Rescuer of Canary Wharf Gets Ready to Take Wing Again

By Willcock, John | The Independent (London, England), January 2, 1996 | Go to article overview
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Rescuer of Canary Wharf Gets Ready to Take Wing Again


Willcock, John, The Independent (London, England)


Sir Peter Levene is considering his options for new employment having completed a two-year stint as chief executive of Canary Wharf, the London property development. While he will probably continue as a personal adviser to the Prime Minister on efficiency issues, he has not yet decided whether he will take up another large job in the City or industry.

People close to him at Canary Wharf say his best qualities are his abilities in sales and marketing. He says they were at a premium when he took the helm at Canary Wharf in December 1993 as it came out of administration.

Sir Peter said: "In the beginning, Canary Wharf was a very high quality development, put up on what was previously wasteland. The people who built it did a very good job and that the project didn't succeed was a great disappointment. It was the largest development in Europe and that it turned into a failure was bad for London's prestige as well as the money and the effort that had been wasted."

Sir Peter now reckons that people accept Canary Wharf as an asset, an important business district to rank alongside the West End and the City.

"The two things that killed it were the recession, when no one was taking space anywhere, and the idea that you couldn't get there. Now the recession has lifted and road and rail links are in, and the Jubilee underground extension will be terrific."

Sir Peter originally became involved in Canary Wharf in 1991 when the Government asked him to sort out the Docklands Light Railway, then Canary Wharf's only real link with the centre of London. As chairman of the DLR, Sir Peter gradually turned the disaster around and at the same time got to know Paul Reichmann, one of the three Reichmann brothers who developed Canary Wharf.

Mr Reichmann asked Sir Peter to take over the running of Canary Wharf before the general election of April 1992 but he refused.

He said that while the development had been well built it was already too late to save it from some form of bankruptcy. The key error that the Reichmanns made was to bring in North Americans to run the scheme, executives who failed to gel with the English way of doing things, according to Sir Peter.

The project went into administration and at the end of 1993 the 11 banks that had taken over the ownership asked Sir Peter to take over as chief executive and refloat the business out of bankruptcy.

Sir Peter recalls that for the first two to three months he was solely employed in going around the development asking people what their concerns were. He says there was a lack of shops and people and that the infrastructure was lacking. The most important thing to change was public perceptions, he says.

By November 1993 road and DLR links had been completed but there was a long time-lag between their completion and the public waking up to the fact that Canary Wharf was accessible. It was an uphill struggle, he remembers. He embarked on a round of corporate visits in an attempt to persuade potential tenants and opinion-formers that Canary Wharf was a viable place to work.

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