MAGAZINE: The times they are a-changin’

For the second year in a row, we highlight some of the promising young leaders rising up the ranks in European real estate – against a tough Covid backdrop.

What a moment to be forging a successful career in real estate as a rising star!

For the second year running, we bring you some of the next crop of leaders in real estate or those showing great promise.

But we do so against a completely new set of circumstances that no existing senior real estate professional has ever seen before.

The industry is famed for being a social one, yet for the past 15 months, social interactions have been largely limited to a screen via Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Only in the past few weeks have young professionals returned to the office in cities such as London to collaborate with colleagues like they used to.

But the world is different. For one thing, working conditions and work-life balance have been called into question even at firms renowned for being the hardest working. In March, first-year analysts at Goldman Sachs in the US said via a survey that they were working an average of 95 hours per week and getting five hours sleep.

They said stress and pressure had greatly reduced mental and physical health and that they did not expect to still be working for the firm in six months’ time. That said, it seems young professionals that have been achieving success in real estate are not complaining about work-life balance. The bigger issue for them is being fed up with virtual calls.

London-based Paul Nearchou of Deutsche Finance International, who was named as one of the 10 Rising Stars by PropertyEU last year, says: ‘It goes without saying how difficult this year has been for us all both personally and professionally. However, staying positive, it has offered a huge learning curve, with real estate going through the biggest structural changes I have seen in my career.’

He adds: ‘While working from home offers flexibility and proved that it can work, I am done with Zoom/Team meets and excited to be back in the office with the team. We have a good culture at DFI, and that’s part of the reason we’ve had more people coming back in voluntarily. Culture doesn’t get focused on enough, but it’s a real driver for recruiting and retaining talent.’

Sectors in demand
In the hiring field, PropertyEU spoke with executive search companies, which say ESG skills and residential property expertise are among those greatly in demand.

Joanne Cuckson, a London-based director of Summit Search & Selection and founder of BestPropertyJobs.com, dubs 2021 ‘the year for residential and ESG appointments’.

‘There has already been a great deal of movement in the residential market, namely real estate professionals with BTR, PBSA, senior living and European housing experience,’ she says.

‘More fund management companies are allocating substantial capital to residential, resulting in a “candidate-driven” market within the residential sub-sectors.

For example, Nuveen, L&G, Savills IM, AXA IM and Patrizia have all hired residential specialists in 2021, and we are currently searching for a head of residential investing and asset management (Europe) on behalf of a global fund management company.’

She adds: ‘Residential is still a burgeoning sector, hence there is a shortage of candidates with a proven track record in residential investment, asset management and development, especially within an institutional context.’

Meanwhile, ESG has been an extremely hot topic. Combined with the social impact of Covid-19, companies have been taking responsible investment more seriously over the long term. As a result, a number of fund management companies and private equity firms such as Blackstone have appointed heads of ESG over the past year.

Advisory firms are also setting up sustainability teams to help clients with identifying potential risks and opportunities that climate change presents to their portfolios.

Says Cuckson: ‘Again, there are a limited number of professionals within the industry with this type of experience, therefore companies are having to look outside of the immediate sector, often into the wider built environment with backgrounds in construction or government to hire suitable candidates.’

Extremely relevant to those that wish to emerge as rising stars, diversity remains an important factor for the industry. Talent firms are more often than not asked to include at least one female on every executive search short list. However, the industry has traditionally failed to respond to the needs of women that are raising families, reducing their access in particular to senior roles.

Flexible working
Fortunately, real estate firms are now increasingly open to flexible working practices, at least according to experts such as Cuckson. ‘I think this will have a major impact on the number of women in senior level roles,’ she says.

Serena Althaus, a London-based senior managing director at global executive search firm Ferguson Partners, which serves a large number of clients in the real estate sector, suggests lockdowns have definitely helped level the playing field for women. ‘In previous times there was a bit of a reactionary approach that everyone had to show face in the office and work standard business hours. That’s often not sustainable for women with young children. With everyone now working from home, they can work around that.’

Margaret Sweeney, CEO of IRES, Ireland’s largest residential landlord, says the work from home (WFH) trend has provided ‘phenomenal flexibility’ for women. ‘It’s changing the dynamic that all work happens between 9.00-5.30 which has long been the model.’

Lisette van Doorn, CEO of ULI Europe echoes this, saying: ‘A year ago we would have had a totally different discussion about WFH than we are having now, and I feel this may also be a game-changer for diversity because we see that businesses can be kept going well even with everyone working remotely. So the discussion is different.’

Home versus office
Most people seem keen to return to the office, especially those under 35, having missed the social interaction, collaboration on ideas and the opportunity to learn from other team members.

The ideal scenario that seems to be shaping up is three days per week in the office, and two days working at home. With offices appearing to open up gently in certain European cities, many younger professionals say they find it helpful to work alongside their more experienced colleagues. The spontaneous questions and chance interactions are elements of office life that many agree Teams/Zoom meetings simply cannot replace.

See also our selection of this year’s 5 rising stars

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