Blake Morgan bids farewell to Jim Leighton, who retires after six decades in the property sector

Posted on 30th October 2020
It’s always a bittersweet occasion when one of our team retires. This week, we bid farewell to Jim Leighton, who was instrumental in setting up our Project and Cost Management team in the Cardiff office.

Cardiff-born Jim has enjoyed a long and distinguished career in the property sector, spanning six decades and taking him all over the globe.

Starting his career in the Cardiff Council architects department in 1965, he went on to take up roles in Jamaica, Canada, London, and latterly, returned to Cardiff. He joined Blake Morgan from global infrastructure specialist AECOM.

At Blake Morgan, Jim was a key founding member of our Project and Cost Management team, believed to be the first of its kind to be launched by a law firm in the UK. The division was established in 2018 to help the firm compete for construction-related work by offering a holistic service covering all stages of a development’s lifecycle.

Two years after setting up the team, which has gone from strength to strength, 72-year-old Jim is looking forward to a well-deserved retirement, and his immediate plans include spending more time on the golf course and in the garden (as ‘chief tidy-upper’ he says). Although sad to say goodbye to his colleagues, Jim says he’s happy to be handing on the baton to the next generation, with his son Alex recently promoted to Project Director in the same team.

We caught up with Jim in the week he retires to look back at his stellar career, and find out what advice he has for young people starting out in the property industry today.

Hi Jim. How do you feel about your retirement?

In a lot of ways, I’m retiring because I’ve seen so many people hang on and become stale because they can’t let go of their work life. I feel as if I’ve had my day in the sun, I’ve been lucky enough to work around the world and in some really enjoyable roles. I realised a while back that many of my contemporaries have either died or retired, so I think it’s time to pass the baton on to the next generation. I’m lucky enough to have my health, and my wife and I want to travel a lot more because you never know what’s around the corner.

The first destination on our list is Japan. We’ve had two trips to the Land of the Rising Sun cancelled, first in 2011 due to the tsunami and then this year because of COVID, so we’re hoping it will be a case of third time lucky! Closer to home I want to see more of the UK, and places like Lincoln and Canterbury are on the list for their historic appeal.

Aside from travel, what are your plans for all the extra time you’ll have on your hands?

I’m planning to retain the title of “World’s most inconsistent golfer” by spending more time on the course. I’ll also be spending more time exercising, and in the garden where I’m in charge of tidying up after my wife, Jackie! I also have four grandchildren we help look after, and when it’s allowed again, I’ll be back at Cardiff City stadium cheering on my beloved Bluebirds with the family.

What will you miss most when you retire? 

The thing I’ll miss the most is working with the team at Blake Morgan. Many of my colleagues are also good friends, so I’ll miss the social element and working alongside them day-to-day.

What have been your career highlights and proudest achievements?

As a lifelong Bluebirds fan, I have to mention being involved in the development of the new Cardiff City stadium. I first went to Ninian Park as a nine-year-old boy, and I was utterly captivated by the colours, the noise and the atmosphere. Since that day I’ve been hooked on following the team, so it was fantastic to be involved with delivering their new stadium, which was such a big step forward for the club and the city. I’m also very proud of my work on the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, which I firmly believe is the best building to go up in Cardiff since the Second World War.

What about lowlights?

In the 1970s, I worked in Jamaica, which was rife with gun violence at the time. One day there was a shoot-out in the office car park, which was an experience I won’t forget in a hurry. It was the sort of place you never stopped at red lights – you just slowed down and hoped for the best!

How has the property industry changed over the past six decades, in your experience?

The industry has changed so much since I started my career. Today it’s very cost-driven, which isn’t always the best thing for the final development. It’s very cut-throat with small margins, and that will only be magnified post COVID. Technology has also changed hugely. I remember having to do everything by hand, including the most complicated mathematical calculations. I vividly remember our office getting a calculator back in the late 60s. It was as big as a typewriter and cost an eyewatering even £800 back then. I quickly realised it was a lifesaver, so mastered it very quickly!

How was the experience of building a brand new team and offering from scratch at Blake Morgan?

It was both a challenge, as the offering was entirely new for a law firm and unique in the sector, but also hugely exciting. We were lucky enough to have some brilliant people in the team, with strong reputations and an established loyal client base, so we were busy from day one. In many ways, we are like a family, and I’m really going to miss working alongside my colleagues. I’m confident the team will go from strength to strength, and I’ll be watching with interest!

Alex, your son, is following in your footsteps and is a newly promoted Project Director in the team you were instrumental in setting up. How has it been working together?

I have worked with him since 2006 at a previous employer. So for the last 14 years, we’ve been working at the same place! When Alex was starting out, I kept my distance and let him learn the ropes independently. Of course, occasionally he’d come to me with questions, and it was nice to share my experience and insight with him when he asked for it. We work really well together, and I’m very proud of the career he has carved for himself. Alex is a real character, really knows his stuff and clients love working with him, so I’m sure he has even more great things ahead of him.

What words of advice do you have for young people starting out in the property industry today?

Firstly, be prepared to work very hard. Secondly, you never stop learning, so keep an open, curious mind. Thirdly, recognise that nobody can ever know everything, so be prepared to learn from other specialists you work alongside.

Phil Jardine

Commenting on Jim’s retirement, partner and Head of Blake Morgan’s Property Group, Phil Jardine, said: “Jim has left an indelible mark on his profession and his contribution to the property industry in South Wales has been immense. It has been a privilege to work with Jim and help realise his vision of embedding his excellent team of project and cost managers into Blake Morgan. We all owe Jim a debt of gratitude and wish him a long and happy retirement.”

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