Tech CEO Chris Morling wanted to get out of London so up set shop in a Cotswolds castle
Times really have changed! Welcome to the wacky world of Chris Morling, whose staff call him the best boss in Britain and who has just spent £3million turning their workplace into a multicoloured fun palace they absolutely love.
Inside his company’s Grade-II listed Victorian castle HQ in the Cotswolds there is a Star Wars-themed cinema where they get free popcorn; meeting rooms are designed as an ice cave and a ski lodge; the Downton Abbey-style library has a secret passage in the bookcase; PlayStations, table football and pinball machines are dotted around for fun.
On the ceiling of the psychedelic board room there is a neon quote from Lord Tennyson saying “the splendour falls on castle walls” – and it certainly does.
Looking after my team is paramount, they are my most valuable asset
The castle’s reception area is a mass of lush foliage, the work areas are a fun-packed kaleidoscope of colours – orange paint is everywhere – and the gym has crazy giant-sized photos of a happy hamster on the walls.
Grey steel air conditioning vents have been given a coat of vibrant pink paint, carpet tiles produce a startling rainbow effect, there are wall-sized photos of soothing forest scenes and bright colours and cartoon comic graphics liven up what were previously drab, neglected office areas.
There’s even a 98-inch TV screen.
The office has a Star Wars-themed cinema with free popcorn on tap
Then there are the toilets, each with its own individual theme. The ladies is a restful pink palace that would not be out of place in a five star hotel while in the gents the urinals are shaped like the Rolling Stones lips icon.
The whole extravagant look is the work of flamboyant designer Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, star of TV’s Changing Rooms, but if you think the boss may have taken leave of his senses, think again.
There’s a deadly serious purpose behind this magnificent makeover near Cirencester in Gloucestershire.
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“Looking after my team is paramount, they are my most valuable asset,” says Chris, 46, founder and boss of the price comparison website Money.co.uk.
Even the toilets and urinals have been carefully designed and maintained
“An amazing physical environment is just a small piece of the jigsaw when you’re creating a great place to work. When your team truly feel valued and their opinions are listened to they feel empowered – and that’s worth far more than any of the perks and benefits we offer.”
Those perks are pretty remarkable too. Many companies give free coffee and money-saving vouchers but Chris offers his 50 employees an all-expenses holiday abroad once a year to destinations including Florida, New York and Copenhagen plus a bonus of up to 45 per cent of their salary for the top performers.
Each staff member is also given £5,000 a year which they can donate to the charity of their choice.
Oh, I nearly forgot the clincher – there’s free beer as well at the monthly after-work social events.
Chris now has a staff of over 50 people, all of whom are given £5k a year to donate to charity
Chris, who lives in a nearby Cotswolds village with his wife Gael, 45, and three children, worked as a software programmer for the Oracle tech giant in the 1990s but left when he had a lightbulb moment.
“I thought there’s serious money in this business, I could probably earn what I earn now but do it on my own.”
Working from his spare bedroom he built a website that listed loans and savings account deals. Web traffic grew and cash trickled in from advertising on the site.
By 2006 he ran 50 different sites for various financial products but soon realised he had too much on his plate.
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“They were short-term projects and I wanted a long-term game.”
So two years later he launched his comparison website. In eight years it has grown from a staff of seven to 50 – and turnover is now in the region of £30million a year.
A lot of the profits have been ploughed back into the castle. At the start of the 14-month project each employee was asked what was missing from their current office.
Some wanted a coffee machine, others asked for raised desks they could stand next to rather than sit at.
Changing rooms star Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen was called in to do the design
But all agreed they wanted an office that was bursting with life and energy – and that’s exactly what they’ve got.
Chris says he brought Llewelyn-Bowen in – they met through their personal trainer – because he needed someone who could think outside the box.
“When I first decided to build my business outside London I knew recruitment was going to be tricky.
“Eight years on, I’m lucky enough to have built a team of 50 best in class individuals. In the next year, my search for the kings and queens of tech will go on as I plan to grow my team another 20 per cent.”
The castle might seem like an extravagant base for a relatively modest company but Chris insists it is a “really cost-effective choice if you compare it to 10,000 square feet of space in London”. Much prettier too!