Man with a plan
With a growing portfolio and more than prosperous plans in the pipeline, Aykley Group is making its mark - and standing out from the crowd - in the region’s property...

With a growing portfolio and more than prosperous plans in the pipeline, Aykley Group is making its mark – and standing out from the crowd – in the region’s property landscape.

We speak to the man behind the brand – Imad Ali – about entrepreneurship, family values and his ambition to set the bar at every corner.

As the saying goes, great things come from humble beginnings – especially in the world of business – and a number of today’s most successful entrepreneurs started small before making it large.  

Imad Ali is no exception. Inspired by his parents’ determination to create a fruitful future for their family and powered by a natural desire to make it on his own two feet and propel what they had built to the next level, his journey has taken him from the shop floor to the top of the region’s property world.

Today, he is director of Aykley Group – a burgeoning property business, with roots in his home town of Durham. Under its umbrella lies an impressive portfolio of businesses, stretching property, retail, construction, new build homes and, soon, leisure.

He is no stranger to reaching his ambitions – and reaping the lucrative rewards in return – and yet he remains humble and refreshingly aware of what and who helped him arrive at where he is today.

“I grew up around entrepreneurship in its purest form, learning every day from mum and dad,” he says.

“My parents immigrated to this country in the early 1980s without a pound in their pocket – they literally didn’t have two pennies to rub together and nowhere to stay.

“And yet, through sheer hard work and perseverance, they opened a retail shop in Durham, before moving into the private rental and student accommodation sectors and, eventually, making a name for themselves in the property game. Their portfolio now is breathtaking when you look at where they started.

“Their success meant they were able to send me to Durham School – one of the UK’s most prestigious private boarding schools – where I was taught alongside children and grandchildren of some of the region’s biggest names in business. It felt like a prestigious life education in and out of the classroom and I was really fortunate to have that kind of start in life.

“It goes without saying, but my parents are my biggest inspiration. They set the foundation for my life and their work ethic is hard-wired in me. Their ethos was, and still is, all about staying hungry and never being comfortable – because it can all fall apart tomorrow if you let it.

“My mum, in particular, remains a driving force in my life. She keeps me grounded, reminding me of my potential and to keep working hard.”

After leaving school, Imad cut his teeth in retail within the four walls of his parents’ shop. Soon after, he began growing the family’s portfolio of properties and student lettings, before setting his sights on residential and commercial ventures and corporate acquisitions and disposals up and down the country.

Eventually, his path led him to construction and new build housing in which Pimlico Homes and Aykley Construction – which are a part of Aykley Group – are now frontrunners.

“There isn’t an area of the property industry I didn’t have a hand in. I studied the game as much as I worked in it – and that’s an attitude I’ll have for life.

“I’ve seen property developments from spades in the ground, to the handing over of the keys. Overseeing those processes front to back has given me a real competitive advantage. To know your industry and also you need to know what can go wrong operationally, is just as crucial as knowing the market from an opportunity perspective.

“I guess that’s what given me such a clear vision on how to tear up the manual for new builds with our Pimlico Homes project and the reason Aykley Group is becoming so diverse.”

2024 marks the first chapter for Pimlico Homes – the Group’s first venture within the new build market.

Buyers from all over the UK fell and fought for the first in its signature series – Pimlico Court – and the site sold off plan almost instantaneously.

Promising luxury living in the heart of Durham – moments away from its bustling shops and nightlife – the exclusive courtyard development plays host to four individually-designed executive homes.

The site is perfectly positioned on one of the city’s most exclusive and desirable streets, surrounded by a peaceful riverside landscape, and each home offers unrivalled views of the city’s iconic cathedral and castle.

“Pimlico Court’s arrival saw us set an all-time record for pound per square foot in the new build market in Durham City – quite literally setting a new bar,” says Imad.

“We wanted to re-define luxury living, re-shape the new build market and make our mark in  the UK, starting right here on our own doorstep in the North East – and that’s what we’ve achieved.

“The development was carefully built by the construction arm of the business – Aykley Construction – and is a striking example of what our team is capable of doing. The results speak for themselves, complemented by signature Pimlico interiors and architectural design by award-winning architects JDDK.

“It’s the start of something really exciting for the construction side of things. We have some huge projects coming up in the next 12 months and a pipeline of up to £65 million worth of developments that will turn more than a few heads.”

Included in that line-up is an exclusive development in Ponteland’s grand and sought-after Darras Hall estate, which the Group believe will be in high demand based on location alone.

Imad and his team have enlisted the help of Sarah Rahal, a world-renowned interior designer and founder of popular design company, Haute Interiors, to execute the homes’ modern good looks, along with an award-winning architect, who will be announced in due course.

“It’s going to be one of my favourite projects to date and I’m itching to get going,” says Imad.

Elsewhere, the Aykley Group continues to go from strength to strength.

Its property arm, which has been around for 30 years, continues to pave the way in HMOs, residential lettings and commercial lettings throughout the region and beyond.

And it’s set for another prosperous year as Imad and his team prepare to not only grow its existing services ahead of the market, but also reveal a number of purpose-built student accommodation sites over the coming months, under the arm of Aykley Developments as well as the results of a restoration project that will see the Group transform a Durham landmark into something special, both to be constructed by sister Aykley Construction.

“We’re thrilled to be adding Court Inn in Durham city centre to our portfolio of work. It is a prestigious free house with a fantastic history behind it, set in an incredible location, and we’re really looking forward to breathing new life into it,” says Imad.

“We plan on building a new bar and restaurant in the heart of the building, crowned by extraordinary short term let apartments, which will fall under our short-term accommodation lettings brand STÁ, Luxury STA your way – our interpretation of luxury short term stays.

“The interiors will be really unique and we’ll be taking bookings at the end of June.”

Looking to the future, it seems this young entrepreneur is in no hurry to slow down or – as his mum puts it “become comfortable” – any time soon.

A self-confessed go-getter and self-motivator, for Imad, it seems the only way is up.

“We’ve more than doubled our turnover already. We will be doing the same again next year and will be on course to reach £150 million in the next three years. People say it’s ambitious, but doubling every year has to be the goal,” he says.

“But this doesn’t just happen overnight – we have had steady growth in all our other companies, which has set the foundation to be able to be so ambitious.

“Defining – and redefining – our standards will continue to be key to our growth and development. Watching our competitors grow is a huge driver for me – it’s infectious to watch. Studying the way they operate challenges my thought process around how I can be better and be different – I find it inspiring.

“For me, it’s all about striving forward and being better than I was before. I always saw myself in property, but never that alone. There are so many different aspects of culture I want to have an impact on and, in my eyes, there really is no limit.

“I’ll never be satisfied with just one thing. Carrying the torch for our family was a given, but to do things my way was always the goal.”

Posted 17th April 2024

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