High-Speed Links Transporting Architects into Future; the Monday Interview the Managing Director of Ryder Architecture Enjoyed a Rapid Rise through the Company, but Tells Graeme King It Was Being Made Redundant 20 Years Ago Which Started Him on the Road to Success

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MARK Thompson is perhaps not the average boss of an architecture practice. He does not talk too much about the texture of brick used on the elevations of his latest office building, the marvellous space created in Ryder's best college projects, or the quality of light which illuminates Newcastle's new City Librar y.

He says himself he is an engineer and a businessman, and since he was made a director of his firm at the age of just 29, you can be pretty confident he makes a valuable contribution to the business.

Going through the history of Ryder in Newcastle - and further afield - he lists the projects which have built the firm commercially, and in stature, rather than lingering over those schemes with the fanciest crenellations or which won the most awards.

And it is this practical approach which perhaps helps to explain why Ryder Architecture has been such a success story in recent years.

With the realist Thompson in the managing director's chair, and the more high-flown creative brain of Peter Buchan as chief executive, the firm has grown from 14 staff in 1994 to more than 120 today - despite having to make a few cuts in recent weeks in recognition of the state of the economy.

Ryder is making 10% cuts to its 140-strong workforce after the Government decided to suspend its programme of investing in further education colleges, an area where Ryder has been notably strong of late.

Ryder now has offices not only in Newcastle, but in Glasgow, Liverpool and London. It has severed ties with its joint venture RyderHKS, formed to work on healthcare work, and is in charge of its own destiny - which Thompson is still very upbeat about despite the deepening recession.

He says: "I'm still very positive for prospects in the future, and we always have a contingency plan. These cuts are sooner than we would have liked. We could have dillied and dallied for weeks but you have to go with your gut feeling to do what you think is right.

"I was made redundant in 1988 and it was probably the kick up the backside I needed to focus on something."

"I still believe we have a strong business - and the right business plan.

"We opened a new office in London just before Christmas, and expanded in Liverpool and Glasgow last year. Committing to the London office is about playing a long game. Other people are retrenching but we are expanding - and it's paying off as people who would otherwise leave us (as a Newcastla-z-a-zased business) are staying with us."

So how does he see the recession panning out?

"It's going to get tougher, undoubtedly. Clients will want more, quicker, and it will be hugely challenging and hugely exciting.

"There have been schemes where people have bought a site and rather than flatten the building and rebuild, they have kept to refurbish and take a different view.

"But there are still people willing to invest. Hopefully we are at the bottom of the market."

Thompson, now 43, was born in Wallsend and grew up in Forest Hall, attending George Stephenson High School in Killingworth.

He did not get into architecture through the extended degree course commonly associated with the profession, and admits he did not do as well at school as he might have done, since he was so busy enjoying himself.

He says: "I loved school, so probably underachieved academically. I still enjoy the company of my school friends and the lads I played rugby with.

"When I left, I went to British Shipbuilders at Wallsend to do naval architecture. I was a draughtsman in the early days of computer aided design (CAD).

"Newcastle Polytechnic, as it was then, did day-release in engineering but when I started my degree there part-time, I was made redundant from British Shipbuilders.

"The writing was on the wall really. It was 1988 and shipbuilding was in decline. So I went and did a bit of labouring work, with a friend. …