“I’ve never seen anything like it,” says Grant Bovey

"There’s more bad news to come, no doubt about it," he told Real Business in a behind-the-scenes interview at The Entrepreneurs’ Summit this week.

"I’d say we’re only a third of the way through the economic downturn."

Bovey admits that he was blown away by the speed of change. "I went to a huge property convention in Cannes four or five weeks ago, with 26,000 delegates. Everybody who operates in the property sector, including the banks, were there. The mood there was cautious – but nothing more.

"Since we got back, the mood has turned sombre.

"In all my years in business [Bovey left school to sell ladies’ fashion on a market stall], I’ve never witnessed anything quite like it."

Bovey says he has tightened his belt and trimmed overheads. "We’re all guilty of becoming complacent, particularly in the property sector where we’ve been in a rising market for the past three years. I hope Imagine Homes will emerge leaner and fitter."

The Farnborough-based business employs 120 people, has seven offices around the world and turns over £300m.

So how does Bovey compete against his rivals when the going gets tough? "If I make a decision, I can pick up the phone, speak to two different people and bang, it happens. If you’re running a large housebuilding plc, that process can take four to six months.

"Entrepreneurs are like chameleons – we can change the colour of our skin according to the environment."

The last time we interviewed Bovey, back in November last year, he was planning to float the business on the London Stock Exchange.

Those plans are on hold. "I can’t think beyond the next six months," he sighs. "It’s going to be a tough time for small businesses. I think the whole property sector will concertina. I wouldn’t bet against a merger."

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