Tuesday, 16 August 2022

Let's Get Down to Business: James Burkitt, Aviron Associates

Let's Get Down to Business: James Burkitt, Aviron Associates

JAMES BURKITT is the founder of Aviron Associates, whose office is in Badgemore House in
Henley. He lives in Henley with his wife Emily and their two children, Poppy, five, and Charlie, four. Born in Newark, James studied environmental engineering at Nottingham University, where he rowed, and became the youngest chartered environmental surveyor in the UK at the age of 25. He was recently featured in the Parliamentary Review. He now rows regularly at Upper Thames Rowing Club in Henley.

Describe your business

We are a small, dynamic company of chartered environmental surveyors and geotechnical engineers providing contamination and geotechnical investigation services to the land, property and construction sector. In other words advising on everything involving the ground, foundations, drainage, contamination etc.

How many people does it employ?

There are five of us — a principal engineer, two additional engineers, a site technician and myself.

What did you do before you started this business?

After graduating, I worked for Corsair, a ground investigation company in Edwinstowe, Notts. I was made a director after four years and stayed another two. I moved to Henley in 2003 and worked from Corsair’s office in Harwell, near Didcot. The reason for moving was to join Leander Club and try to win at Henley Royal Regatta, which I did in 2005.

When did you start your business?

In 2008.

What was your objective?

To improve my work/life balance. Since I was 10 I have wanted to work for myself. When I asked my dad for some pocket money he gave me a bucket and sponge and told me to go and wash people’s cars. That was my introduction to working for myself!

Who and what influenced you?

My dad because I watched him working really hard for others without making much money for himself.

Do you have a mentor or role model?

Griff Dixon, who was managing director of Corsair. He trained me and had a powerful influence on the skill set of a chartered surveyor.

What would you do differently if you started again?

I would have created a business plan with a better management structure much earlier than I did. It would stop me being glued to my phone on holidays!

How is your business doing?

We are pretty much at saturation point with our current resources and are recruiting to maintain growth. We seem to hit the same numbers consistently, although I’m not really sure how.

How do you market your business?

I don’t. I have long-standing relationships with my clients who are mainly housebuilders, land agents, architects and property fund managers. I constantly get phone calls from people who have been given my number and that seems to feed the pipeline. We do a good job so people remember us and are happy to recommend.

What’s the best thing about running your own business?

Flexibility and the choice of who I work with. I like my clients, who are good people with whom I work well.

What’s the most challenging aspect?

Never switching off or finding it hard to. Small businesses are delicate and aren’t supported by huge marketing campaigns or long-term contracts. They need constant drive and attention to maintain success.

Where is your business headed?

I’m not really sure. Everything is good right now and I’m enjoying a comfortable life. To take it to the next level would mean employing more people and increasing my own workload so it’s a tough decision.

How important are online sales?

Not at all. In fact, my website is a “work in progress”!

Do you have a five-year plan?

To possibly double in size and hopefully double the profit.

What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned?

Discovering that 10 years ago, when I thought I knew it all, I now realise that I didn’t.

What would you advise someone starting a business?

Make sure that you have a product that people will buy. Look after cash flow and your clients.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made?

Nothing that I can think of. I’ve made a few minor ones though.

What’s the secret of your success?

Hard work. Diligence. Not leaving a job undone and always making good on promises.

What three qualities are most important to success?

Knowing your business inside out. Being prepared to work hard. Having a likeable personality.

How organised are you?

Very. I make lots of lists and seem to have an encyclopaedic memory. I can recall every job we’ve ever done and the people involved in them. It’s important to have systems and to be efficient.

How do you dress for work each day?

Very casual. A shirt with either jeans or trousers.

What can’t you be without every day?

My mobile phone. I broke it the other day and hit the panic button!

Lunch at your desk or going out?

I sometimes go to a coffee shop with my laptop or I have something at my desk.

Do you continue to study?

Yes, I attend training courses as I have to do at least 20 hours of continued professional development.

What do you read?

The only newspaper I read is the Henley Standard. I always enjoy the letters to the editor.

How are you planning for retirement?

I’ve no idea!

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