How adventure made Trevor Silver a better leader

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Trevor Silver is managing director of Landid, the developer behind the world-famous Harry Potter studio tour. He explains how finding a dinghy in Samoa was the start of a magical adventure

Every day, people from around the world are taken on a magical adventure to a fantasyland filled with wizards, muggles and dementors. The scene of this world of wonder is Leavesden in Hertfordshire, a village four miles north of Watford that, since 2010, has been home to Warner Bros Studios and the various incarnations of the Harry Potter studio tour.

Trevor Silver is the managing director of Landid, the property firm responsible for realising the transformation of Leavesden from a site where Second World War bombers were made to one of the UK’s leading tourist attractions, pulling in some 6,000 visitors a day.

Silver says: “Warner Bros needed to understand how things were done in  this country and that we had the expertise to do it. We renovated old stages, built new ones, built a café-restaurant that can feed more than 1,000 at lunchtime. There was a workshop, dressing rooms, offices, editing suites, a huge IT infrastructure – it was a massively complex job.

“The icing on the cake of that project was Harry Potter. Warner Bros kept almost everything from those movies. There was so much, they could change the tour several times over. We worked with some amazing people from America – the Thinkwell Group – on how the tour was going to work. It was hectic but great fun.”

Putting the scale of the operation into context, Silver explains: “There was a huge requirement for power with fleets of diesel lorries coming in every day. When we went there they had 20mw of power, which is more than the total capacity of Samoa when I was working there.”

It was from Samoa that Silver embarked on his own adventure that would take him across the high seas. He was in his late twenties, living in a beach house and working as a civil engineer on a hydroelectric scheme, when he found an abandoned dinghy and fixed it up.

“Every night I’d take it out,” he says. “Gradually I got the hang of sailing. One day I met a group of guys from New Zealand in a bar who were taking part in a big yacht race and they were short of a cabin boy for the return journey to Auckland. I stuck my hand up and said, ‘I’ll go.’ I loved it. From that moment on I was determined to get a boat.”

Building for the future

In 1998, he achieved his ambition. Ten years earlier, having moved back to the UK, Silver had become co-founder of Akeler, a Leeds-based property firm, which enjoyed incredible success developing business parks across Europe. Akeler was sold to the Goodman Group in 2006 for £650m, with Silver moving on to set up Landid. Sailing proved the ideal release from work – a chance to recharge before returning to shore fresh for a new challenge.

He says: “One of the things I like about sailing is that I don’t think about work. It’s almost like having a massive garden shed where you can play with things, make things, read your books, figure out what you’re going to do next. It’s like being in a different world. It’s only during the last day or two at sea that I start to plan out what I’m going to do when I come back.”

One of the constant themes in Silver’s career has been his determination to push the boundaries of whatever he does. “It’s that feeling of how can I do it better, how can I improve upon what’s gone before,” he says. So, when he acquired an Oyster yacht in 2007, he redesigned it, changing everything from the door handles to the layout of the on-board equipment.

“The boat still looks like a normal Oyster but it’s about three or four tonnes lighter so it goes that little bit faster.” This gave him an edge when it came to competing in regattas. “My friend John Boyce [a veteran of the Admiral’s Cup] was a Finn sailor and it was great to see how somebody operates at that level. It made me more competitive. He was part of the reason I wanted a faster boat.”

Silver sees obvious parallels between running a literal tight ship at sea and a metaphorical one in the boardroom. “You’ve got to be brave,” he says. “I don’t mean that in a reckless way but you need to have an idea and be determined to see it through.

“You need the confidence in yourself that you can do that and it’s the same with sailing. You’re responsible for the safety of all those people. We want to be a happy team, a safe team, a well-respected team.

“When I graduated I briefly worked for Balfour Beatty and they sent me on a course called Leadership, Psychology and Motivation. A lot of the skills I learned there, about assessing people’s personalities, what motivates them and what doesn’t, I still use to this day.

“Effective teams are about people understanding their role, doing a lot of practice together, eating together, partying together if you’re successful. All of that helps to bring the team together.”

Silver has been a pioneer when it comes to developing office space that makes the best use of energy, even penning a government paper on the subject. Currently, Landid is working on a series of major projects west of London that will be linked up by the Crossrail development.

There is one ambition that for now, however, remains unfulfilled. “I want to do a circumnavigation of the globe,” he concludes. “I would like to do it in the next five or six years so my children can see the world.”

Silver’s career to date has been a series of remarkable journeys, but his greatest adventure may yet be still to come.

landid.co.uk

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Trevor Silver gallery (click to enlarge)

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