Shaper: Phil Jaffa

Show aired on 23rd August 2014

Transcript of the show

Elliot Moss
That was Curtis Mayfield with Move On Up, a great way to start the programme here on Jazz FM.   This is Jazz Shapers with me, Elliott Moss. Every Saturday morning I get to talk to somebody who is shaping the world of business alongside, and I play beautiful music from, the people who have been shaping and are shaping the world of jazz, soul and blues.  My business shaper this morning is Phil Jaffa, he is the founder and creative director of Scape Design Associates; they are landscape architects.  If you don’t know what they are you will by 10.00 o’clock.  A fascinating business it is to, you are going to be hearing lots from Phil very shortly.  In addition to hearing from Phil you will also be hearing from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya some words of advice for your business and on top of all of that of course a lovely choreographed mix of music from the shapers of jazz, soul and blues, including Madeleine Peyroux, Dave Brubeck and this from Laura Mvula.

That was Laura Mvula with Green Garden.  Very apt because today my business shaper is as I said earlier Phil Jaffa, and Phil Jaffa is the founder and creative director of as I said Scape Design Associates and they are landscape architects. Now before we get into your dim and distant past Phil tell me a little bit about what a landscape architect does.

Phil Jaffa
First of all Elliott thank you for having me and good morning.

Elliot Moss
Good morning.

Phil Jaffa
It’s quite early for me on a Saturday.  Without getting too technical we are sort of the professional side of the architectural side of the outdoor environment, the external areas of projects, building projects, in general so typically the work that we do would be alongside architects developing the spaces, the outdoor spaces, around their buildings.  However I mean that is what landscape architects do but with Scape we have gone one step further and we have sort of specialised in the world of luxury developments over the last 14 years.

Elliot Moss
So basically if I am in a nice posh hotel somewhere in the world and I am looking out onto the gardens and they are beautifully choreographed, there is some synchronicity to the way that the hedges are over there and there are some lovely rocks and the colours of the plants work and the textures have been thought about and my view of the ocean if there is one is perfect from one room to another; you have been responsible for making sure that that visual experience is right is that about right?

Phil Jaffa
I think yes I mean the way you describe it is fundamental and you are close to the point but you know …

Elliot Moss
But no cigar!  But go on explain in your own words.

Phil Jaffa
I think luxury is the word that I think we need to concentrate on there because for me luxury is about experience.  So it just so happens that we design the externals to high end developments from hotels and resorts to individual homes to mixed use developments and retail but for me it is all about the aspirational experience of the guest.  So we use the word guest for every one of those experiences.  So it is like going into an Armani store and trying on a suit, it is about making them feel better.  So when you are in one of the landscapes that we have designed it is about actually making you feel better than you were before you went into that so you can relax, you can meditate, you can enjoy, you can party, you can drink fine wines but it is about having that experience of luxury.

Elliot Moss
So the context has to be right?

Phil Jaffa
The context is very important.

Elliot Moss
And just to be clear before you set up your own business which as you said was 14 years ago, you were a senior landscape architect you did all that.  Did you know as a young man that you were going to go into this world of outdoors, of creating beautiful looking vistas and so on and so forth?  When did you realise that it was going to be for you or was this just more of a I can’t do anything else I can draw a bit and I like painting pictures in people’s minds.  I mean when did you realise that that is what you were going to be doing?

Phil Jaffa
Thank you for taking me into my dim and darkest past but, and it is quite an interesting story although I don’t want to go on too much but I actually have a Degree in chemistry which seems to shock everybody around me but I had always been a creative and I actually think the profession itself really suits my personality.  I have got that sort of love of the sciences and a mind that works quite mathematically and logically but at the same time I am highly creative, I draw and I experience the world through very much that cerebral sense from within.  So when you put the two together and when I discovered landscape architecture which was during my third year of my Degree I just happened to come across some people who were studying landscape architecture, something really resonated and I sort of started to learn about it.  I then went off travelling for two years but I sort of signed onto a conversion course.  So that was my only commitment to come home and actually that other piece, the two years travelling, is a major piece of where I am now as well because that is what really hooked me into the world that I am in now.  I mean in England most landscape architects that I work with tend to work here in the UK.  The profession is broadening and more and more are working overseas but it is something in setting up Scape that that is what we are all about.  In fact we hardly do any projects here in the UK; 95% of our jobs are international from Hong Kong, Fiji, across the Mediterranean, the Middle East; I mean we have worked in about 30 plus countries in the 14 years so that travelling heart and willingness to jump on a plane and get excited by different cultures and beautiful landscapes is all about what Scape is about.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me and find out more from my business shaper, Phil Jaffa.  Time for some music though in the meantime this is Swag Times from Bill Laurence.

That was Swag Times from Bill Laurence, some new music here on Jazz Shapers.  Phil Jaffa is my business shaper today; he is the founder of creative director Scape Design Associates who are essentially landscape architects which I hope if you were listening earlier you now know what that means.  In the world of luxury and Phil we were just talking before about how the chemist decided to fall in love in a way or to also follow his passion for the outdoors and creation as well as being as you said empirically founded in all sorts of things because I think that is what chemists like to do and the logic is there as well.  You worked for a number of years for other people.

Phil Jaffa
That’s right.

Elliot Moss
When did you have the, I can’t do this anymore I am going to work for myself moment?  Was there a moment or did it build up?  Was there an epiphany as such?

Phil Jaffa
No I mean I, first of all my father was an entrepreneur in children’s clothing so …

Elliot Moss
He didn’t wear children’s clothing?

Phil Jaffa
No.

Elliot Moss
Just to be clear, no.

Phil Jaffa
No unfortunately I had to wear everything that he sold as a child so that was quite embarrassing but I think for many people in my position when I talk to them it is sort of, it’s in you.  I don’t think it is something that is just an epiphany.  I mean I always thought I was going to work for myself and although I think I was a good employee, others may say different.  One I did the hard yard so I don’t think in a profession like mine you can just leave college and set up on your own I think there is actually a lot of experience that you need to gain.

Elliot Moss
And you had almost a decade of doing that.

Phil Jaffa
That’s correct yes and a wonderful experience as well.  But there was time, you know there was a time, and the time was right when I did it and it occured.

Elliot Moss
And when you made that, sorry and when you made that break were there a series of things that you had to get in order or was it simply I know I am going to do this, it is going to be next year, I am going to find some space, I am going to think of a name and I am going to go or was it much more thought through than that?  Truthfully, Phil.

Phil Jaffa
No in some respects it was less thought through because I had ran two other offices before Scape so I actually worked in the Middle East to run a practice out there and then when I came back to England in ‘98 I ended up opening up the London office of a large practice who were based in the Middle East.  An English practice but actually they had spent most of their life in the Middle East and it was during those two years really that I realised that things were going really well and actually I thought they could have gone a lot better and it was them that were holding me back.  So the sort of short-sightedness of my bosses really stopped them from developing a really strong brand and I saw certain opportunities as well and the time was perfect so.

Elliot Moss
So it tipped you over …

Phil Jaffa
Yes.

Elliot Moss
… and you went off and did it.  Find out much more about what happened next with my business shaper here Phil Jaffa.  Latest travel in a couple of minutes but before that some words of advice from our programme partners for your business from Mishcon de Reya.

You are listening to me, Elliott Moss here on Jazz FM with jazz shapers.  Every Saturday morning from 9.00am till 10.00 I get to spend some time with someone who is shaping the world of business.  If you have missed any of the previous shows then your place to go is iTunes or if you are on a plane in the near future then you can also listen on BA Hi Life.  Phil Jaffa is my business shaper and he is the founder and creative director of Scape Design Associates, they are landscape architects; not the people that work inside but the people that work outside and Phil has been telling us about the fact that he was a chemist, turned landscape architect, turned employee, turned employer.  Now your first, I am going to go back to the year 2000 just briefly, when you opened those doors up did you have a client to start with?  Did you have work or did you have to go and look for the work?

Phil Jaffa
No we didn’t have any work, not we there was just me when I set up, but I mean there was two very important decisions I made. One, I knew I wasn’t going to work at home so I put some money aside over the previous few months and I took a business loan out as well which the bank matched and basically set myself in what to me looked like eight to twelve months of security.  Very small security, my wife was working at the time so that gave me the opportunity to not have to be the breadwinner and I thought you know if I never do this I will always regret it but at least I can say at the end of it if it hasn’t worked I have given it that shot and actually I created a business plan; it was very conservative that my first client probably wouldn’t come in until maybe month five or six and I actually sorted out some sort of freelance work for other designers at the time so I was going and just earning a bit of cash but within, let me think, maybe five days the business plan went out the window.  I won three hotels in the first two weeks.

Elliot Moss
How did you do that because people listening will go that is extraordinary?  The business plans people often say they go out the window but to have been ahead of task target by sort of four months and three weeks is not bad.

Phil Jaffa
No it was unbelievable.

Elliot Moss
How did you do it Phil?  What is the secret Phil?  We are all following you.

Phil Jaffa
Thanks.  Well to be honest it comes back to what I was saying about putting in the hard yards because to me although I never called the business Phil Jaffa Associates that is never really what I wanted to be, I didn’t really want to be the centre point of a business in that way.  It was about the people who knew me so part of the timing was about that I had already built up a business for somebody else, I had all those contacts and I was pretty convinced that a lot of them would, if not all of them would, come with me because they didn’t really know anyone else in the London office of the company I was working for.  So and that intuition was right because very quickly they all started looking for me, where has Phil gone, so they got the number and found me.

Elliot Moss
But it also says a lot about you know the importance of relationships especially in a service business is critical and those hard yards as you call them those ten years in the service business must have been as you said at the very foundation of the fact that after five days you had landed three very very nice projects.

Phil Jaffa
Yes, all in Greece actually which is one of my favourite places to work.

Elliot Moss
There are worst places to go I imagine for your first few big contracts.

Phil Jaffa
Actually I was there earlier this week with the same client.  I mean she has been my best client for 14/15 I have been working with her for about 15 years because beforehand she knew me already and she is one of the most inspirational clients I have ever had because she lets us as a design team and its a collaborationm there is an architect involved who has been on the same journey in many ways with me.  She has let us really create for her and allowed that to happen which many clients don’t.  You know many clients have a set vision and want you to do exactly what they want you to do but this woman, this lady, has allowed us to really explore and push her brand much, much further and we have created some magnificent hotels for her.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me to hear more from Phil Jaffa, my business shaper.  Time for some music, this is Madeleine Peyreux and the lovely Dance With Me To The End of Love.

That was Dance With Me To The End of Love from Madeleine Peyreux. Phil Jaffa has been with me now since 9.00am and I hope you have started to understand why the man who set his own business up in 2000 was so successful literally on day four.  In those early days though beyond the success of actually having the business, how does one start when you are a single man band?  How does one start to build a company up and you said it wasn’t Phil Jaffa Associates it was Scape?  How do you get the sense, how do you when you hire your first hire and your second and your third and your fourth and you get more business and you can’t necessarily touch every last bit of the business everywhere, although I imagine you probably would want to and often do but where you can’t how do you create that this is what Scape Design is about, or this is what any company is about because I imagine a lot of people listening will go that must be really hard?

Phil Jaffa
Yes I think I understand that and I think I am a product of a certain time in the last twenty years which is two major occurrences have occurred in the world of the construction industry effectively that I worked in which all relates to the time when I came out of university.  So one was the recession of the late 80s/early 90s and being the determined young man that I was I was one of only a few, a very small handful of people from my class and others who made it into the real world of landscape architecture so and what it seemed to do, looking back now and we are really in some way still suffering from that, is there is a void of people with experience in landscape architecture and I presume it is the same in architectural engineering, all the build professions from sort of the age I am, 48, probably down to about 42, there is just vacuum because so many of that five years didn’t get into the world of construction.  So that is one thing and that makes me more valuable as an individual and the second part of that was it was also the timing of the sort of computer revolution and I sort of embraced that very early on and my bosses …

Elliot Moss
Hadn’t.

Phil Jaffa
… hadn’t and so I think this is a key thing.  One of the important things when I set up was I understood that I could do everything that I needed to do to service a client by myself if I had to from meeting them, winning the job all the way through the design process to making a cup of tea and that gave me a lot of confidence in a way that my bosses couldn’t set up because they would always have to hire people to do those things and on some reflection I have built my business around people who are a bit more all rounders.  I really admire that sort of talent that they can actually do every bit of the design journey and what I find amazing is that actually in my staff I see them really embracing that.  I think they get a lot more reward, there is a lot of buy into the job because it’s their job and they take it all the way through from the beginning to the end.

Elliot Moss
And what you have just described those two points: the recession itself or the recessions rather we should say because probably at the you know I suppose the beginning of the 90s and then the end of the 90s it was kind of picking up but then 2008 obviously things collapsed again and then technology and that side and that sense as you said of the capable person who can do everything.  That is all well and good but there have obviously been some big bumps in your business and when the bumps happen where do you go for advice?  Beyond the technical, beyond the craft skill, all that, who is it that you turn to and what advice have you listened to that has really helped you over the last five, ten years, because it can’t be easy setting up your own business and running it?

Phil Jaffa
No.  It some ways it has come fairly naturally and I surprise myself all the time with these things and again that comes back to instinct I think and again also the fact that I had been allowed to set up two other people’s businesses before Scape.

Elliot Moss
Gave you the confidence but when it goes wrong what do you do Phil?

Phil Jaffa
Well I think for me there was two important things that I did.  I think I mentioned about getting a loan at the beginning but at the time and I don’t know if they are still around but there was a thing called Business Link which if you signed up to them and gave them a business plan and got your business going they offered you a coach basically to come to your office once a month and just you know bounce ideas.  Also they have a list of people you can go to see like where you can get cheap business cards, where you can get your website done, all of those things.

Elliot Moss
So you leant on them.

Phil Jaffa
I leant on them for five years actually but that scheme finishes and then I wanted to replace them so I actually found a business consultant who I have used all the way through and actually that has become important particularly in the development of my senior team.  Because they learn business I think they possibly get more out of him than I now do, I am much more sure about my own decisions but I still don’t have a partner and actually that is one of the tough aspects of running a business.

Elliot Moss
Well I want to pick up with that as well and see how that has gone.  Our final chat coming up with Phil plus we will be playing a track from Dave Brubeck; that is coming up after the latest traffic and travel here on Jazz FM.

That was Unsquare Dance from the classic Mr Dave Brubeck.  Phil Jaffa is my business shaper for just a few more minutes.  We have been talking about  landscape architecture.  We have been talking really about how he has set up his own business and how he has gone on to create I suppose a global brand in a way for the luxury end of the market in these beautiful luxury resorts and hotels and so on.  As you look back now and it is almost fifteen years, you sound like you have had a journey but you have also been confident in your own abilities through that journey.

Phil Jaffa
Yes.

Elliot Moss
What is it going to look like for the next five years?  I know you said you tore your business plan up after five days but have you just stopped worrying about it or have you got a bit of a mini vision?

Phil Jaffa
That is always my hardest question, so many people ask me what .. in some ways …

Elliot Moss
What are you going to do Phil yes?

Phil Jaffa
The biggest question is what is the exit strategy but …

Elliot Moss
You haven’t got one have you?

Phil Jaffa
No I am a designer.

Elliot Moss
Have you though, seriously?

Phil Jaffa
No.  I am a designer at heart; I am passionate about what I do.  I mean the creating and leaving a legacy to me is what it is all about and what I love about the work that we do is it changes with time you know.  So you design in four dimensions in some respects so you see gardens through … I mean I don’t really want to its bizarre because I am a landscape architect and people think immediately probably think trees and plants but actually that isn’t sort of what I do.  We do that as part of what we do but it is literally we design the space from the building to the edge of the site so it will be the gates and it will be the car park and it will be the ramps down into the service.  It will be the water features, the swimming pools, the tennis courts you know it is everything in the outdoor environment.  It’s the dining terraces where people sit and have their champagne and the gardens to spas as well so its ….

Elliot Moss
And you still love all that don’t you obviously by the sounds of it?

Phil Jaffa
Yes I mean it is all about romance and I am a romantic at heart.

Elliot Moss
It is but then you are also a businessman and you are also someone who is running their business so how do you square the creativity with the commerciality or rather the need for commerciality?

Phil Jaffa
Oh yes but that’s, again I don’t know where that comes from.  I think as I said I have surprised myself through the journey.  I didn’t know I was going to be strong at the business side although of course as I said I had run two businesses before so I had some inkling, but even then you know I could only do as much as my bosses or the owners I worked for would allow me to do but once you start doing your own thing you get your own freedom to make decisions and you live and die by the decisions you make in business but I think you knowm my work we don’t really market ourselves our work comes through word of mouth and I guess the word passion is always used about us and you can hear from what I am saying I love what I do and I believe we create amazing spaces so …

Elliot Moss
And you talk about passion, just to pick up on that because a lot of people say that you know that they are good at their business, they are good at their job rather, they have a great business because they are passionate, would that be the simple advice to anyone thinking of setting up their own business whatever it is?  If you are passionate about it go for it, if you are not forget it.

Phil Jaffa
Yes I think that is a massive thing.  I always believe in sticking to what you know.  You know I know landscape architecture very well and I know the ins and outs and so and then when you add the passion on top I can be true to myself.  If I just decided I was going to open a restaurant because I fancied opening up a restaurant like many people do in that world, they don’t know that they are doing and the chances of survival are really low whereas you know I have put myself into a place where I had a really strong base from which to build a successful business.

Elliot Moss
Fantastic Phil, just before I let you go what is your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Phil Jaffa
It was a tough decision because this genre of music is one of my favourites so but in the end I went for Ain’t Nobody from Chaka Khan because that song has been with me ever since I was a kid and it’s just, it reminds me of all the amazing places I have ever been really and the amazing people I have met on those journeys and it is about the people.

Elliot Moss
Phil thank you, that’s brilliant.  This is Ain’t Nobody from Chaka Khan.

That was Ain’t Nobody from Chaka Khan, the song choice of my business shaper today, Phil Jaffa.  Someone who understood the importance of relationships in the service business, someone who also understood the  importance of external advice, a very, very handy thing to be aware of and of course someone who is absolutely passionate about what he does and would recommend only doing something if you are super passionate about it too.  Do join me again, same time, same place for another edition of Jazz Shapers.  That’s next Saturday 9.00am sharp please here on Jazz FM.  Stay with us now because coming up next its Nigel Williams.

Phil Jaffa is founder and Creative Director of Scape Design Associates which opened its doors in 2000. Under his guidance and creative flair, Scape Design now leads the global luxury lifestyle market in landscape design. They push the debate, explore new possibilities and design world class landscapes for an audience that demands a new kind of luxury.

During the past 14 years, Scape has worked in 31 countries globally and completed 28 luxury projects to date, with a further 7 currently under construction. Their strong, contemporary designs have ensured a diverse global portfolio, which includes some of the finest landmark projects in the hospitality and luxury lifestyle markets. From Private Island Resorts to Luxury Branded Resort Hotels and Spas; from city hotels to urban residences; and from high profile retail and mixed use schemes to ground breaking leisure facilities. These are all created for some of the most entrepreneurial individuals and organisations in the development world.

Scape’s considers the social and environmental impact of what they create and many of their projects are considered to be forward thinking in their approach to sustainability.

For me, luxury is about experience. The landscapes that we have designed are intended to make you feel better than you felt before you went into them.

It is all about romance and I am a romantic at heart.

I have a degree in chemistry which seems to shock everybody.

The two years I spent travelling really hooked me into the world that I’m in now – 95% of our jobs are international. That willingness to jump on a plane and get excited by different cultures and beautiful landscapes is what Scape is all about.

I thought, if I never do this I will always regret it, but if doesn’t work out at least I can say I have given it a shot.

I created a very conservative business plan thinking that my first client probably wouldn’t come in for five months, but within five days the business plan went out the window.  I won three hotels in the first two weeks.

The recession of the late 80s/early 90s meant there was only a handful of people who made it into the real world of landscape architecture, and looking back now, we are still suffering from that. There is a void of people with this experience and that makes me more valuable.

I embraced the computer revolution very early on and I understood that I could do everything that I needed to do to service a client by myself. I have built my business around people who are all-rounders.

You live and die by the decisions you make in business.

I believe in sticking to what you know.  I know landscape architecture very well.