Interview: Daniel O'Donnell, founder of Rosconn
PUBLISHED: 15:43 07 November 2018
When landowners are looking to sell their land, and want a transparent journey that delivers them best value, Rosconn Strategic Land is here to take them through the process.
Dan O’Donnell turns 40 in a couple of days’ time.
He’s not one for parties, he says when I meet him at his offices in Stratford upon Avon. Corporate parties, yes. But big, look at me occasions are not his bag at all.
The big 40 will be celebrated with lunch with his wife, a small gathering with his close family.
It’s typical of the strive for quality, the formidable efficiency and quiet determination that informs the day-to-day business of Rosconn Strategic Land.
Rosconn, a land promotion group, works with landowners within a three-hour radius of Stratford to guide them through the land promotion and sale process of their land quickly, efficiently and lucratively.
Rosconn obtains planning permission for residential led developments of, typically, between 20 and 500 units and de-risks it for the eventual house builder - meaning the landowner is paid a premium for it.
It’s a fully-focused strategy that’s worked for Dan and his 10-strong team for the past 13 years.
It’s privately owned and, remarkably, self-funded.
Currently, Rosconn has circa 52 sites on its books, equating to around 4,500 plots.
Already ticked off is Shepshed in Leicestershire - a former market garden, arable field and house which Rosconn turned into one 9.1 acre site.
In another, the landowners wanted to leave a positive legacy in their village - Alderminster in Warwickshire. The 25-house development posed challenges including preserving the view to the village church, building a village play space and badly-needed affordable housing.
With every one, a different house builder was selected as purchaser post the transparent marketing phase. It’s a deliberate policy, not to have “pet housebuilders”, which ensures all parties know when dealing with Rosconn that the company acts professionally and with integrity.
Rosconn will make recommendations as to which housebuilder is bidding most strongly , though the landowner and Rosconn decide together, listening to advice from the landowner’s advisors.
There aren’t many local authorities the company isn’t dealing with - councils are under considerable pressure to approve planning applications for housing to counter the shortage of much-needed homes being built and fulfil their Local Plan requirements.
“Our raison d’être is world-class customer service whereby the landowner is extremely happy throughout the journey, from the start of the process to receiving their money at the end and maximising their financial return,” says Dan.
Feedback is everything to Rosconn. Everywhere you look there are testimonials from delighted customers; landowners who have been guided seamlessly through what could be a difficult and painful process, who have made life-changing sums of money.
Now, on the basis of its enviable track record, Rosconn has landowners, land agents and landowner advisors, reaching out with potential sites.
Notably one solicitor, so impressed with how Rosconn treated his client, immediately decided to engage Rosconn as promoter on his family’s land.
But Rosconn doesn’t just take on any parcel of land. New sites meetings take place weekly and from there, Dan and his team decide whether or not the land has development potential.
On average, one site in 10 will make the cut - and that’s whether or not the client can have travelled the land promotion journey “ within 10 months, as some have been, or whether it’s a site where the planning process could take up to 15 years in the making. Most of Rosconn’s sites are short to medium term opportunities but with an eye on the future, long term sites are still very much in their focus.
It’s not, says Dan, “a smash and grab approach”.
“What we try to do is focus more on draft allocated sites, allocated sites and neighbourhood plans whereby the land has been earmarked for housing.
“What we’re then doing is working up some of the detail with Key Local stakeholders to promote land positively.”
Dans eyes light up when he looks through Rosconn’s beautifully-designed brochures - the attention to detail he affords to his transactions shining through in the literature which reveals in glorious technicolour delightful artists’ impressions and the story of the landowner’s journey. Each case study in the brochure and on the website has a story behind it, one of trust, transparency and innovation. The team drive the projects with huge tenacity to progress a sketch into a saleable commodity.
It’s clear he’s incredibly proud of the achievements of the company he set up in 2005.
One site in particular - a 150-plot, 20-acre field sandwiched between a primary school and farm in Long Itchington, Warwickshire, which belonged to sisters Shirley Smith and Sandra Campion - makes him beam.
“They could have gone with anyone and they had lots of people approach them. I met them in a lay-by,” he laughs. “I don’t do all my business that way but they were amazing, and they trusted us because we performed.”
The easy way Daniel talks belies the difficulties Rosconn faced, and overcame. Stratford upon Avon District Council initially refused the scheme, but the team persevered through a Public Inquiry and, months later, permission was granted.
Eighteen months later, the sisters had moved an asset from £180,000 to £11.65 million.
Now that’s what you call a return on investment from a company the sisters call “an extended family member”.
Their solicitor said of Rosconn: “Their attention to detail was quite extraordinary.” He called the deal “a life-changer”.
“They’re big ambassadors of the business,” Daniel says. “They talk to friends, family, other farmers and they recommend us it’s great as we pride ourselves on positive testimonials.”
They’re not alone. And it’s that recommendation, that customer satisfaction, that keeps Daniel and his team pushing on, making a difference to clients and good causes alike through the firm’s charity The Rosconn Foundation.
He describes his staff as “Totally amazing and pound for pound best in the industry”, and acknowledges that the most important ingredients in the Rosconn Recipe for success are the exceptional team members.
Operations Director Nick Carr has been by Dan’s side for 11 years, Rosconn brought Nick through as a graduate and he is now an integral part of the company, making big decisions on a daily basis.. A high percentage of the team have been at Rosconn for in excess of five years, which shows the loyalty to the brand.
His planning Director Daniel Hatcher had a wealth of national experience at a national planning practice - but liked Rosconn’s “wholesome approach” and joined the firm. He wanted to make the shift to client side, and since joining the Rosconn team hasn’t looked back. Now part of the management team, Dan Hatcher is a key decision maker.
It’s clear there’s a great deal of buy-in from the team, Dan likes to lead the troops and motivate them through good times and the more challenging ones.
“They like that it’s myself that puts the money in,” he says. “And frankly, i’ve got it on the block. It’s not like Rosconn is backed by some big fund and the funding source is a bit abstract. We’re not spending anyone’s money other than our own.”
Does this phase him, this potential £350,000 investment in legal fees, highways studies, ecology, planning fees, architectural planning and flood risk strategies he has to outlay, before each site is even sold?
“If the team says that’s the right thing to do, and they believe in it, then they have my full backing,” he says. “I trust them and I trust their judgement. They understand the pressure of sitting a room away from the investor. Rosconn are effectively bankrolling the process and putting the intellectual sweat into unlocking the land value and maximising the return for landowners .”
Public inquiries don’t worry him either. If it goes against Rosconn - and sometimes it does - the team will sit down and look for chinks of light and then work up a revised scheme.
“We say to landowners, ‘this is a journey’,” Dan comments.
“No one can guarantee timing on planning, because local authorities run to their own time schedules and agendas, but it’s important they understand that we’ll be doing everything we can to get a consent, the right consent, as time efficiently as possible.”
Rosconn favours development sites that don’t require heavy infrastructure, which can knit into the local community and pay their dues, delivering housing more quickly for local authorities and community benefits for local communities.
And Rosconn will always engage with local stakeholders and objectors to try to promote the right scheme.
It’s why it’s the go-to company for a number of surveyors and landowners who favour what Dan calls the company’s “softer feel”.
“It’s taken a lot of proving ourselves - to the point where we can’t be ignored now. We are selective about the sites we take forward as we want to maintain our excellent success rate.”
Daniel grew up in Warwickshire, graduating from Oxford Brookes with a degree in estate management.
He soon went to work for West Midland Surveyor John Shepherd, where, by the age of 25, he was heading up their land development department but was ready for his own challenge.
There - and he, with trademark modesty, underplays this - invented a groundbreaking business model for which he was financially rewarded. That, and a handful of property deals, gave him the money he needed to set up on his own.
“I’ve always been lucky, with good people working with me,” he says. “Rosconn is definitely not a one-person show. But I never stop. It’s 24-7, 365. There’s no off-button.”
Despite huge success in an “amazing industry”, he says: “I’ll hit 40 thinking ‘I’m still only 20% of the way through the Rosconn journey’.
“In terms of competitors, I wouldn’t see any that are better than us,” Daniel adds.
“This Rosconn brand is very strong and continually strengthening. I see the competition now, trying to copycat what we’re doing In relation to business development.
“I take it as a compliment, because we’ve just got on with it. The first project was a huge risk. When the first one came off, it silenced the market a bit. The second one came off, they said ‘maybe they got lucky twice’. After that, more planning consents and successful sales have followed with plenty of happy customers. I believe our time in the sun is yet to come - and then the bar raises again and we reach a new level to operate at, and so the game continues
“You never reach the top because once you’ve achieved something you’ve moved on, constantly striving and improving. What was excellent yesterday isn’t excellent today, because we can improve on it.
“What we’re doing is looking after the landowner, and delivering on our promises. We’re far more customer-centric than most and the feedback we get from landowner advisers is that we are far easier to deal and transact with. Which then makes their life easy, we try to see it from the landowners’ perspective.
“And we come at it in terms of fairness. We never want a buyer to feel they’ve made a mistake buying a land parcel from one of our clients. We want them to pay full market value, because it’s market-tested, but we want them to develop the site successfully, as does the landowner because if there’s a Phase Two, we want Phase One to have sold well.
“So it’s a wholesome, organic and long-term approach.”
When will he be done, I ask him. When will he have achieved what he set out to achieve?
“Never,” he says. “I honestly don’t think there’ll be an end. What would be the point of an end?”