The York property developer set to conquer the world’s seven highest peaks

When Steve Davis decided to take a career break, his life ascended far higher than he ever imagined. Now back in business he is determined to keep the work-life balance, writes Lizzie Murphy.

There’s never a good time to get covid but when you’ve just set off from Everest Base Camp to conquer the peak you’ve always dreamed about, it’s particularly challenging.

Property developer Steve Davis was airlifted off the world’s highest mountain last April after starting to feel ill and weak. At first doctors thought it might be altitude sickness but a test at a hospital in Kathmandu confirmed it was covid.

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After taking a turn for the worse, he spent eight days in intensive care. “It was a local hospital and the care was really good,” he says. “But it was a long process and worrying for my family. They didn’t really know what was going on.”

Steve Davis, founder and chief executive of Grantside.

After leaving hospital, the area went into lockdown so he had to spend a further two and a half weeks in a hotel before he was able to fly home.

Undeterred by the experience, he plans to return to Nepal and attempt to climb Everest again in April this year.

His family may call it a midlife crisis but the founder and chief executive of York-based property developer Grantside says discovering a love of climbing in his forties has changed his life.

After successfully conquering his first mountain - Kilimanjaro - in 2018, he was bitten by the climbing bug and decided to set himself the challenge of climbing the seven summits - the highest peak in every continent. A feat that only a few hundred people in the world have achieved.

Since then, Davis has ticked three off the list: Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa; Mount Elbrus in Russia, Europe; and Mount Aconcagua in Argentina, South America.

He plans to tackle Everest and nearby Lhotse - the first and fourth-highest mountains in the world - in April and May this year followed by Vinson Massif in Antarctica in October where he also intends to ski the final degree to reach the South Pole.

The final two summits: Denali in Alaska, North America and the Carstensz Pyramid, on the island of New Guinea in Indonesia, would complete his challenge.

“My family are really proud but I think they think I’m going through some midlife crisis,” he says from the comfort of his grade two listed home, Middlethorpe Manor, in Bishopthorpe. “They’re probably right but they accept it’s something I really want to do even though it’s really dangerous.”

The mountain expeditions are Davis’s way of redressing the balance between work and play. He shares his adventures on his instagram profile @stevedavis72.

“I’ve always wanted to be adventurous but I’ve always been a bit of a workaholic,” he admits. “I founded Grantside in 1993 and I threw myself into building up the company and being successful. For a long time I thought that was my goal in life.”

By 2016/17 he had developed £750m worth of commercial buildings, primarily through tax efficient enterprise zones, but he had lost his enthusiasm for the company. In 2018, unsure whether he was stopping, retiring or just taking a sabbatical, he decided to pause the company, a career break that ended up lasting about a year.

During this time he decided to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, having never climbed a mountain before or been particularly fit, he says. But during that trip his love of climbing was born.

“I’m lucky enough to have made some money and I have a beautiful house but thinking about my own health and wellness and my family has become much more important to me,” he says.

Discovering mountaineering has given him a renewed enthusiasm and new perspective on his business too.

Davis relaunched developer and contractor Grantside in 2019 with a new focus on sustainability and wellbeing.

He is currently working on eight projects with a gross development value of £97.5m, with another £138m worth of projects in the pipeline.

“I came back and I was more interested in the environment and my wife’s very interested in sustainability, wellness and health too. I decided to relaunch Grantside with a whole different approach,” he says.

He has received planning for a number of projects in the commercial, residential and logistics sectors, as well as buying York’s former Kuda nightclub site and former Mecca bingo hall in joint ventures with North Star.

Solo development schemes include Hive-Central, a new co-living and co-working destination in Kelham Island, Sheffield, which aims to be Kelham Island’s first zero carbon development.

Davis is also hoping to build zero carbon offices in Sheffield through his CN Tower project.

Meanwhile, his planning application has been approved to regenerate the top floors of 4 - 6 Parliament Street in York into an aparthotel, with 21 self-contained holiday-let apartments and a courtyard.

Leeds-born Davis achieved success early on in his career. After leaving school he worked for his father’s building company. The pair set up Grantside in 1993 to drive forward enterprise zone schemes, which Davis took over when his father emigrated to Australia.

“We were in the right place at the right time,” he says. “We had this rolling programme that we built up and we got a reputation for the projects going well.”

The firm’s biggest project was the one million sq ft Quorum Business Park in Newcastle, one of the UK’s biggest business parks, which began in 2002.

“The buildings are great but we also built tennis courts, football pitches and health clubs in between them. It was the start of me realising that the spaces in between the buildings are really important,” Davis says.

“All buildings are about people and we want to design them around how people use space rather than designing a building and telling people how to use it.”

Although Davis is passionate about the business, as he approaches his 50th birthday this year he is more conscious of achieving a work-life balance and not repeating past mistakes.

“I love work and the business that I’m building but my family is more important and health is more important,” he says. “Going climbing is this adventurous outgoing guy that wasn’t allowed to do it before because he’d set the wrong goals.

“This complete reset has given me a new lease of life and it feels amazing.”

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