Real estate’s changemakers: the under 35s leading property’s new future

Sep 20, 2021 | News

Founder and Managing Director, Ed Ellerington, has been shortlisted for EG’s Rising Star Award, and recently spoke to them alongside the other finalists about the future of Real Estate.

Originally published by EG in September 2021.

Each year, EG selects a group of under 35-year-olds who look set to be the next big thing in real estate. They may lead quietly behind the scenes or be front and centre, but you would do well to have all 10 on your speed-dial list. Meet today’s stars of tomorrow’s real estate sector.

EG sat down with its latest cohort of Rising Stars to find out a little bit more about what makes them tick.

EG: What are your thoughts on being an EG Rising Star?

Ed Ellerington: When I look across my peer group, there are incredible people bringing forward some truly revolutionary ideas, so to be put forward and shortlisted as one of those individuals is a privilege. I think it’s so important to have this award category to provide up-and-coming individuals the chance to “strut their stuff” and show the range and diversity of our future generation of leaders.

From a personal perspective, my own career path has been anything but usual, having set up my first business at 16 and not having gone down the traditional school, university, career route but instead deferring my higher education to later in life. Accelerated by the pandemic, what I see now, not only in our own sector but across sectors, is that the younger generation is waking up to the idea of traditional school, university, long career paths not being the only option available.

In recognising the paths that some of its Rising Stars have made, EG is inspiring the younger generation to think outside the box. To that end, I think the initiative and individuals that EG chooses to highlight are vital to encouraging the very best talent from all walks of life to look at real estate and see the options that are available to them – to find their own path upon leaving school.

Sophie Jack: It feels surreal – never in a million years did I think I would make it onto the shortlist. Given that there are so many talented young people in our industry, it’s a real privilege to be recognised as a Rising Star. I feel very grateful to have a team of people around me who think highly enough of me to put me forward for such a prestigious award, and I have enjoyed having some positive news to share with friends and family after a really challenging 18 months during lockdown. I’ve had such lovely messages from all sorts of people – those I know and those I don’t know so well. I feel a really strong sense of community within our industry, and I’m proud to be a part of that.

It’s great that publications such as EG give firms and individuals the opportunity to showcase the talent on offer, and I see being shortlisted as a really important milestone in my career – it’s the culmination of a lot of hard work, not just on my part but also the supportive team at Shoosmiths, which have helped develop me. This is probably the most exciting thing that has happened in my career to date.

Christopher Jones: We have reached a critical stage in the evolution of a number of industry fields, with a need to empower people to keep advice relevant to client objectives and concerns. I am inspired to make a significant contribution in driving industry transformation with optimal solutions that maximise their scale of deployment. I am grateful to be chosen as an EG Rising Star as this signals an industry recognition of prioritising change.

Gwyn Jones: Naturally, I’m immensely proud of all aspects of my personal and professional life, but being recognised for your achievements by such a prestigious award, and among incredibly talented peers, has topped off what has been an incredible year since I took the helm at Castle Green Homes.

Jessica Ogden: I am absolutely delighted to be named as an EG Rising Star, and still in a little bit of awe. I always read the Rising Stars feature, and to be recognised by EG means a lot to me personally and professionally as a young female in the industry.

Stephanie O’Neill: I am thrilled to be nominated for the EG Rising Star award. I have overcome many obstacles to get to this point in my career. I started in administration at a surveying firm, where I found my passion in rating. From there I enrolled in an estate management course, successfully achieving my degree and later becoming a chartered surveyor. This was all achieved while raising a young family and balancing full-time work and study. I am proud to say this is a professional highlight for me to be shortlisted for this award.

Grace Oyesoro: I was surprised enough to be nominated in the first place, let alone to make it to the shortlist. After getting over the initial shock, it has been really clarifying – a great reminder for me to shake off the imposter syndrome that can sometimes creep in, to stop to acknowledge my wins along the way and be proud of myself in the moment. 

Martin Prince-Parrott: To be honest, I feel humbled, nervous and excited. Humbled because my cohort is so wonderfully accomplished. Nervous because the EG Rising Star isn’t just a gong – sure, it’s recognition for achievement, but it also represents an expectation that recipients will really do something to make a difference. And excited because if this cohort and others are the industry leaders of tomorrow, I think our industry will fully embrace the responsibility we have for shaping the places where people live out their lives.

Polly Simpson: It’s a huge privilege. I was thrilled to have been shortlisted, and I think it is testament to the guidance, support and freedom I have received at Savills. I’m also grateful to my clients and to the burgeoning build-to-rent sector, which has provided me with opportunities to rapidly grow in my career and help my clients to shape the future of the sector.

EG: Who or what is your biggest inspiration?

EE: There are so many people who have inspired me at different times in my life – from friends and family to work colleagues and leaders – that to pick any one person out is difficult. However, the quality I am most drawn to in those who inspire me is the ability to face down adversity and power through despite the odds.

To that end, I have always found Andy Dufresne’s line in The Shawshank Redemption quite apt: “You either get busy living or get busy dying.” There will be good and bad times throughout our lives but, at the end of it all, you only live once and so we either move forward or we don’t.

If you ask my wife, she will tell you the quote that inspires me most is that it is always better to ask for forgiveness than permission.

SJ: One of my close friends and a former colleague, who won’t want to be named – but people who know me will know who I am talking about. As a young Black woman with a disability, my friend has faced more challenges than most of us can ever imagine. I admire her determination and grit, and her ability to appear confident in situations where I know she is completely out of her comfort zone. It is those difficult situations that we come across, both personally and professionally, from which we can probably learn the most, causing us to develop different skills and to critically analyse the things upon which we can improve – a skill my friend has really mastered.

During our time working together, it was amazing to see her go from strength to strength. It was a learning curve to understand the challenges she has faced and humbling to see that, notwithstanding those challenges, she approaches every situation with a positive attitude. My friend makes me believe that anything is possible and that there are no limitations to our own abilities – if we have courage, determination and a clear idea of what we want to achieve.

CJ: Sport will always be an inspiration to me, as the dedication to reach the peak of a field requires both physical and mental fortitude. It also has the tendency to unite people regardless of how they identify – such as their ethnicity, religion or gender – or highlight areas where division remains and open discussion is needed. If I were forced to choose one athlete, it would be tennis player Leyton Hewitt for his sheer determination to stay in every point (as much as it loathes me to put an Aussie in here).

GJ: My father has always been my biggest driver. His incredible work ethic and long hours worked as a gamekeeper to provide for us as a family inspired me to follow in his footsteps. I felt growing up that he excelled and was well respected within his profession owing to his drive and acumen, and I wanted to emulate that in my career.

Latterly, my own family consistently inspire me to “be more”. As a father of five, managing a growing business while also dedicating time to your family is something that I am always working on to find the right balance.

Finally, if I look at myself, the overarching inspiration is to “be more”, and to pave the way to allow others from all backgrounds to enter the industry and continue to flourish and realise their potential.

JO: My personal quote is that “good always prevails in the end”. I am a firm believer that if something is meant to be then it will be.

A big shout out to my good friend Sammy Jones too, who explained the steps I needed to take when I decided that I’d like to be a surveyor. I was 16 at the time, and I’ll never forget walking around the Manchester Arndale Centre taking in everything she said. I thought: if Sammy can do it, so can I. To this day, she has been both an inspiration and a mentor to me.

SoN: The partners who believed in me when I first joined the firm: Iain Dewar, Roger Messenger, Simon Layfield and Andrew Williams. They have all been instrumental in my career, supporting and encouraging me in my academic career and my journey to becoming a partner. Their unwavering support has never gone unnoticed.

GO: “In the rush to think big, make sure you don’t forget the small.” This reminds me to recognise and appreciate the value of the smaller, more gradual changes and to remember that there is no position or sphere of influence too small to effect positive change.

MPP: I’m lucky, I don’t have one single source of inspiration. But by far the greatest source of inspiration for me is the women in my life. They are some of the most thoroughly accomplished people you will ever meet, and they still make the time to be good people. If I can be half the professional and person they are, I’ll be happy.

PS: I’m motivated by the tangible outputs of my work. I’ve always been fascinated with the built environment, and with my background in planning – as well as my experience presenting build-to-rent opportunities to investors – I try to get really hands on with the design of my clients’ projects, ensuring that the product is fully optimised from a BTR perspective and matches institutional funding requirements.

I find it incredibly rewarding to stand back and look at the completed developments, knowing that a tiny part of that building would have been different without my advice, and that now there are lots of people enjoying their daily lives in a project I was involved in.

 

EG: How has the role of young people in real estate changed over the past five years?

EE: Moving into real estate just over a decade ago, it was possibly even more traditional than the banking sector I had moved from. While entrepreneurship was encouraged, the breadth of the sector was narrow, and in my own opinion it was too introvert.

What I love about the sector now is that it is flooded with gifted, talented and ambitious young people who see that the sector is ripe for refreshing. Real estate at its heart is about our culture and community, and therefore it needs to reflect the wider societal trends that are taking place around us. I think young people are key to that. For too long, technology hasn’t been embraced or harnessed, and being safe and steady has ultimately been rewarded.

Looking across the sector now, I see a number of young people leading exciting businesses that are embracing the need for change, be it tech, ESG or wider lifestyle product led. In the words of the late Sir John Harvey-Jones, young people really are “making it happen”, and I think institutional investors are more willing to back young people than they have ever been.

Sumedha Goenka: I think young people are a force for change – they’re dynamic and motivated, and care about doing well personally but equally about making a positive impact on the world around them. I think the youth are shaping what the industry does and focuses on by continually questioning the status quo and making sure it is moving in a positive direction for society more broadly.

SJ: I think there is a lack of young people at a certain level within the industry, owing to the property recession and the fact that a lot of companies didn’t recruit for a long time. That means that for those of us who were recruited as the property market was picking up again, there are a lot of opportunities – junior lawyers are able to get involved in a broad range of complicated transactions.

As there is a lack of junior resource for senior team members to pick from, there is less competition for career progression, and you have the opportunity to develop quickly and take on a lot of responsibility early on. However, the situation also brings certain challenges. There is a pressure to learn quickly and gain clients’ confidence at an early age, and you need to be able to perform well under pressure. I therefore think the importance of junior resource has shifted over the past five years – it has become an extremely valuable commodity. 

CJ: There is a greater expectation and trust from the managers for young people to be proactive in providing input into key decision-making activities for change projects, which is inherently accompanied by greater responsibility and recognition of value-added contributions. I have been lucky enough to be mentored by people who foster an independence in ways of thinking.

GJ: During my early days in the industry, I personally felt there was a perception that age and experience are intrinsically linked with success and career progression, and that being young was seen as a disadvantage to your peers.

I feel that over the past five years this perception has started to change, and the role of dynamic young people in the industry has been embraced far more. I have seen several younger people deservedly develop their careers more quickly than may have been the case before. I believe in giving young people the opportunity to lead while continuing to back them as their talent is further embraced.

JO: The role of young people in real estate can often be underrated. During the past five years I have seen young people expect and champion sustainability, diversity and equality, as well as embracing digital changes. I like to think (along with my younger colleagues) that we bring a different perspective to situations and push our colleagues to think differently.

SoN: Young people bring fresh ideas and new perspectives into the profession, which I felt at the start of my career was sometimes dismissed. Now open-ended conversations are taking place among senior-level staff and graduates. Young people’s views and ideas are being taken on board, working in a more collaborative environment.

GO: When I first joined the industry almost 10 years ago, I had generally only seen young people within very specific entry-level roles. I would also find myself always having to explain to people what “I actually do”. In the past five years, it feels like there has been a shift (which needs to continue) – young people have more of an understanding of the many different forms that a career in this industry can take and how easy the industry can be to pivot into, and we’re actively taking up space at many levels.

MPP: Young people have become a catalyst for change. As millennials have become a larger proportion of the workforce and business leadership (expected to be 75% by 2025), our values have started to shape the way things are done. This ranges from diversity and inclusion to positive localism, sustainability and the revival of high streets. The changes that we are seeing in the market and in the workplace are going to accelerate, and that is incredibly exciting.

PS: I am fortunate to have spent my entire career working in a new sector for the UK. As a result, the experts in BTR have tended to be younger and, while it still takes time, I think it has been easier to gain respect and standing as a result.

More generally, I think young people are extremely switched on in terms of technology and data, and these will have a key role to play in real estate moving forward, particularly with regard to innovative ideas for the future of residential development. We are also very socially conscious and help to shape developments around ESG in our sectors. At Savills we are lucky to be supported by a large, skilled, dedicated team for insights and data, as well as for ESG (Savills Earth). As a business we are focused on being at the forefront of developments in these areas, for the benefit of our clients.

EG: How would you like to see it change over the next five?

EE: I believe there is still more that can be done in encouraging apprenticeships and school leaver programmes. Those who choose not to go down the higher education route have too often been ostracised or deemed not capable, having not trodden the traditional route. I would like to see more young people be given the choice.

Too many young people only really find out how capable they actually are in their mid 20s, having spent too long being institutionalised at school and university. I am a huge advocate of on-the-job experience and believe we learn best by doing. I hope more organisations wake up to the talent pool that wants to start work earlier in their lives.

SJ: It is still proving extremely difficult to recruit the right sort of talent at a junior level. I would like to see more people wanting to join the property industry over the next five years as it feels like an exciting industry to be a part of right now – we’re busier than we’ve ever been and it doesn’t feel like it will slow down any time soon.

Recent changes in the way firms work and the fact that more firms are now offering opportunities for flexible working hopefully also opens up the market to people who may not have previously considered a career in the industry, which is generally perceived as quite high-pressure and has the potential to offer a poor work-life balance. I would like to see young people offered more support and be able to develop at a more manageable pace. Hopefully it will become a more attractive career choice for a broader range of young professionals.

CJ: Young people should continue to be encouraged to share their fresh ideas and expertise within a firm, as this thought diversity is beneficial to organisational growth. For example, I would like to see more opportunities for young people to collaborate with business leaders within working groups focused on the transformation of our service offering for clients, replacing and fully eradicating existing time spent on tasks such as the manual processing of data.

GJ: I would love to see the progression that I feel has been made over the past five years in recognising young people’s talents continue. I plan to play an active role in promoting the recognition of young people within our business and the wider industry no matter what their background, as this industry really can offer a lot to people from all backgrounds. At Castle Green, we actively encourage young and enthusiastic people to join the team who may not necessarily have the formal qualifications usually expected. We then provide support to them through work and part-time study so they can get to where they want to be.

JO: I would like to see more young people given the opportunity, platform and empowerment to share their opinions. We are making progress, but there is always room for improvement.

SoN: As I mentioned previously, I feel like the dynamics between young people in real estate and more established staff have improved over the past five years, keeping the meaningful conversation going, and collaborative practice is something that I would hope to continue. In addition, having more women enter real estate, especially my sector of rating, would be great to see.

GO: I would like to see young people’s propensity to challenge the status quo being fully embraced and nurtured. This is a vital driver for our industry to keep improving and evolving to serve the many, rather than the few.

MPP: We have a long way to go on inclusivity and sustainability. But alongside these I would really like the industry to become kinder. I genuinely believe that if we started to prize kindness and decency then we would lay the groundwork for the other things we care about.

PS: I would like to see more women in transaction advisory roles. I work hard within Savills and externally to encourage young women into investment roles within the sector, which should help to ensure that we have more senior females in the sector in future.

 

EG: What is the biggest misconception about young people in the sector?

EE: I have always carried the notion that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough. Age is such an odd index to rank an individual by, yet we all consciously or subconsciously have a predisposition to do it. I now work in a part of the sector where young people are often at the heart of the communities we build. I am no better placed or able to propose what someone living in our community wants than those young people themselves, and therefore believing that a young person’s views are limited through lack of experience is wrong. Age does not necessarily make a more rounded or capable individual.

One of the qualities that I found in our institutional partner and shareholder Fiera Real Estate (previously Palmer Capital) was the belief in partnering with younger entrepreneurs who brought the drive and ambition to create businesses that would thrive in the future. I believe the team at Packaged Living embody this theory. At Packaged Living we have a flat structure and a range in ages of more than 20 years. We work as team, with no individual less or more capable of taking on the challenges that our work presents.

SJ: That you have to be a certain type of person to succeed. I think there is a role for everyone, and with most firms now having a focus on diversity and inclusion, I think there are more opportunities than ever before. Lawyers in particular have a reputation for being boring, and while you have to be hard working, dedicated and prepared to put in long hours at times, it can also be a lot of fun being a lawyer in the property industry. There are always glitzy events to go to, chances to meet new people and opportunities to broaden your social network – some of the best friends I have are those I have made through work.

CJ: The terms “millennials” and “Gen Zers” are often associated with idealism and laziness – people who want to sit on beanbags talking about ideas but being unfocused owing to digital distractions. These preconceptions can cause unconscious biases that are harmful to productivity in the workplace, so a conscious effort must be made not to fall into any misconception pitfalls. While any generalised statement may still be true in specific situations, I believe that the aspirations and digital entrepreneurship of young people usually stimulate organic discussion for the ultimate benefit of a business.

GJ: This leads back to the role that young people play in the industry. Experience doesn’t necessarily mean talent. Many of our greatest team members are under 35, with several heads of department being 30 or under. It’s easy for young people to be overlooked owing to their lack of experience, but we look to employ people based on their personal drive and aspirations instead. It is far easier to teach skills than determination.

JO: In our sector, I often think you are judged by your age/experience and job title. Some of my best eureka moments and successes have been through collaboration. One incident that springs to mind when I was younger is my boss helping me to write one of my letters. The surveyor wrote back to me to say he disagreed with the contents and that I should consult with a qualified surveyor before responding to him. Little did he know that my boss was a qualified surveyor and pretty much wrote the letter. Just because I was junior didn’t mean I had no knowledge of the topic or that my letters were sent unchecked. I have never forgotten it.

SoN: That we are not patient and expect to be fast-tracked to senior positions. I feel this is a misconception as for most young people who have reached successes at an early age – particularly those who have been shortlisted for this award – there is a huge amount of determination and sacrifice that goes on to get you to that point. We understand that no one is an overnight success and that it takes passion and hard work to get you there.

GO: That they are all ruthlessly ambitious and have no staying power or loyalty when it comes to their roles.

MPP: That we aren’t ready to contribute in a meaningful way. The rise of the 20/30-something tech CEO should prove that the old way isn’t always the best way. It takes a long time to master your craft, but not as long as it used to. We need to revise our expectations.

EG: What advice would you give to anyone looking to join the sector?

EE: Firstly, pick a part of the sector that genuinely excites you and interests you. I spent too long in banking trying to understand process and procedure rather than allowing the overall experience to shape me. Secondly, pick the role that gives you the best experience rather than the fastest route to the top. Easy to say but hard to do. Careers that take an upward trajectory do so in stages. There is no quick way to the top.

Finally, work with people that you want to work with, not for the company you think gives you the right CV. Too often at interviews I found that I was trying to sell myself to a company that deep down didn’t fit my own beliefs, life view or culture. At the end of the day, all the best things that happen to us are relationship driven, and finding the right leader and the right team will allow someone to flourish and succeed far more quickly than the brand of the company they work for.

SG: Do it – real estate is fundamental to so much of the economy and society that working in the industry offers incredible opportunities. I was very lucky to get the opportunity to join the real estate investing space early in my career, which has let me see a wide breadth of transactions across countries and structures while working with a fantastic group of people.

SJ: If you want to be part of an industry that creates something tangible, is fast paced and is responsive to the way people live or do business, then a job in the property sector would probably be an ideal fit. It’s exciting to see new buildings being developed or old buildings being redeveloped and repurposed for a new generation of occupiers and to know that you have been a part of that, however small – those buildings will probably remain on our skylines for many years to come.

CJ: Be yourself. The industry appears to be realising that diversification in talent is important – it’s OK, or often preferable, not to be the carbon copy extrovert with a family background in property. When interviewing candidates, I look for exceptional performance and entrepreneurial spirit in many different areas, such as interesting transferable work experience and education.

I have recently been leading the valuation and advisory analyst team as maternity cover and would classify each member of the team as having their own unique talents that we need to best leverage as a business.

GJ: Go for it, embrace it, work hard and the sky’s the limit. Having come into the industry at 18 years of age as a trainee myself, I am proof that you are your own barrier. You get out what you put in, and it’s only when I sit back and look at everything I have achieved, especially in the past year, that you realise how far you’ve come and that all of the effort has been worth it.

We have built one of the fastest-growing homebuilding companies, under a phenomenal brand, that will become a major player in our region, and that is something that I am immensely proud of.

JO: Be yourself and enjoy your success every step of the way.

GO: The sector is so varied and so full of opportunity that you shouldn’t limit yourself or doubt how far you can go and how vital your contribution is. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, always show up and contribute as your authentic self.

MPP: My advice to anyone who wants to join the sector would be twofold: one, take up an endurance sport; and two, watch YouTube. An endurance sport is very much like working in real estate. You need training, belief, the ability to keep going when it gets hard and the ability to know when to rest to prevent injury. And watch YouTube because it shines a light into so many parts of our industry, not just in the UK but across the globe. There are so many ways to be involved. Explore the role that excites you and keeps you clicking to the next video.

PS: Real estate is incredibly varied, and I’m a firm believer that there is something for everyone. If you have an interest in real estate, be open minded, try everything and you’ll find your feet. Never miss an opportunity to learn, particularly in the early years.

 

EG: If you could stand for one thing in real estate, what would it be?

EE: We build homes. Therefore, if we have one key responsibility, it is reliability. Our homes need to be well designed and professionally built to withstand the test of time. The places we build need to become an individual’s home, and they need to work as part of a harmonious community.

As the homes we build become the homes we manage, customers need to know that they can rely on us to keep them safe and ensure they can go about their daily lives without the interruptions and irritations that so many renters have experienced in the past. We need to be relied upon.

SJ: We obviously deal with tangible assets, but the industry is essentially built on people and relationships, whether that is relationships between clients and their professional advisers, parties on opposite sides of a transaction trying to achieve a common purpose or colleagues working together to achieve a client’s goals. I like working with people and building relationships, and if I could stand for anything then it would probably be collaboration – I think we are an industry built on collaboration.

CJ: Disruption. It is my belief that we must continuously evolve the way we operate to improve the experience of providing advisory services to clients. I stand for challenging the status quo and promoting a culture of empowerment in service evolution. My ambition is to lead positive changes that will create a differentiated value proposition for the benefit of my clients.

GJ: Hard work, the importance of quality leadership and leading by example. Humility and integrity are crucial, as well as the ability to support your team. The team you surround yourself with is ultimately responsible for individual success.

JO: Equality.

SoN: I stand for equality in the industry. I am passionate about supporting inclusion and diversity in real estate.

GO: Change – a change in the currently narrow perception (and often the reality) of what the appearance and/or background of someone who “works in property” looks like. I want the long-overdue equality, diversity and inclusion pledges that have been made in the past 12 months to not just be part of a fad or box-ticking exercise. I’d like to see them followed through and begin to yield results that can be seen, measured and, most importantly, actually be felt.

MPP: Caring. Or in more crass terms, “giving a stuff”. Whatever it is you care about: your team, your town, your environment. I’d feel immensely privileged if I was the reason that more people in real estate thought it was “cool to care”. Our maxim is: “property is about people”. It would be amazing if that started to mean showing humanity too.

PS: Aside from my daily investment advisory role, I love the additional planning and policy lobbying that I do for build-to-rent. Working with the British Property Federation, I have contributed to emerging policy and lobbied hard for a fair and amicable position for BTR, and will continue to do so.

EG: If you hadn’t gone into real estate, what else might you have done?

EE: After realising early on that my ambition of being an international sportsman extraordinaire did not match my natural ability, I found real estate. Now I wouldn’t choose any other path.

SG: Hopefully, I would still be working with a dynamic group of people – perhaps in the impact investing space.

SJ: I wanted to travel and study languages at university, so possibly something where I could put my language skills to good use and enjoy a sunnier climate! I love exploring different cultures, backpacking and foreign food, so my dream would probably have been to live abroad. I don’t have a clear idea about the career I would have pursued otherwise, but I have always had an interest in the law, so perhaps I would have been a lawyer in another sector and in another jurisdiction.

CJ: When I finished my undergraduate degree, I decided to pursue a career in real estate rather than follow the opportunity to complete a PhD in tree evolution research. It was a tough decision at the time because I am fascinated by the resilience of nature in response to human activity and, while extreme climatic events that impact humans are widely reported in the press, it is rare that changes in other populations are reported on in any detail beyond headlines about deforestation.

GJ: I did end up in real estate by accident really. I grew up in a very rural setting and therefore, when I went for my career evenings at the latter stages of school, it was suggested to me that I’d be best suited to an outdoor job such as greenkeeping on a golf course. I was sure at the age of 16 that I would never end up working in an office, until after some persuasion from my father I did some work experience at a local housebuilder’s office during the school holidays, and I instantly took to the industry.

JO: My heart would say working in a bakery. My first job was working in a local sandwich shop – I loved seeing the regulars, and the free pies and pastries definitely helped. However, I always knew that I wanted a professional career, my issue was what in. It just so happened that I was successful in securing an office junior role in a surveying practice and the rest, as they say, is history.

SoN: I always wanted to work within real estate, I just wasn’t sure in what capacity. I am glad I pursued a career in this industry as it is something that I am passionate about.

GO: Eleven-year-old Holby City-obsessed Grace was definitely going to be a surgeon.

MPP: I would have either become a doctor or continued my family’s military tradition. On the face of it these seem disparate, but what links them is the very tangible way that they make a difference. That’s what gets me up in the morning. I’m still in awe of both professions.

PS: I was always interested in the built environment, so I’d like to think that I would be involved in something else related to real estate. Perhaps policy work, where I could have left a mark in other ways.

 

EG: What has been the biggest challenge of your career so far?

EE: Leaving Grainger in 2018 to set up Packaged Living. For all the obvious reasons of leaving a secure job and creating a start-up, but also for the less obvious reasons and the challenges of being a “one-man band”, having had a brilliant group of teammates who became friends around me over the years at Grainger.

SG: March 2020 was certainly an interesting time to be doing what we do. Seeing how the team navigated something so challenging and unpredictable was a lesson for the ages. We hit pause, took stock of all our investments, constantly re-evaluated based on the latest developments (which were changing every week) and the whole team came together to help manage our existing investments.

As long-term investors we were focused on supporting and protecting our tenants, partners and investors, while not losing sight of any potential investment opportunities – it was great to see the vision and direction of the leadership through these times.

SJ: The biggest challenge was completing my training contract while having a young son at home. I had my son when I was 19, and it was difficult trying to be the model trainee – attending all of the social and networking events and putting in long hours – while also juggling being a young single mum. Nobody else on my intake had followed a similar path to me, so our experiences at university and the challenges we had faced were very different.

I spent most of my training contract feeling like I was either doing a great job of being a mum but not such a good job at work or vice versa. As I’ve got older and more of my colleagues have had children, I realise that most working parents feel the same way a lot of the time, but it was difficult going through the training contract and feeling different from everyone else.

CJ: Managing the pressures associated with the transformation of valuation and advisory alongside my role in leading large portfolio advisory projects, as there have often been overlaps between major technological releases and project timescales.

In these instances, it has been important to identify the synergies where technology can be strategically deployed. For example, the use of document automation, a mobile inspection app and robotic process automation as part of the advisory work for the TDR/EG Group acquisition of Asda and USS purchase of a share in the BP Exmoor portfolio resulted in productivity gains. Overcoming these time and workload challenges provided great professional fulfilment.

GJ: Being underestimated owing to my age was a big challenge for me as I tried to take steps forward in my career. However, the lesson I learnt from that is to continue to persevere and drive forward, gaining knowledge, and you will be recognised by the right people, as was the case with Bridgemere, which could see beyond age.

JO: Aside from my APC, from a personal point of view working through the financial crisis in 2008/09. I found it very tough seeing my colleagues, who at that time were like a second family to me, being made redundant, and it has never left me. From a professional point of view working on the transition of an 18-centre portfolio was a huge challenge. I did, however, learn a lot about my working style, client relationships and teamwork.

SoN: Balancing full-time study with work plus raising a young family was a challenging time, although it made me more determined than ever to succeed in this profession.

GO: Guiding a team and supporting residents through a pandemic.

MPP: I’d probably say the greatest challenge of my career has been my transition from being an architect to being an architect/developer. Integrating the two skillsets at speed and under pressure was a brilliant challenge. It taught me the value of humility, diligence and creative problem solving. Development is more unpredictable than architecture, and as such you need to have the ability to solve problems diplomatically and decisively. Too much or too little of either and you’ll end up with an issue.

PS: I’ve worked in build-to-rent for nine years, which is pretty much as long as the sector has existed in the UK. I used to find it incredibly daunting chairing large meetings of people older than me who were newer to BTR but with many more years of general real estate experience. Overcoming these concerns and earning my position at the table was definitely a challenge, if mainly a psychological one.

EG: And your greatest achievement?

EE: Different question, same answer: leaving Grainger in 2018 to set up Packaged Living. When I set up my first business at 16, the weight of responsibility as a homeowner, husband and father didn’t exist. The risk/reward balance was entirely skewed – no real downside in getting it wrong and, in contrast, huge potential upsides. In 2018, when we launched Packaged Living, the risk/reward was more balanced, and now three years in seeing where the business has grown to is an extremely proud moment.

The greatest achievement of Packaged Living is bringing the right people in to work alongside. Being an entrepreneur can be an extremely lonely experience, so sharing the journey with good people makes it all worthwhile. I was lucky that I convinced my former Grainger colleague and friend Mark Woodrow to join me in the early days, and he has helped shape the business into what it is today.

SJ: My greatest achievement was probably completing my first forward-funded development deal on my own. I usually work on big complex development projects with my supervising partner, and to be given the responsibility of being the lead lawyer on a complex deal for one of our most important clients as a fairly junior lawyer felt like a real milestone. I don’t come across an awful lot of lawyers at my level leading on these types of deals, so I feel a real sense of achievement in where I’ve got to.

CJ: A proud moment in my career was the completion of the Blackstone/Telereal Trillium acquisition of the Network Rail arches portfolio. I learnt a great deal from the business leaders involved over the course of the project and spearheaded the project collaboration across many services, sectors and regions under challenging timescales. It was satisfying on a personal level and a huge achievement for the whole team involved.

GJ: There are two halves to what I feel is my greatest achievement, and each one facilitated the other. First, securing the backing of Bridgemere to buy out Macbryde Homes during 2020 was a major achievement and signalled both the strength of the business and their faith in me.

Second, but equally as important, is the strength of the team I have built. This was integral in securing the backing of Bridgemere, as knowing how good our team was instilled me with the confidence to plan to take the business to the next level and provided the confidence to Bridgemere that we had the personnel to back our plans. This was evidenced when we subsequently rebranded to Castle Green Homes within six weeks. Without a great team we wouldn’t have been able to fulfil that.

JO: After the various lockdowns last year, it came to my attention that some of the families and local communities surrounding the properties I manage were struggling more than ever, and that in the midst of the pandemic in some cases would not have received the support they usually would have at Christmas.

I asked my team what we could do to help, and this sparked the “planting” of the Middleton Grange Shopping Centre virtual Giving Tree. Our aim was to collect 1,500 presents for a local charity in Hartlepool. The tree went viral and we closed with more than 174,000 gifts. I am so proud of the centre manager, who came up with the idea, and the whole team for its success. It gave me and many others a much-needed boost, and to have played a part in the good cheer supporting so many more charities than planned I really do consider a great achievement.

SoN: I would say my greatest achievement has probably been making the decision to obtain my degree and professional status as a chartered surveyor. It wasn’t an easy journey for me but not one I gave up on either, although there were times when I considered the pressure immense. I think it proved to me, and hopefully others around me, that it doesn’t matter where you start in your career, you always have the ability to achieve more if you want to.

GO: Guiding a team and supporting residents through a pandemic.

MPP: This is cheesy, but I believe my greatest achievement is having the courage to pursue an unconventional career path that aligns with my values and ambitions.

PS: I would firstly say closing major transactions in the middle of a pandemic. All live projects were thrown into turmoil during this time, but securing funding from Pension Insurance Corporation on behalf of Muse Developments for the New Victoria development in Manchester will always be a highlight. Closing the largest BTR forward-funding transaction outside London – negotiated through Covid, and with a new sector entrant – felt like a real achievement.

Secondly, I take a huge amount of pride in watching the junior members of the team achieve and progress through their own careers. Whether it is passing their APCs, delivering fantastic internal presentations, producing great reports or giving extensive technical advice, I watch and listen with a smile.

 

EG: What has been your most significant revelation during lockdown?

EE: Realising that I know the characters of Paw Patrol by voice alone, having been able to start each morning having breakfast with my two young children. I guess the real revelation is therefore finding the work/life balance and being able to spend time with those that matter most.

SJ: I’ve realised that I quite like being at home and having my own space. I’m very sociable and I love being around people, especially my friends and colleagues in the office. I’ve always worked in the office pretty much five days a week, and when lockdown started I couldn’t imagine working from home all the time and not seeing my colleagues every day. Although working from home full time is still not something I would choose to do, I have learnt that the office is not the only place where I can be productive.

I developed a new love of cycling because I wanted a hobby where I could get some fresh air, spend some time alone and explore the countryside around where I live. I spent more time with my family and, depending on the type of work I’m doing, sometimes I think I can be more productive and efficient in my home office, where there are fewer distractions.

CJ: Being typical Londoners engrossed in our daily lives, my partner and I had rarely crossed paths with our neighbours for the first few months after moving house, except the occasional fleeting conversation, owing to demanding jobs and extracurricular interests taking up large amounts of free time. What started as over-the-fence drinks has turned into a friendship involving many revelations about experiences and interests, especially sharing recommendations about green spaces nearby and the latest Netflix documentaries.

GJ: Never sit back and let things come to you. During lockdown we felt that there would be opportunities coming out of the pandemic as the need for housing would only keep growing. Therefore, we continued to push hard – developing the brand, buying land, expanding the team, etc – and that has put us in an excellent position as a business today. You must have the confidence to back yourself and believe in your own business strategy.

JO: The true value and importance of friendship – from cooking via FaceTime and walks come rain or shine to photos and videos of what my friends’ children are up to – and the random messages to check in on me meant so much and kept me going.

SoN: That we should have implemented internal communications tools into the firm earlier. I find it much easier to connect with staff and send documents, rather than relying on email, which can now be used mostly for external communications.

GO: No matter how crazy or impossible it seems, almost anything can be changed very quickly, if it really needs to be.

MPP: My greatest pandemic revelation is that the home really is the centre of people’s lives – now more than ever. To the majority of people, it has never just been an asset class. And the key to overperforming in this area is realising this fundamental truth and integrating this idea into your execution.

PS: The value of the team environment and that I truly love my work. When there was nothing else to do outside, I would choose to work – and it wasn’t a chore or a bore.

EG: How have lockdowns and the pandemic affected your approach to work?

SJ: I think I have become more confident in my own abilities. In the office, colleagues are always available to offer support and reassurance, and although during lockdown you could seek this out virtually, I did find myself being a lot more independent. At this stage in my career, I needed that personal development. I feel more comfortable in my own skin than I did before lockdown.

CJ: The pandemic has sped up a wider refocusing of time to maximise the productivity, motivation and wellbeing of my team – an area where I have provided feedback to senior management in my role as chair of the employee consultation forum. I am now a more agile worker and will benefit from a balance of focused home-working combined with impromptu office conversations and in-person client interaction. I have revelled in having time back from the daily commute to engage with family and friends.

GJ: It has not affected my approach to work as I have just tried to persevere and seen it as another challenge that needed to be navigated, as these are to be expected periodically throughout a career. What it did change was the approach I took to my role. Although I wanted to keep pushing the business forward, I became super-conscious of trying to protect the health of the team around me, so I had to bring this into a front-and-centre part of my thinking so that we could excel as a business without taking unnecessary health risks.

JO: The pandemic has taught me that I can’t be in control of everything and the importance of stepping back to assess a situation before acting. It has also given me the opportunity to step into a leadership position, which is something I have aspired to do for a number of years.

SoN: Similar answer to the previous one, recognising that at the beginning of the pandemic we had to change our way of working and rely on applications available such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom to manage the team efficiently. My role as a partner means that I maintain awareness of the effects that this pandemic has had on people and take that into account in my practice.

GO: After struggling to find a work/life balance, which I think a lot of us did during the early days of lockdown, I have become a lot more disciplined and have now mastered the art of being able to switch off. Doing so has also made me retrospectively recognise how I may have been inadvertently influencing the working practices of my team.

MPP: The pandemic has shown just how human and fragile we all are. It has also shown me how resilient we are. I hope and believe this has made me kinder in my dealings with people, but also very optimistic about the future of our industry.

PS: I love being back in the office, but I’m very much looking forward to having a little more flexibility in my daily role. I have found Savills to be incredibly accommodating, and while it was challenging at first, we quickly adapted our team interaction as best we could.