Thoughts from the Chairman: some reminiscences and opinions.
From an early age the looks of things have invariably fascinated me and as my reactions to them grew more inquisitive the fascination increasingly focussed on the likely causes at the origins of the forms and looks. This mental process applied to the widest possible spectrum of whatever would be encountered. Some form of selection eventually started to establish itself.
In the early sixties I fell upon a series of pictures of the chapel of Notre Dame du Haut, near Ronchamp (Eastern France). It had been designed by an architect only known at the time by some of his peers and by a very small circle of architecture buffs. The completion of the project had been reached in 1954 and the architect involved went by the assumed name of Le Corbusier. I was so spellbound by this discovery that soon after it first hit me I made the trip to the hills North West of Ronchamp. I had by the time repudiated the Christian element of my up-bringing, but I was so taken by the inspired religiosity of such architecture that it acted as the revelation of the extent to which the spiritual could be swayed by the material (“brick and mortar” in this instance), not to mention the realisation as a consequence that, after all, the magic emanating from this very material creation must have generated or restored their Christian faith to many in search of their souls.
Though Le Corbusier and the architecture movement he initiated never ceased to be a source of intellectual delight and elevation, circumstances prevailing at the time meant that I never even considered studying architecture. I took instead the pragmatic decision to study French literature and after qualifying, took up teaching, starting in France and ending up in the early seventies at the Grammar School in Harrogate (North Yorks).
As I was turning 30 the thought got better defined that life’s ascent would soon start to slow and would inevitably be most naturally followed by the inexorable decline on the way to the twilight of existence. That deeply felt anticipation of what would lie ahead was both lucid and serene: for life to continue to be fulfilling it was essential to decide what to next embark upon not just for the long term but for the ultimate term.
Florence (my late wife) had by then experienced the spell of Ronchamp too. We had to decide the way forward. Though momentous, at least in theory, the decision we took was surprisingly quick and easy to reach: we would start a trading company as closely linked to the fields of architecture and design as would feel viable, a venture steeped in the conviction that our ignorance of the practise of business would easily be compensated by the strength of our determination to create a sustainable and fulfilling business in a field that we loved. The concept of Atrium was born. The name “Atrium” was chosen for being the Latin name for the room at the centre of the patrician villa in ancient Rome. It was the hub of the building as an entity for living, the most refined room from which all the other rooms radiated. One of its most commonly shared features was that it was either totally open to the sky above or its ceiling had a large permanent opening at its centre, hence being the best lit space in the villa. (Being Latin, the word is pronounced ATR, as in ATTRactive) Atrium was started as a partnership in 1976 and its incorporation as a Limited Company dates back to 1985.
As we took the decision to radically change courses and as we readied ourselves to get Atrium started we also took the commitment that, irrespective of the challenges ahead, turning back would never be an option. In fact, what confronted us in the first couple of years was far more severe than had been anticipated at worst, but we stayed the course!
It should come as no surprise that we had no business plan in place (for not being aware that such a tool existed) but we had committed instead to the application of a few precepts which would be our guiding beacons, and to this day I remain committed to them:
- The rejection of ignorance: There is exhilaration in learning. In the context of the development of Atrium, learning would be an on-going and actively pursued priority. Every opportunity should become a source of learning.
- Determination as modus operandi: Not only would we set ourselves stretching objectives and the job would not be done until those objectives would be reached but we had furthermore decided that this venture would be the last, not to be replaced by any other, no matter what. We therefore would have to make it to work, step after step.
- Always going the extra mile: we would not stop at any stage if we realised that that position could be improved upon, even if satisfactory by accepted standards. We would also constantly remind ourselves that nothing is un-important to the point of not being worth full attention. In particular we would reject the temptation to “switch on the auto-pilot” when tackling routine operations, and last but not least, we would invariably endeavour to do things right, first time round.
- The appreciation of where True Value lies: A job done well will carry in itself its own authentic source of satisfaction. Why miss out on that by seeking a pat on the back of dubious value.
- Relegating PROFIT to where it belongs: The Company’s existence having span almost 40 years, we have been subjected to three major recessions over the period. We have at times, for spells that felt as if they would never end, endured appalling trading conditions but we painfully learnt the skills of sailing very close to the wind and we do as a result appreciate financial comfort all the more. However, the hard times have developed us more in the refining of the art of survival than they have changed our comprehension of the role of profit in the corporate context: we still believe that profit is essential for progress and long term survival, but we would not be chasing after it, we believe instead that the motive power in any business is the endeavour to excel in whatever we do. If we succeed in that pursuit, then, profit will most likely come as a natural by-product.