HIS career journey has taken him from Wharfedale to the heart of power among the French political elite, but Neil Coales has never lost the common touch.
At heart, he remains the open-minded Ilkley Grammar School pupil who left his home in Yorkshire in search of adventure.
Based in Paris, Mr Coales is the managing director of construction company Agilité Solutions, which has forged links with Brigitte Macron, the wife of French President Emmanuel Macron, to help revive struggling communities.
Fluent in both French and English, the Sheffield Hallam University graduate set up Agilité because he wanted to break the mould. He had been frustrated by what he perceived as the construction industry’s lack of agility; a sluggishness which he believes has damaging consequences for Europe’s economy.
Over the last two decades, Mr Coales has built up vast experience in delivering fit-outs and refurbishments for customers across a range of sectors, including office, retail, and hospitality.
He is particularly proud of the ongoing relationship between Agilité and the LV Foundation – in conjunction with Ms Macron – to build learning facilities for underprivileged communities in France. Agilité Solutions was appointed to transform a building in a Paris suburb into the new home of the Institute for Employment Vocations, which was founded by the French first lady.
Located in the Clichy-sous-Bois district, the Institut des vocations pour l’emploi (LIVE) provides training for young adults who dropped out of the education system and is funded by Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE.
The Agilité team stripped back the building to bare concrete and completed the task on time and within budget in 2019. It’s a project which is transforming the lives of young people who might have struggled to find work.
Mr Coales believes his Yorkshire upbringing set him on the right path by providing a moral compass.
“Ilkley was a fantastic place to grow up and I spent as much time as I could exploring the moor,” he said. “After leaving school I took a year off and went travelling, where I did a wide variety of jobs.
“I did everything from picking bananas in a kibbutz to setting dynamite charges in a turquoise mine and acting as a cycle tour guide around the Valley of the Kings in Egypt.
“My experiences travelling taught me how to get on with a wide variety of people from different backgrounds, even if I was travelling to places that might have been considered a little dangerous.
“When I went to university in Sheffield, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do,” he recalled.
“One thing I did know – I didn’t want to sit behind a desk from nine to five so that led me to construction.”
He carved out a career with ISG, a global construction specialist, rising through the ranks from the role of senior quantity surveyor to managing director of the company’s European operation.
“I was very lucky to be involved in a number of major projects,” he said. “ISG was a very good company which offered excellent training.
“We delivered a project for a large IT company which was opening an office in Paris.
“My wife is French and after the project went so well, I decided to settle here. It wasn’t really planned, it just happened.
“My career blossomed in France, I became the MD of the European business with 400 staff and then there was a divergence of opinion between me and the UK business about where it ought to go.”
Four years ago he established Agilité Solutions, to help organisations enter, move or expand throughout Europe. The business has the flexibility to carry out multi-site programmes or boutique local projects.
“My whole vision is to have a pan-European business,” said Mr Coales. “We have achieved a high degree of success in a short space of time. I’ve got a team of 40 people who are highly motivated by the environment and the moral responsibilities that go with it. We give a percentage of our profits to charity.”
There is also a Yorkshire dimension to his work.
“We are working with a major retailer who is planning store openings in Leeds, Bradford and York,” he said.
“There is a huge demand for bricks and mortar. Some businesses have reduced their property footprints, which have created opportunities for other brands to expand.
“People still want to visit physical stores for the enjoyment of social interaction. We have enjoyed double-digit growth and could be a 100m euro business within five years. We’re a safe pair of hands who are committed to quality. We have not really suffered due to Brexit.
“In fact, what we are finding is that clients who have offices in the UK now need to have them in mainland Europe.
“In the UK, we have developed a standalone business with its own supply chain. People are looking differently at office space.
“They may not want to be in the office five days a week. Many clients want to revisit their office space, I don’t think we’ll go back to the days when everybody had their own desk in a cube-shaped space.”
“We are still growing despite the economic headwinds,” he added. “If you believe in your capabilities, you can make anything work.”
Based in Paris, Neil Coales is the managing director of Agilité Solutions.
He sets the business strategy while overseeing the expansion of the pan-European business.
He was educated at Ilkley Grammar School and Sheffield Hallam University where he studied building studies and quantity surveying.
He has been based in Paris for the last 20 years. Agilité Solutions has forged links with Brigitte Macron and her LVMH team.
Agilité Solutions was appointed to transform a building in a Paris suburb into the new home of the Institute for Employment Vocations.
Mrs Macron is the advocate for the project and Agilité handled the commercial interiors for its sites.