You work on the acquisitions team at Native Land. What is your current strategy and how has that changed?
Our current strategy is a three-pronged approach. The first element is to continue the traditional prime and super-prime central London residential activities that Native Land is known for.
Secondly, we are also looking at unique commercial developments in locations that we believe in. This includes both sites that offer the potential for ambitious, mixed-used schemes and standalone office developments. We are applying our expertise as a design-led developer to deliver these commercial schemes to a very high standard.
We particularly like mixed-use schemes where we see opportunities to create large-scale, sustainable communities – as we are already doing at our Bankside Yards project.
The third element sees us looking at acquisitions in fundamentally strong towns and cities around the UK, focused on opportunities to repurpose and reposition existing assets.
Native Land has traditionally specialised in central London development. Why are you now looking at town centre sites?
We see great potential in putting Native Land’s skills to use in a new direction and broadening our universe of opportunities.
Market timing comes into play here. We see the current financial market creating opportunities in many towns that weren’t there before, presenting us with a chance to reimagine and revitalise our town centres as more sustainable, resilient and competitive places.
What’s more, our expertise in delivering complex developments with a focus on design and on quality, gives us an edge here. Many of the town centres we look at have an important architectural heritage and unique characteristics, all of which need to be sensitively and carefully considered in any new development. The skills we’ve honed in central London are very applicable.
Outdated retail assets also tend to be quite inefficient in their energy consumption. We see opportunities to create new, more sustainable buildings – with the potential for improved public realm at the same time.
How did you end up working in the property industry?
My first job out of university was with Jardine Matheson, one of the largest developers in Asia. I worked for one of its subsidiaries, Hong Kong Land, in a variety of roles in Hong Kong, the Philippines and Singapore. I liked the tangibility of it: delivering schemes that have a real impact on people’s lives, where they live, where they work. I still do. Another aspect I enjoyed was the combination of working in a business that both invests in and operates buildings.
What have you been most proud of in your career so far?
Two achievements stand out. The first was setting up an office for Hong Kong Land in the Philippines. I was tasked with setting up that office, which involved incorporating a local company, hiring all the staff, putting the operations in place and establishing some quite significant projects. By the time I left, we had over 100 staff and were delivering $4bn-worth of real estate.
The second thing I’m proud of is Native Land’s acquisition of 105 Judd Street at the beginning of 2021, at the height of the pandemic. It was a real challenge. Confidence in the market was very low at that time. We were also faced with a challenging timeline in which to get the deal done, especially since remote working was in place and everything around the transaction had to be done by video conference.
What trends are you noticing within property investment currently?
There is an increasing emphasis on higher quality office space that is more personal, more bespoke, and more considered from an occupier’s point of view. Office occupiers are changing how they look at their head office space. They see their HQ increasingly as a branding exercise and as a means of crafting their identity as a business.
With the rise of home working, employers are also having to work harder to entice staff back to the office. Lastly there’s the growing demand for space that is sustainable. These factors have led to a sort of race to provide better quality offices.
What piece of advice would you give to someone starting out in property?
I think the most important thing is to find a mentor and learn from them. If you can find someone who is good at what they do, who has the appropriate experience and who is willing to share their knowledge, that will help considerably. It’s also important to be curious and put yourself into challenging situations which are going to stretch you.