Robb Report Singapore Thought Leader: Chris Godfrey, Global Principal of HBA Residential

“Success is never contemplating the idea that it has been or can be achieved,” says Chris Godfrey, Global Principal of HBA Residential and member of the Robb Report Singapore Thought Leaders community

Having grown up in northern England in the 1970s to 1980s, Christopher Godfrey describes his artistry as being shaped by its creative hippie-like community as well as its poor and challenging environment. “We were a free-spirited family and my father is very artistic,” the CEO of Hirsch Bedner Associates (HBA) recalls. “Growing up in this creative world and tough environment has made me resilient. I’m creative and spirited, but also a fighter – it is that duality that’s at the core of everything I’ve done since.”

From entering the hospitality industry at the tender age of 16, to starting his first design studio at 29, then joining HBA to expand its portfolio in Asia and appointed CEO in the last year, Godfrey’s work is inextricable from his personal life. “This is a vocation; this is my life. They’re inseparable – what I am and what I try to do are the same thing.”

Was there ever a career setback you faced which you later discovered was an advantage?

The biggest one was when I set up my first company at 29; that was full of lessons. I ran it for 10 years until the global financial crisis hit in 2008 and was having the best years prior to that. It’s a business I now look back on as a hobby: I was a designer doing it for the love of design and it was being regarded financially. But everything was wiped out within six weeks of the crisis like a house of cards.

I had to start again in every way. I had gathered so much personal experience doing things on my own up to that point, I had to figure out how to do it with more structure and security: (it had to be) less about design and more about how to make it a sustainable enterprise.

Before the crisis hit, I realised I had reached my limit. I had to take partners on board to change my business in order to grow again. After that, I was lucky I had answered a newspaper advertisement to join a new start-up. We got on well and started a company called 1508 London, where I was one of four directors. This was something with planning, structure and investment; we had clear objectives as to where we wanted to go. It was educational and liberating.

What kind of advice would you give someone who is already successful?

For me, success is never contemplating the idea that it has been or can be achieved. Thinking you have success suggests an endpoint, and in my view, there’s no such thing as attainment, only continuum. I would say: “Keep going, you’ve done well so far.” There is always more that can be done, that what was done yesterday was just a forerunner to the next.

What’s the one thing about you that will surprise most people?

I take the MRT to work most days; it’s my decompression chamber.

Editor’s note: Get to know the full Thought Leaders community here.

Photography by Sayher Heffernan
Styling by Karin Tan
Hair & Makeup by Angel Gwee
Credits: Chanel Beauty and L’Oréal Hair Professional; jacket and pants by Boss