Week in the Life: Briton who matches hard work with play

Dubai-based Briton Panny Lawrence, 43, is chief executive and co-founder of WorkSpace Commerce Group and makes a point of creating a good work/life balance

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 19 APRIL 2018. Panny Lawrence, founder and CEO of WorkSpace Commerce
at their JLT Offices. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: David Dunn. Section: Business.

Briton Panny Lawrence, 43, is chief executive and co-founder of WorkSpace Commerce Group, a JLT-headquartered firm that procures, develops and operates flexible co-working offices via brands in China, London and, soon, the GCC. Mr Lawrence was based in Beijing and Shanghai before moving to Dubai seven years ago. Now living in Green Community with his wife and daughters, aged four years and six months, he tells The National about his week.


Up at about 6am and to the gym early. I like boxing. I’m usually in the office for 8am. We crack on with internal meetings. Marketing, sales, accounts team - I get up to date. They debrief from the week before and we brief going forward. We’ve got eight people in the Dubai office, about 30 globally. We’re learning all the time, we’ve got to be innovative. Growing a business isn’t just about ticking boxes. I haven’t space to think during the week because of calls from China and London. Shanghai and London are closed today. I work late on Sundays.


More sports and in early. Dubai’s a great base for international business. It’s four hours ahead in China and by midday here we’ve got a lot done. Then the UK’s up. I’m briefing the UK commercial director and my head of asset management is acquiring buildings in London. We’re building a funding vehicle in Luxembourg so larger investors can give us larger funding. A lot of things we’re dealing with Monday go into the diary. I’m back-to-back and military on my time management. Delegation is key, but nothing escapes me. Right now, it needs to be hands on. Generally [to unwind] it’s either sports, family – reading, playing, being a big kid – or cooking.


A lot of video calls and meetings booked. I try to spend Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday looking ahead in the business. If there’s a competitor in town, I’ll mystery-shop, spend time in their facility; see what we’re doing better or could do better. I didn’t feel the GCC was ready for co-working until about a year ago. Now we’re ready to come to the market and in discussions to bring co-working to Dubai and GCC. We’re looking at three buildings in the next 18 months. We’ll do a joint venture with a large family office. It’s quite a complicated market; it needs to be a Dubai-based brand. If you can make it more lifestyle focused, you’ve a great concept. I structure two days a week to leave at 4pm; usually Tuesday and Thursday. The phone will go off and, after I’ve put the kids to bed, goes back on. I may do an hour’s worth of emails. A lot of CEOs are control freaks, similar to myself. That’s how it has to be in smaller companies, but if you don’t have stuff that’s good for the soul you can find yourself becoming quite tense. I’m promoting balance in my business, to people who use our facilities; you’ve got to practice what you preach.


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I fast on Tuesday and Wednesday. It cleans your body; it’s a good way to test yourself. You’re the hero and villain of your own business, so you need strong resilience to your emotions. I’m on planes a lot, in London probably once every three weeks. I’m trying to create a special culture in the company. With due respect, the co-working side is very motivational, people orientated with community collaboration, but the servicing behind it – operations team, customer services – may not get as much motivation from the concept. I need to be motivating people; the only way to do that is to go sit with them. Business trips are intense; early mornings and by the time I’m back at the hotel I’ve got to catch up on emails. Then out every evening with partners, vendors, lawyers, fund managers, the team.


Usually in about 10am. I leave at 4pm and pressure myself to fit a lot into that time. It’s a ‘do not disturb’ day, getting stuff done, final property proposals. We need to raise further funding to grow and take this much further, IPO etc. Our strategy is 30 buildings in seven years. I designed a low entry investment opportunity. We’re rolling that out now and it’s going very well. There have been a lot of serviced office operations, but they don’t have collaboration and community. That needs to be in the right place here, done the right way; that comes down to fit out, design, your messaging. You’ve got to position it right. I’m looking at about 10 properties a week, all over. We take the shell. We’ve got our own contractors, construction team, interior designer.


I work in the morning, at home, call my commercial director in Shanghai first thing. We’ve got graphic designers, a ton of external agencies we use. Those relationships need managing. I have the phone switched on but on silent. I try to have a quiet afternoon, do activities that get me out of the zone, spend time with family. It might be going to the movies, or the beach.


I take my [eldest] daughter and go to Chinese school in the morning. I’ve big plans for China. My wife is half Chinese. I go for a boxing session. Then I’m either at the fruit and veg market or Deira Fish Market. I love to cook, usually on Saturday; big family meal night, invite friends over.