With 30 employees in tow, Neil Grinnall Homes has five live projects throughout Worcestershire including the conversion of the Kays Catalogue headquarters on The Tything, which will provide 24 spectacular loft apartments and individual office suites. As Chairman of the company, Neil has also pioneered Worcester’s canalside living trend with two impressive apartment schemes at Diglis Canal Basin and he is also set to convert Worcester Royal Porcelain’s Albion Mill building into 78 one and two bedroom apartments and townhouses.
He is also currently awaiting permission to build a prestigious high-rise apartment building at a historic site at Dolday and aims to inject £320 million into Worcestershire over the next few years. The fact his company has forged a good relationship with city councillors and planners, with mutual respect on both sides, shows he definitely knows how to play the game.
But Neil is a hard taskmaster and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. He is reaping the rewards of years working 18 hour days, some of them in the cramped cupboard under the stairs at his mother’s home. The rest were spent on four wheels in an old yellow pick up truck, which Neil used as his mobile office, complete with the prerequisite mobile phone and a black leather briefcase he needed to broker deals.
Now he and his new wife Rebecca, and their baby, Lily are preparing to share the splendour of Hadzor Hall, a mansion just outside Droitwich, which Neil vowed to buy himself when he delivered papers there more than 30 years ago. “I always had an inkling I would be a success,” said the developer who admits he has his fare share of rivals who feel threatened by his success.
He and Rebecca have employed the “trophy interior designer” Paul Carter, who also works for top Italian fashion designer Donattella Versace. Although he was quick to reassure me he is using a rather more muted colour palette than Donattella herself would opt for.
Neil thrives on competition. This was instilled in him at an early age when he was forced to wear callipers because his legs were twisted. But his late father Michael, a former Mayor of Stourport, had no faith in the conventional treatment and threw the callipers away.
He bought Neil a bicycle and raised the saddle so high the lad was forced to stretch his legs to reach the pedals. At the same time, a physiotherapist suggested he took up swimming to strengthen his muscles.
Neil ended up swimming for Great Britain and became a national champion at the age of 17. Disaster struck in 1980 though, just before he was due to compete in the Olympic games. He fell down the stairs, seriously injuring the base of his spine.
Neil also competed as a boxer and trained with Olympic medallist, Pete Hanlon, entering competitions as far away as Hawaii. On the famous Venice Beach in California he trained as a weightlifter.
As a teenager, Neil often sparred with his father and it was his tough attitude that spawned the son’s success. “When I won something, dad would say ‘Are you world champion yet? If not, keep on working.’ Since then, failure has not been an option for me; I always aim to be the best.”
“I enjoy building a product that will be there for the rest of my life and I love working with a team of people who are my peers. We buy and develop land and I am always seeking out new opportunities. Our portfolio is varied from houses in the country to city apartments, but the luxurious nature of the product does deem it expensive. We are not talking basic starter homes, the majority of the properties built by Neil Grinnall Homes are worth between £200,000 and £500,000, so there is a lot at stake.”
Neil’s first full time job was working on oil rigs and he saw some dreadful sights. He cheated death when the Piper Alfa oil rig in the north sea blew up. After years at sea, Neil decided to get into property renovation and bought his first investment property in Stourport for £12,000. He sold it for £24,000 five months later.”
Neil wanted to be a developer the minute he saw a certain local tycoon drive round in his blue Porsche, wearing a turtle neck sweater with a beautiful wife on his arm. He happened to own a mansion too. “He looked like something out of a James Bond film and I decided that was what I would aspire to be. I saved the money and started buying land. I had no experience at all. I just learnt on the job. It’s the same with a piano – I can watch someone play and do it myself.”
Neil found it a culture shock when he came off the rigs, because he was used to working 12 hour shifts in the harshest conditions. “To see builders work for six hours and then knock off for home was something I found very difficult,” he said. “And I was probably quite tough on the guys. But I had been used to working in extremely tough conditions.”
Neil managed to survive the property crash of 1991 which taught him some invaluable lessons for the future. He bemoans the lack of skilled craftsmen today and supports a central training board to encourage and train youngsters in the building trade. “I take great pride in helping to reshape and rebuild Worcester,” said Neil. “It’s a wonderful old city with a lot of heritage and history.
The planning committee is very caring and takes a great interest in the city. It does give me a hard time, but at least the Councillors listen to me. We have some hugely exciting projects in the pipeline which I think will give quality, aspirational housing to one of the nicest city’s in the country.”
Just now though, he is busy strengthening his team with high profile appointments and defining his company’s image because, as he says, all entrepreneurs must have their own style. You either love or hate Neil Grinnall, but one thing’s for sure, you certainly can’t ignore him.
Neil Grinnall Homes
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