Mr Brooks Wilson as chairman and CEO of his own company, Noble Wilson Ltd, a ‘transaction based property and real estate advisory company’ based in the City of London, with offices in Hong Kong and Seoul. It makes you wonder where he finds the time to turn up to the office in Imperial.
Where did this chap learn his skills and acquire such prodigious energy? Let’s go back to the Imperial profile…
His vision could partly be due to what he learned about business from four mentors — former bosses Sir Nigel Broackes, chairman of Trafalgar House Investments plc, Geoffrey Sterling, former chairman of Bovis plc and P&O plc, John Ritblat of the British Land Company Ltd and Sir Alistair Morton, Co-Chairman of Eurotunnel.
‘Sir Nigel Broackes was very instrumental in moulding my career, suggesting I follow the course of training to be a chartered secretary or company secretary for a plc company which involved my spending a day a week in each department of the organisation over five years.
‘Geoffrey Sterling, now Lord Sterling of Plaistow’s attitude to takeovers and acquisitions, was very, very instructive and enabled me to put together the entrepreneurial instincts I had learned with Nigel Broackes and use them as a springboard into my longer stay at British Land, where I worked very closely with John Ritblat.
‘He probably taught me most of what I know in terms of property trading, property negotiation and property financing. Alistair taught me nothing was impossible.’
Now there’s an interesting cast list of influences, one which includes some of the biggest property names to prosper, sometimes controversially, during the Thatcher era. The late Sir Nigel Broackes was the boss of Trafalgar House, the property and shipping conglomerate that, at one time, owned the Daily Express. Geoffrey, now Lord, Sterling ran P&O until last year. I met the late Sir Alastair Morton (and that is Alastair, by the way, not Alistair, as Imperial have it) when I was a business journalist 25 years ago; he was a likeable, irascible character, with a slightly bonkers side on occasion. Sir John Ritblat continues to chair British Land, which includes the gigantic Broadgate estate near Liverpool Street in its portfolio, and has also stirred quite a furore with its plan for the tallest office block in London at 122 Leadenhall Street.
How have the corporations run by Mr Brooks Wilson’s ‘mentors’ fared over the years? Like this…
- P&O, after 168 years under British ownership, has just been taken over by the Dubai-based DP World.
- Eurotunnel has lurched from crisis to crisis and last year lost £87 million. In February 2006 it warned that it may not survive due to its current debts of £6.4 billion.
- After a few sticky years Trafalgar House was taken over by the Norwegian company Kvaerner in 1996.
- British Land is doing very nicely indeed, thank you, and sent shares throughout the UK property sector soaring last month when it unveiled pre-tax profits of £1.4 billion for the first nine months of its financial year.
Noble Wilson Ltd has some way to go to catch up with any of them. You can find the latest set of accounts for the company below (with Mr Brooks Wilson’s address as director given as Imperial College). According to that 2002 bio, remember, Noble Wilson Ltd is ‘a transaction based property and real estate advisory company, it specialises in property development, property management and the creation of inward investment. It is based in the City of London and has offices in Hong Kong and Seoul and advises companies on property matters in Europe, United States of America and Asia.’
The accounts reveal that at the end of 2004 the company had no profits, no fixed or tangible assets, some £5,000 in current assets, £3,000 in cash, and current liabilities of £11,000. With all the other bits and pieces that adds up, say the auditors, to a negative net worth of £5,402.