This special Award is presented for an outstanding contribution to the property industry. This might be a project, company or individual, or perhaps a combination of all three.


“Know you market” is John Burns’ mantra, for whilst Derwent London’s chief executive may have a natural flair for property he does not leave his decisions to chance. The man responsible for £3.4bn worth of property utilises the six P’s (he is far too much a gentleman to add the seventh) when it comes to deciding upon where to develop. And it this hard work which has earned him the reputation as the person who can spot tomorrow’s locations and why he has contributed so much to London’s regeneration. This intensive research allows Derwent to pull of the coup that, according to Burns himself and the testimony of many occupiers: “We are a company that likes to take companies to where they didn’t know they wanted to be originally”.

Whilst many developers will build a building and then look for the occupier, the man who learnt his trade at Hillier Parker and Baker Barnet before running Pilcher Hershman, does it the other way around. The Fellow of the RICS does his homework, arrives at an informed decision as to what is best suited and then builds to commercial success: the keen golfer may take risks but they are always calculated. There are few others in property that understand the customer as well as Burns. Speaking on a panel at this year’s BCO conference the relationship between the client and developer was clearly something special. And whilst his charm and effusiveness are obvious reasons for this, on a professional level it is his understanding of their needs which creates this bond.

This understanding and the niche redevelopment market that his company excels in has seen the 70 year old grandfather establish Derwent as the space provider of choice for the advertising, fashion, media and design sector. Tenants range from stalwarts like Burberry and Saatchi and Saatchi, through to relative newcomers such as Ticket Master, Expedia and contemporary advertising agency Mother, which sits resplendent in the Tea House on Shoreditch High Street.

After buying the then shell property company Derwent Valley L.R.C. for £1.5m 30 years ago, the Arsenal fan excelled in finding unloved buildings in out of the way locations and restoring them to their former glory. Where many would knock down and start again Burns, with his trusted partner and step brother Simon Silver, will find a way to refurbish, recycle or redevelop. His deft handling of the £900m merger with London Merchant Securities in 2007 secured the company’s position as one of the UK’s top property firms.

 Whilst Derwent has won many accolades in the world of property, including - for a refurbished office building - a virtually unheard of Stirling Prize nomination for its Angel Building, Burns is most proud of its record of consistent top 10 finishes in Management Today’s best UK companies. Burns knows that these nominations mean that they are getting it right according to those that matter - the customers, the investors and their own staff: “You must have that reputation.” he says. The born and bred Londoner was at the forefront of the Capital’s renaissance as one of the world’s most desirable locations.

Burns is a former chairman of the Westminster Property Owners Association and sits on the strategic board for the New West End Company. And whilst as a developer Derwent does not stray from the capital, the lessons the former St Paul’s Schoolboy can teach the greater world of property are universal: understand your customer; do your homework; stick to what you know and of course ‘know your market’.

These are tenets that will breed prosperity wherever one wishes to operate. John himself would be the first to point out his success is Derwent’s success, which is down to the loyal team he has built. But all of us in property can learn and admire John from a professional and personal perspective and that is why the BCO is honoured to give this perfect gentleman the 2014 President’s Award.