West life as Simon retires from the commercial property industry after 45 years

Dorset-based Simon West, a corporate property advisor with national property advisor Vail Willams, retires after 45 years in the commercial property industry. He is pictured front with colleagues at a farewell party held at the Hotel du Vin, Poole.
January 30, 2024

After 45 years in the commercial property industry, Dorset’s Simon West has done what he thought he’d never do – retire.

The high-respected corporate property advisor was the West in the Dorset-based partnership Cowling & West, which was established in 1985 with David Cowling before merging with national property consultancy Vail Williams in 2021.

A Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, Simon, 68, is a familiar figure to many businesspeople across the region, specialising in general agency, development and investment work.

He has provided impeccable advice to landlords, investors and workplace occupiers over six decades, having passed surveyor qualifications at what was then Oxford Polytechnic and is now Oxford Brookes University.

Simon’s inaugural deal in 1978 was for new employer Goadsby & Harding, leasing an industrial unit to a double glazing firm, Seyward Windows – the business is still trading from the same premises at Nuffield Industrial Estate, Poole.

That deal was bookended with his last one just before this Christmas, a lease renewal for a body repair shop at Yeomans Industrial Park, behind the Castlepoint shopping centre in Bournemouth.

After leaving Goadsby & Harding’s industrial property department, “with the exuberance of youth” to broaden career horizons, he set his sights on London where his surveyor friends were carving out careers.

“I actually got no further than Southampton,” Simon chuckled.

He worked for a commercial property consultancy which “taught me everything about how not to run a business and proved to be a very useful education”.

He jumped ship when he opened the office letterbox mail to find a letter from the bank containing his salary cheque – it had been returned after bouncing.

There was a silver lining – Simon was very quickly asked by another property consultancy to establish a market presence in Bournemouth; enough impressed clients made setting up Cowling & West in December 1985 a sensible start-up proposition.

“We had a lot of traction and the second half of the 1980s was a boom period for Cowling & West, with significant growth in a very positive market – you could not build and let property quick enough.”

As with most businesses, the firm had to make difficult decisions during the painful recession of the early 1990s, which started in 1989, with interest rates peaking at nearly 15% and soaring repossessions.

“Residential went off a cliff in 1989 and commercial went the same way six months later. It was the worst time, up there with the global banking crisis of 2008, and we had to lay people off. These are people’s livelihoods you are in charge of. It is important to get it right in business because, if you don’t, people get hurt.”

Simon added: “Reflecting over the six decades, it is a wonderful industry. Yes, it is a property business but it is a people business and I am blessed to have worked with real characters, most of whom have been good to work for and have a sense of humour – a vital ingredient in our profession. I have genuinely enjoyed every minute of it.”

Simon’s retirement party took place at the Hotel du Vin Poole on Thursday, 25th January, with the event organised by Vail Williams.

Looking ahead, Simon, who was also a past president of Dorset Chamber, will be found tending his 33-foot yacht berthed at a marina in Poole Harbour, in preparation for sailing trips along the South Coast and across the English Channel.

Russell Miller, Vail William’s Regional Managing Partner for the South Coast region, said: “It’s difficult to put into words the professional contribution Simon had made to businesses.

“He is a gentleman of the industry – wise, trusted and highly respected by everyone who has had the privilege of working with him on deals.

“Simon has been incredibly supportive of the team at Vail Williams, of which he was a consultant, freely imparting knowledge and experience to grateful colleagues at the Bournemouth office.

“Simon is not one for razzmatazz – he goes about business quietly and efficiently, and always with his trademark sense of humour.

“There are around 52,000 businesses in Dorset, including some 250 multinational businesses, and Simon has played a part in the future of many of them.

“Simon’s retirement is his gain and our loss. We shall miss him immensely, as will the business community.”