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Innovate, don’t Replicate!

28 February 2012

Edmund Cude

UCL Entrepreneurship Guest Lecture: Robert Nichols, Director, Edmund Cude

Robert Nichols is “ex-UCL”: after he graduated in 2002 from Mechanical Engineering, he started working for an estate agency in London.

The agency was tiny, with only one office and one employee: him. In last week’s lecture, Robert wanted to talk about the skills he learnt “which can be applied to anything”, so to “help rather than to preach”.


Robert started with no money at all and a full student loan to pay back. In 2002 he joined “a small lettings and management company” called Edmund Cude. The business had been founded in 1818; therefore, however small it might have been, it was a credible one. It had great foundations, retention of clients and it offered the “opportunity to be built on and rolled out though keeping its ethics”. Robert was soon faced with a lucky coincidence: the owner of the company was near retirement. He took over. Where did Robert get the money he needed but didn’t have to buy his first company? The owner lent it to him, with the promise Robert would pay it back with the profits of the very same company. This is unusual, admirable and shows –in Robert’s own words- how “where there is will, there is a way”. The complete lack of funds was no obstacle to the budding entrepreneur.

What skills did UCL teach Robert?

Robert says UCL taught him the two biggest skills: analysis and ability to work hard. “Know all you do, to avoid mistakes”- when you employ people, for example. What’s important is to “set the feeling of the company from the start”, where you are the hardest worker, the first to enter and the last to leave the office. The employers you employ will emulate what you do. People, Robert believes, are the most important thing in the company. They represent a cost and you. Robert Nichols decided his company would be “committed to education” in its hiring: it would recruit university graduates only, who had to be working towards a professional qualification. A few examples: ACCA for accountants, ARLA technical award for negotiators, the paralegal license for contracts team.

Advice and Summary

“Innovate, don’t replicate”. Risk is a must in entrepreneurship; how it is taken is what counts. If it is planned, analysed, tracked, it is healthy. Advertising, for instance, is risky as it is difficult to calculate its returns. It is difficult to track- this is why it took time and caution for Robert to start dealing with advertisers.

Robert Nichol’s company had a 40% growth in its best performing office and a 3.5 million turn over. This is expected to grow up to 12 million in the next few years. It is now “one of the best in the country” and it has won the award as Best Agency in the UK this year. Robert Nichols can be proud of his amazing achievement besides his striking personal story.

Written by Carolina Mostert, UCL 2nd year student studying Classics

The UCL Entrepreneurship Guest Lectures are organised by UCL Advances which is affiliated to UCL Enterprise.