‘I was unemployable’ says Hopkins Homes boss
PUBLISHED: 06:00 10 July 2019 | UPDATED: 11:25 10 July 2019
He’s at the helm of a business which last year built 1,000 new homes, boasts a turnover of £190m and is one of the region’s biggest employers. Caroline Culot spoke to boss of Hopkins Homes, James Hopkins.
James Hopkins' real passion is art and design.
He collects paintings and the enormous, imposing work hanging on the facing wall of his palatial boardroom at the firm's HQ is an unusual one.
It depicts a woman on a horse with a lion's face and is by Welsh artist Elinor Evans. On another wall is a stadium painting by German artist Ralph Fleck showing dozens of faceless people in a crowd.
When I ask him about them, he finds two coffee table books from his office to explain more about the artists and their work. It's the only question he can't answer immediately because, he says, he only buys art he likes. And why not?
"I didn't do very well at school, I didn't work very hard therefore I couldn't work in a profession like my father, who was a doctor. I had to work for myself as I was pretty unemployable."
After working for brewery Adnams as a teenager, James also worked briefly at London auction house Christies in the Victorian paintings department which gave him his love of art. But he bounced around jobs and by his early 20s was soon selling fish bought from Lowestoft to top London restaurants.
"I grew up in Southwold in a terraced house in North Parade and I could see the sea from my bedroom window and used to go swimming with my father every day before school, I had quite an idyllic upbringing," he remembers. "Property wasn't something I had always wanted to work in."
Instead his career began when he set up with surveyor pal David Moore that proves, in his words, that there is hope for anyone who isn't academically gifted.
He and David both had £4,000 each - James having inherited the money from his grandfather - and they then borrowed a further £8,000 to buy a cottage which they did up and sold for a small profit.
"It was quite terrifying but we put a business plan together and the bank manager backed us. We bought a cottage for £12,000, spent £4,000-£5,000 on it and sold it for £21,000.
"We did all the work ourselves, we then bought another and had a lucky break when we bought a property with nine building plots in 1988 and that's how it started."
Interestingly, James, re-married to Selina, and father of five children aged from seven to 30, has never actually lived in a Hopkins Home himself despite growing the brand to be aspirational.
Instead, he loves his period farmhouse home in Suffolk where he's happiest walking his dog, when he says he really can relax.
"When we started doing new build we really tapped into an unfulfilled desire, people wanted a quintessential Suffolk or Norfolk cottage with roses growing up around the front but didn't want the maintenance of an old house," he added. "No one was really building attractive new houses, so we designed something that looked a lot better than the average new house of the time, so we grew really quickly. There was a big demand."
The biggest growth in Hopkins Homes has been over the past five years when the firm, under the pressure to meet government targets for new house building, has increased its turnover by a staggering 300 times to £190m making it one of the fastest growing companies in the UK.
"I've always had an eye for architecture and design, that's really interested me. I personally love old houses," he said.
James is currently pushing forward an expansion into Cambridgeshire and Essex, with several new sites earmarked along the A14, A12 and M11 while facing all the challenges one would expect of a shortage of labour and materials along with the Brexit uncertainty.
One of four children, his brother is a psychiatrist in London and both sisters work in Suffolk, at the same school in Woodbridge, where one is the headmistress and the other, a matron.
"I love East Anglia. Yes, I have a vision but so does my team, its all about our designs, we passionately care about what we do, we want to build communities that last the test of time, I want to leave a legacy, I'm a local man and really want to leave a legacy to be proud of."