Image of the graduation procession inside the Liverpool Cathedral

Brian Corfe

Oration

Presented by: Professor Frank Sanderson

Honorable Pro-Chancellor, I have pleasure in presenting Brian Corfe for the award of an Honorary Fellowship of Liverpool John Moores University.

Brian Corfe is the founder and owner of the Wirral-based Birchen House Group, a cluster of complementary companies, the combined disciplines of which provide a comprehensive property and construction service. 

He has reached the peak of his profession following a highly successful career in the construction industry, during which time he has had telling experience in many aspects of management at operational and strategic levels.  

He has also over many years been a trustee of our University, and 4 years ago established the Brian Corfe & Birchen House Group Prizes for the most improved final year students in Architecture, Real Estate Management, Construction Management and Civil Engineering.

Brian Corfe was born in Heswall in 1947 and was brought up by his mother Vera after the death of his father in 1950.  

He enjoyed his schooldays at Birkenhead Institute Grammar School where he excelled not only academically but also in rugby, cricket and gymnastics. Leaving school with 4 'A' Levels in Arts subjects, and offers from Durham and Aston to study Building Science, he chose to take up a position locally with Tarmac as a Trainee Quantity Surveyor.  

He married Glenys Dodd in 1972, and, supported by Tarmac, studied BuiIding Management part-time at Liverpool Polytechnic, from which he graduated in 1982. His career took a major step forwards when he was invited to join Balfour Beatty in 1977 as a Contracts Manager. His career flourished and he successively became Regional Manager, General Manager, Managing Director, and, as Executive Director, the youngest ever appointee to the Main Board of Balfour Beatty in 1988.  

His rapid rise in the company was not surprising, given his crucial role in overseeing the company's UK and Italian construction interests and building the turnover from £2million per annum in 1977 to £350 million per annum when he departed in 1990. 

After years of commuting to London, Brian accepted an invitation to join the Board of Merseyside-based Donelan Tyson PLC. One journalist at the time likened this move to Peter Beardsley leaving Liverpool and joining Leyton Orient, but Brian could see the potential for growth.  

Over the next 5 years, during which the industry experienced the worst recession in living memory, he significantly improved the operational performance and established proper and close financial controls. But the recession eventually took its toll on the company.

In 1995, Brian was appointed toTakenaka (UK) as Joint Managing Director with responsibility from Tokyo for rethinking and organising the company's short and medium-term strategic plans for the UK, Spain and Ireland. He refocused the company's client base to include international and domestic clients and to broaden the company's market sectors.

In 2000, Brian left Takenaka to establish the Birchen House Group, which is now managed by his son.

Throughout his career he has enjoyed regional and national leadership roles, including:

  • Chairman of Merseyside Business Link
  • Director of Liverpool Chamber of Commerce
  • Trustee of Liverpool John Moores University
  • President of Regional Building Employers Confederation
  • National Committee Member CIOB
  • National Committee Member BEC National Contractors Group
  • And in 1990, he was invited by Prime Minister Thatcher to lead a task force focusing on improving the perception and image of the construction industry

He has even found time to be a governor of a 6th Form College, to coach rugby to juniors, and to be a member of the chorus line of Birkenhead Operatic Society. He has a wide range of leisure interests, including wind surfing, sailing, skiing, squash, and jogging - the latter something of an understatement when you consider that he has run the NY Marathon twice, the London Marathon 3 times and the Liverpool Marathon once, with a best time of 3 hours 18 minutes. 

And in 2001, he fulfilled a long-standing ambition to climb Mt Kilimanjaro with his son Richard.

His contribution to the construction industry over many years has been immense, particularly through his enlightened approach to management in what was traditionally a rough and abrasive industry. He has consistently been strong in encouraging female project managers and he has always attached a high priority to staff development. 

And he was quick to recognise the value of managers working closely with finance directors, which has helped him transform the fortunes of companies with which he has been associated. 

He has received a number of fellowships for his contribution to his profession

  • Fellowship of the CIB in 1987
  • Fellowship of the RIAS in 1988 and a
  • Fellowship of the RICS in 2000

And because of his pre-eminence in his profession and his long-standing support of LJMU and its students, we are proud to honour Brian Corfe today.

Thus I have pleasure in presenting Brian Corfe, this most distinguished alumnus and son of our region, for admission to our highest honour of Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University.