IN the space of just 12 years, Cornerstone has grown from a one man start-up into one of Thailand’s top construction management companies, with a portfolio of high-profile clients behind some of this country’s best known buildings. They range from hotels and condominiums to offices, factories and specialist industrial projects.
Owned and operated by British expatriate Richard Bell, Cornerstone is a totally independent BOI-supported organisation whose key services include project management, construction management, quantity surveying, project auditing and property appraisals.
The company employs 100 full-time local staff along with eight expatriates from Spain, Ireland, Belgium, Malaysia and the UK.
The driving force behind Cornerstone’s impressive rise is a man of humble background and modest nature, but singular vision.
Born in a Lancashire mining village in northwest England some 50 years ago, Richard happily and even proudly acknowledges his working class upbringing.
“Home was a ‘two up-two down’ terrace house,” he says, quickly adding “with an indoor kitchen. Dad was a plumber, mum a housewife.
“When I opened my bedroom window, the first things I saw were a working men’s club, pit head and slag heap.”
Aged 16, Richard had had it with education at a local comprehensive school, and wanted to get a job, but his mum disagreed and packed him off to Wigan College of Technology to study building.
When he graduated in 1982, the UK was in the depths of economic depression and finding work in Northwest England was virtually impossible. So Richard continued his education at Leeds Polytechnic to study for a degree in quantity surveying.
His first job at 22 was as a site engineer for civil engineers Balfour Beatty in London. After further employment at Amec, a giant construction company, he returned to studying and after three years qualified as a chartered surveyor.
Now was the time for Richard to take a ‘gap year’ in Perth, Australia. His break from the corporate world continued for three years which he spent mostly windsurfing when not working in bars and pubs.
Bored with beach life and suffering a back injury, Richard headed back to the UK in 1992 where he joined Gleeds, one of the country’s biggest project management companies, as a Project manager.
When an opportunity to work in Indonesia came along, he snapped it up. As fate would have it, at the last minute his employers suddenly diverted him to Thailand to work on a project for the Royal Thai Air Force at Don Mueang – “the only Englishman among 40 Irishmen.”
The good times didn’t last. “But when the economic crisis hit Asia in mid-1997, I was one of only three expatriate employees still working for the company.”
Richard then joined SGS, an inspection, testing and certification company, where he stayed for three months before setting up the Thailand branch of his former employer Gleeds in 2003.
However, faced with the country’s erratic economic and political problems, Gleeds decided not to proceed with the venture, which gave Richard the opportunity to take over the company and rename it Cornerstone.
Its first year in 2004 was a blockbuster for Cornerstone: “Our busiest ever,” notes Richard. The years between 2008 and 2010 were less active, but the pace picked up again over the next four years. “This year, 2015, business is on a plataeu, and I’m unsure what the immediate future holds,” he admits candidly.
In addition to all kinds of high-rise projects and office blocks, Cornerstone has worked on the construction of two water parks as well as a complicated laboratory for tropical medical research on behalf of the Welcome Foundation and Oxford University.
The company is also spreading its services to Singapore, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Malaysia.
With more than 130 projects successfully completed, Cornerstone is now at the forefront of construction management companies in the kingdom.