When Paul Tognarelli left Allied Irish Bank to become managing director of property developers Adderstone Group, it seemed an unusual move for a businessman who had been so heavily involved in banking for most of his career.
Yet, as Paul explains, the building blocks for his relationship with Adderstone were put in place many years before he made the jump, so it was no leap of faith.
Sunderland-born Paul has been at the helm of the Newcastle group since June 2012, managing a 150-strong workforce through seven team leaders, and while he may have known the operation inside out before taking up the post, becoming a business leader still marks something of a departure for him.
As one of life’s enablers, Paul has chosen to spend the majority of his career helping others to launch and grow their own businesses, yet now the role is reversed.
He readily admits that, as a young man taking his first steps into the working world after university, he never had ambitions to run his own firm.
He was, however, always destined to go into business in one shape or form, thanks to an entrepreneurial streak he acquired from his grandfather, who moved from Tuscany to the UK in 1914, and later his father Reno, who owned and ran the family’s Tognarelli ice cream parlours around Scotland and the North East for many years.
“My grandfather manufactured and sold his own ice cream and had a couple of ice cream parlours, and my dad Reno tells me this story how he’d be out selling ice cream from a barrow to shipyard workers, and that was the 1920s,” he recalled.
“I was never going to go into business with my dad, who ran the firm until he retired and sold it. But, maybe I learned some business techniques from him along the way.
“I think my parents were very passionate about business and were very ambitious for themselves and for their children, and that particularly rubbed off on me – I still take up every opportunity that I can.”
Fresh out of university with an economics degree under his belt, Paul went straight into a graduate role at Northern Rock and was quickly promoted. At the age of 25 he was manager of the Hexham and Durham areas.
“It was great,” he said, “I was very young, managing people who were much older than me, and that served me well for the future.”
As manager of the two areas, he focussed on customers’ personal investments – funding house purchases at a time when Right To Buy was a hot ticket for those attempting to get onto the property ladder.
“And I was delighted to be able to help people realise their dreams, buying their council houses, creating assets for themselves – I was the facilitator for that,” he said.
In 1987 he quit Northern Rock and joined Allied Irish Bank, keen to become more business orientated.
“My ambition was really to get out into the business community, to really continue generating wealth for the region and for the go-getters of the region, and I was able to do that for AIB in various roles,” said Paul, 53.
This was an exciting time for the North East economy, with a range of industry sectors enjoying growth, and Paul, senior manager of corporate banking leading a team of 35 people, was at the heart of it, developing links with businessmen and women who were – or were destined to become – key enablers in the region.
“It led to a big network of people I knew in the North East and it’s great to see how that generation has grown into key influencers, many in key posts,” he said.
Spending 25 years at Allied Irish Bank allowed Paul to experience every fluctuation within the economy and see how whole industrial sectors struggle through more than economic crisis, with many within the region’s industrial heritage falling by the wayside. One firm that endured times of economic downturn, however, was the Adderstone Group, property developers founded in 1998 by a then 25-year-old Ian Baggett, who had turned to Paul for advice as he sought to make his first investment.
A former North East Entrepreneur of the Year, Ian has gone on to set up more than 30 trading companies, which includes commercial and residential property development, property investment, construction and manufacturing, all of which have flourished.
“At that time we were funding property development and I met Ian Baggett who was very pioneering, in terms of seeing potential for developing difficult projects – taking rundown buildings in and around the city and turning them into apartments. I lent him his first £1m.”
At the initial meeting, Ian went into to see Paul to talk about his plans to take over office space in Durham and convert it into residential space. As relationship director for Adderstone within AIB, from then on Paul met frequently with Ian – as he did his other top clients – often going on site to see how work was progressing on construction ventures.
Socialising played a large part too – and with an open and gregarious manner it’s easy to see how Paul has formed strong links with business leaders around the region.
He said: “I do see myself as a people person, and I get satisfaction from seeing them growing.
“Some of the clients are now seriously wealthy people and they would say to me that I lent them their first £50,000 to get them on their way.”
As relationship director Paul was also responsible for steering clients through the lean times as well as the good, maintaining open and honest communication at all times.
He and Ian have shared many a frank conversation over the years – just one of the factors that led to Paul’s appointment as managing director last June when Ian decided to take more of a back seat.
Having known the Adderstone Group since its inception Paul was a natural choice to take over the reins.
“It was relatively easy for me to pick up the reins. I was heavily involved in property investment and property services and I knew the business,” he said.
“It has been really rewarding to see how Adderstone has been able to add real value to the region, not just to the business itself.
“And from having just three people there are now more than 150, which is tremendous to see.
“It’s quite fantastic that Adderstone Group has been able to survive the biggest economic downturn and collapse in the UK and it’s still here, and is improving.
“It’s a great achievement, not just for Ian but for all the staff and managers.”
For his first task he restructured the entire group.
The group’s various firms had been dotted all over the city, but Paul brought all of the businesses under one roof in Jesmond, Newcastle.
Directors for each of the business streams must report to Paul regularly but he prefers to trust his management staff to carry out their duties and effectively manage their teams without meddling too much.
Last August saw the fruits of his first year “in office” when annual accounts showed Adderstone Group had almost doubled profits to £950,000 and turnover lifted by £3.8m, to £20m.
Now Paul, a married dad of two, is seeking to build upon those figures, but maintaining a steady view over the business comes first and foremost – and so far he’s very happy with how the team has gelled, and feels very optimistic for the future.
“And it’s really satisfying how the staff have taken to the new structure and guidelines,” he said.
“My philosophy is ‘get the right people on the bus and give them a seat’. I try to create the right conditions for people to do well and that has been filling them with confidence.
“In management speak, I give everybody a responsibility for themselves, their team and their business. I ask them to create their own vision and it’s my job to make that vision become a reality – I do keep an eye on them but I don’t meddle, and hopefully the group has seen the benefits of that approach.
“I have seven MDs and I want them all to do well for themselves both professionally and personally, so I very much see my role as helping them to succeed.
“I’m really happy to be here at Adderstone, putting in the foundations for the future.
“We have the resources to continue the expansion into construction and development and we are looking for attractive developments that deliver good margins.
“And we are looking to expand the property services department too, by generic growth and through acquisitions. . . we are keen to do more deals.
“I see my role as being the lynchpin in deal-making. I have lots of contacts across the area and I’m looking to take action, to allow us to expand the business and it’s a really exciting time to be at Adderstone Group. We can look forward on the back of strong asset businesses and robust income streams to a very bright future.