Looking back at the last 30 years of Oakley Property: Roche Lewes HQ
28th March 2023
As we celebrate 30 years, our founder and executive chairman Chris Oakley looks back at some of what Oakley Property has accomplished so far:
To mark our 30th Anniversary, I am looking back at some of our landmark deals over the years.
Back in 2005, we managed to pull off the largest Sussex office space deal of the year when we were appointed by Roche, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, to find them a new UK HQ building to replace their existing Lewes HQ.
To say this was a daunting brief was an understatement, in that they needed 80,000 sq ft in central Sussex, and to be in the new premises within 18 months, start to finish, when there was literally nothing suitable in the market. I remember sitting in their boardroom and being told by their Swiss MD that this timeframe was not up for discussion and that if I couldn’t deliver this, the whole idea of a move and the sale of their existing 50,000 sq ft HQ was off. No pressure, then!
As you can imagine, the market was competing hard to land them as a tenant, but whilst it wasn’t common knowledge to the agent community, there wasn’t a single building that fitted the bill. So, we came up with a plan for them to take the former Ericsson HQ site in Burgess Hill, which at the time had been left as a frame of a building, with no prospect of it being developed in anything like the required timeframe. We set up a deal with one of the largest UK property funds at the time, PPG, to deliver a bespoke office development that had to be built for Roche within 12 months. Their reward was to land a letting to possibly one of the best medical covenants in the world.
The 80,000 sq ft Grade-A office building was completed on time and, to this day, is still one of the best-looking office HQs in Sussex.
The prize was for us to subsequently sell Roches Lewes HQ, which we sold to Cross Stone property, and it has successfully been converted to provide high-quality offices, houses and flats, which we still deal with.
I remember sitting in a legal meeting in London with about 30 lawyers and consultants in the room when we were negotiating the deal for the new building and thinking to myself, ‘Hm, sometimes those little property ideas have huge ramifications when people pick them up and run with it’. Although sitting in that meeting, I must confess I felt like I’d just secured a place in the Premiership when I had been playing Sunday League!
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