Getting To Know You: Grant Powell, CEO of Central Working

Grant is CEO of Central Working, the UK's premier homegrown shared workspace provider transforming the way people work and companies grow.

Grant is CEO of Central Working, the UK’s premier homegrown shared workspace provider transforming the way people work and companies grow.

Catering for more than 3,500 businesses across eleven UK locations, Central Working taps into modern evolving working habits and leverages the importance of meaningful business connections.

Grant has overseen five years of rapid growth at Central Working, where past and present membership success stories include the likes of Just Eat and CityMapper. Grant has more than two decades of experience in the hospitality industry, having managed luxury hotels including The Arch London and the Ascott Group.

Q: What do you currently do?

I’m the CEO of Central Working, the UK-wide network of shared workspaces providing support and space to more than 3,500 businesses. We cater for a mixture of companies, from high-growth startups to larger businesses with up to one hundred staff.

I oversee the day-to-day running of the business whilst identifying new sites and partners like AshbyCapital to launch Central Working clubs across the country. I also working closely with our founder James Layfield, who directs the strategy for the company.

What was the inspiration behind your business?

Central Working’s founder, James Layfield, launched the company in 2011 following his own experiences as a serial entrepreneur. He found that traditional office space no longer suited the modern business, as long-term, five year lease contracts effectively forced you into spaces you’d either outgrow quickly or never fill. James began Central Working to provide a flexible environment for companies of all sizes, which also recognised the value of business introductions.

James hired me because of my background in managing five star and boutique hotels. He wanted to inject the customer service of hospitality into the shared office market. So many shared office providers today act solely as facility managers, opening the building up every day and making sure there’s milk in the fridge. James wanted Central Working to be a service business, focused on helping members grow their own companies by introducing them to valuable connections, such as prospective clients, potential new hires and last minute suppliers

Q: What defines your way of doing business?

Modern business runs on collaboration, and I oversee Central Working with this in mind. We’ve been able to launch sustainable workspace because we work hand-in-hand with partners such as Grosvenor and Trinity College Cambridge who are searching for new uses for their real estate. We’re the shared workspace experts, but we enter into the relationship by working with our partners and exploring how we can create a space that best serves their needs, as well as the needs of the community of startups we build there.

Business relationships in general have become far more iterative – customers, whether they’re average consumers or b2b, aren’t just looking for something off the shelf, they want something tailored to their needs, and this requires a degree of collaboration that we just haven’t seen before. Today we’re finding that bigger businesses are increasingly looking to place teams within shared workspaces, and we’ll change our spaces to accommodate them as best we can. We’ve literally knocked down walls to ensure we’re providing the perfect, supportive space for incoming members, whether they’re startup teams of five or entire departments from a multinational business.

Who do you admire?

Early on in my career, I was fortunate enough to work in collaborative, rich environments where I was allowed to express ideas and help shape the businesses I worked in. Many of the companies I’ve worked for have been led by driven, determined entrepreneurs, and so I’ve always admired people who have the courage to step out on their own and launch a business.

There are too many people to name in one paragraph, but I’d say that my parents have probably played the largest role in shaping my business outlook. My father ran a large company and has taught me plenty about people management, while my mother is an entrepreneur who has never been afraid to take on fresh ways of working.

This has shaped how I do business now, I surround myself with talented individuals and allow them to excel and share their ideas which ultimately drives our company forward.

Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?

We should have taken more larger sites earlier on. In the early years, we went through the same phase of hesitation that many startups experience, testing the product to ensure it was viable with our customers. Validation is an important step for any business, but it was fairly clear early on that our service model was really resonating with the startup community in the early days. We were seeing our first members grow their businesses in a matter of weeks of joining us, and we could track how the introductions we’d made for them had helped them expand. However, like most early stage businesses access to capital meant we had a more organic growth which meant we grew more efficiently (this has left us in a very strong position today however). Today we’re growing at a wonderful pace and have doubled the size of our business over the past year.

What advice would you give someone starting out?

Don’t be afraid to change and adapt. Your idea, no matter how fantastic, will not end up as you thought it would. Central Working has already gone through a number of iterations as we learn more about our members and their needs. I’d also take advantage of the wealth of support out there, whether it’s shared workspaces, mentorship opportunities, funding initiatives or accelerator programmes. There are entire industries geared towards helping early stage entrepreneurs, so take advantage of them! And for the founders out there, get that talent in sooner as your ideas need to see the light of day and people to make that happen.