NG: A Bright Spark Dampening the Flames of Property Management

20th September 2017


What are the similarities (and differences) between my Co-Director, James McArthur, who heads NG’s fast-growing Property Management Department and a Texan, born over a hundred years ago?

Firstly, I’d better tell you about the Texan. Paul Adair was born in 1915, one of eight children, a son of a first-generation Irish immigrant blacksmith who had settled in Houston, a town that was beginning to flourish and grow rapidly due to the oil discovered under the scrubland and desert that covered much of its surface.

As a young man Paul drifted through life, having had numerous inconsequential jobs, working on the railroads as a labourer, working in a drug store, helping in his father’s forge and fabricating and fixing the oil derricks or ’Nodding Donkeys’ that came to dominate the landscape. This all stopped following the attack on Pearl Harbour when he joined the US Army Corp to serve in a Bomb Disposal Unit.

Given the nickname “Red” due to his shock of flame-coloured hair, Adair returned to the oil fields of Texas energised with a new passion and a particular set of skills and experience; years spent in his father’s forge had given him a familiarity with heat and fire, whilst his war years had taught him how to operate under extreme pressure and how to deal with explosives.  He was thus perfectly positioned to work in the oil fields as a fireman, extinguishing well fires, leading him to set up his own company.

Small in stature, but big in personality and a natural showman, Red Adair’s reputation as the “go-to” guy for firefighting spread throughout Texas, the United States and soon the world, coming to global focus when, in 1962, he was asked if he could extinguish a well fire that had been burning in the desert sands of the Tunisian Sahara for over 6 months, having frustrated all other attempts to control it.  The scale of the fire, reaching 450 feet into the sky, was so large it had been nicknamed the “The Devil’s Cigarette Lighter” and was even spotted by Apollo Astronaut, John Glenn, as he orbited the Earth.  The temperature at the well head was over 1,000 degrees, so even if the fire was extinguished, the residual heat would instantly reignite the escaping gases. Thus, he employed a technique that was to serve him well throughout his career.  He soaked the surrounding earth for miles around, lowering the temperature and creating a slurry of sand, concrete, mud and water that, following a huge controlled explosion used to literally blow out the fire, would instantly fall in on itself, capping the well head.

So where’s the similarity between “Red” and his eponymously titled company, The Red Adair Co. Inc, a real-life Boys Own hero firefighter. and James, a quietly spoken chap from (town of birth) and NG’s Management Department?  James, wouldn’t want to be a firefighter and indeed his specialism is to make sure that there isn’t a metaphorical fire.  The best Managing Agents, and he is one of the best, spend time putting in the checks and balances that, to keep the analogy going, dampen down the spark before it can ever flare and burst into an issue.

There are however similarities.

I believe that James and NG, like Adair and his company both come with a superb reputation for being given challenges that we then go onto solve in the most efficient way possible.

Whilst Adair’s techniques were a bit more dramatic than those we use at NG (it’s hard to compete with a man who was typically using pallets full of dynamite), we both come at it from the same approach.  Management issues are dealt with quickly and efficiently because James will have most probably seen it before – knowledge is the accumulation of experience gathered over many years and it cannot be faked.  We’ve probably seen before what, to a client, could be a new and bewildering situation.

Adair came at life and work from the leftfield. He wasn’t a corporate animal, but he was who the corporates went to when they had a problem. After the first Gulf War concluded in 1991, the US and Kuwaiti Governments turned to Adair to cap the hundreds of oil fires started by the retreating Iraqi Army.  The fires were burning $150m worth of oil per day, the smoke turning daylight into a pitch black.  It had initially been predicted to take seven years to extinguish all the fires, creating an ecological disaster of potentially irreversible global significance.

Adair, had a proven technique to deal with the fires, but he had two frustrating issues, delays in securing the equipment required to do the job and the lack of water in the middle of the desert, needed to cool the sand and create the all-important slurry.  He solved both issues, practically overnight.  He flew back from Kuwait to meet President Bush, presenting him with a slide show highlighting the consequences of the delay and his plan to provide the 1.5 billion gallons of water he needed.  Bush, heeding his warning, instantly ordered the full support of the US Government and military to ship the equipment… and the supply of water?  That was an act of simple genius.  He just unscrewed the large pumps in the oil lines that ran from the oil fields in the desert to the refineries on the coast, picked them up with a crane, turned them round and screwed them back in, reversing the flow.

Consequently, all the fires were extinguished and the wells capped within seven months.  It has been stated that Adair was the man that had made the largest single contribution to health of the planet which is quite an accolade and one that’s hard for James to compete with.

However, James like Adair, is an innovator.  As an example, acknowledging that communication is one of the key facets of being a Management Surveyor, he’s increasingly setting up Whatsapp Groups, linking him to the tenants he looks after and the client that owns the building.  They can raise issues instantly and he can respond in the same fashion.  Like Adair, simple genius.

So, with tongue somewhat in cheek, I’ve explained some similarities between a Texan who became a global household name with a career immortalised by John Wayne in the 1968 film, The Hellfighters, and a quiet, reserved chap whom I am proud to call a friend and colleague.

Adair didn’t put out fires for the money, even though his skills were far from cheap.  The money came as a consequence of his actions, but it was never his motivation.  He did it because he loved his colleagues and the challenge of the job they did and I think that’s the single biggest similarity between the Red Adair Company Inc. and NG Chartered Surveyors.

I’m lucky.  I work with a team of men and women who don’t come to work because it’s a way to pay the bills and feather their own nest. I work with a team that genuinely want to come into the office on a morning (or a weekend), that want to be entrusted with the responsibility to nurture the property assets of our clients and that is what makes NG different to almost all of our peers.

Like Adair, we’ve found our passion.  I think it shows.

Written by Jonathon Seddon.

Jonathon Seddon

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