Rising Star: at Almacantar I am no slavish follower
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Rising Star: at Almacantar I am no slavish follower

Brooke Collins

GUEST WRITER Brooke Collins joined Almacantar as development surveyor in 2016, having graduated from the University of Reading with a degree in Real Estate. She works across Almacantar’s portfolio, including Centre Point and Marble Arch Place.
In 2013 whilst studying Real Estate Management at Reading University I applied to a range of real estate companies for work experience, including Almacantar. For a newly established development company that didn’t offer any
‘formal’ work experience or an internship programme, I was delighted to receive a response inviting me to meet with Mike Hussey, Almacantar’s chief executive. That’s where my property journey began.
Almacantar continues to be as dynamic today as it was in 2013, having doubled it’s asset value whilst retaining a small team that delivers exceptional buildings. The ethos and contributing factors to Almacantar’s success are derived from it’s people and the belief that the executive team have in every one of them.
Through constant guidance and support from the entire company, I passed my Assessment of Professional Competence (APC) in 2018.

Almacantar chief executive Mike Hussey gave Collins her first job in property

At such an early stage of my career, Almacantar has given me the opportunity and responsibility to work on some of London’s most iconic assets, ultimately making decisions that could either improve or impact the value of the development and I have been fortunate enough to learn directly from some truly talented individuals, such as Kathrin Hersel, Almacantar’s executive director. I am honoured to be a part of a team where true vision delivers a distinctive product with a clear brand identity, which end-users are proud to occupy. In the short time that I have been in the industry, there has been a refinement in market demand, resulting in the importance of a building tailored to an occupier’s needs.

Political headwinds

Despite this, the least enjoyable aspect is the political climate that hangs over the country and the property industry specifically. It is in danger of extinguishing the last embers of entrepreneurialism that exists in businesses like ours. The lack of appreciation of the challenge, financial risks and complexity of delivering these large mixed-use projects could mean that there will be no incentive for developers to do them anymore.

Innovation is a topic at the forefront of the property industry, generally, I believe that if companies ignore the importance of the individual and do not nurture their talent, they are less likely to be innovative. Whether it is prop-tech, well-being initiatives or space innovations, it is all about creating what people want. If companies are not in a position to appreciate that, they will become irrelevant. The advancements in technology, such as artificial intelligence, highlight the importance of the right talent within the business; the people are there to read and interpret data to create the right experience. If companies embrace the complementary potential of technology, it will result in the customer journey being a key focus across all aspects of the business.

A disappearing old boys club

Since I have joined the industry, there has been a seismic change in the diversity and inclusion agenda that companies promote. The growth of corporate women’s networking groups, for example, is a positive change. However, I am of the view that the ethos of Almacantar should be applied to all companies, where there is a genuine meritocracy, in all our different skill-sets, that results in a natural diversity without trying to force quotas on the business. This allows us to look at things from a wider context and challenge convention.

In my personnel experience, the ‘old boys club’ image of the property industry has pretty much disappeared. There may be a few small pockets of harmless individuals in some of the larger advisory businesses that perpetuate this myth, but it is a dwindling minority.

Collins has had the opportunity to work on some of London’s largest development projects such as Southbank Place

Valuation frustration

However, one area that strikes me as sliding towards the “archaic” in the industry is valuation. We are now creating the best buildings in London, which will meet the exacting demands of today’s occupiers and surely these buildings, run on flexible terms, will generate more value over time than other, more obsolete, buildings on long leases? We shall see.

In today’s market, I am of the view that to appeal to talented people, companies must understand the value that each individual employee brings, no matter their age, gender, background or experience. If companies follow this, they will undoubtedly get the best talent that stays loyal and works in a manner that complements the company and its values.

For example, at Almacantar, I am invited to attend all corporate events, there is no exclusion for any member of staff. Their decision to employ me was based on the value that I could bring to the company, nothing else.

A blend of youth and experience

As a young individual in the property industry, I strongly believe that the highest level of productivity and the best products are created when both the younger generation and those that have been in industry for a longer period of time work together; the combination of technology and new ideas, with careful risk management, is a powerful one. The exposure that I have had to Almacantar’s executive team has allowed me to experience the level of detailed thought and deep skills required for a complex development project to succeed.

My views and recommendations carry the same weight, in our organisation, as others more experienced than me. We may adopt a different approach to marketing, or the design of a flat, following my input. Smart working and communication is at the forefront of my day-to-day role. For example, online advertising is something the older generation has not always seen as an essential ingredient to showcase product and design. I strongly believe that social media and its communication channels are here to stay. Used the correct way, these are powerful tools in promoting projects and corporate brands, as well as the individuals within them.

Confidence through empowerment

The “stand-out” for all companies should be that the product created reflects the thought and expertise that lies behind every decision the business makes. These decisions must be relevant and interesting, not slavishly following what worked ok in the past. If I had not been given a high level of responsibility early on, at Almacantar, I would not have the tools to help our business look ahead with confidence.

I would advise young individuals exploring different avenues of the property industry to look carefully to see how much companies support their employees with developing their basic skills and their training. A strong base encourages people to want to seek out new experiences and new skill sets.

For example, it was daunting having my mock interview, for my APC, but it says everything about the business’ values that they recognised the importance of the test to me. So it was important to them, too. It was evident that they had all prepared for the interview process in considerable detail, like every business decision they take.

I am not the only young recruit that the team has been giving opportunities to – Ria Hardy joined as our new graduate one year after me so look out for more rising stars continuing to emerge at Almacantar.