I joined accountants Arthur Andersen straight after studying economics at Cambridge University. At university I knew I wanted to do something on the finance side but wasn’t at all sure.
An accountancy qualification opens doors, was advice given to me by family friends. It was invaluable guidance and I now find myself giving similar advice to people’s offspring. I still think it’s a good qualification to have. It was a bit like going back to university, in terms of starting with an intake of 100 people and then going into training.
I started in audit, in the commercial practice. but I latterly focused on real estate. After Andersens I joined investment bank UBS, where I started in the middle office and ended up on the trading floor.
It was a great experience, good fun. Trading involved long hours- we worked an 11 hour day every day. It was quite intensive but exciting.
You learn quite a lot about yourself in that environment, what you do well and what you don’t do so well. What I found quite valuable was that in accountancy things tend to be relatively slow-moving and you have quite a lot of time to collect the analysis, interpret the analysis and make a decision- but on a trading floor you don’t.
While analysis is important at some point you have to stop and make decisions. You will never have perfect information- so you’ve got to make the best with the information available to you in the timescale you’ve got to make a decision- that’s part of the art of trading.
I could have stayed on the trading floor but it felt as though the role doesn’t evolve much. When you’re a trader, you have a very fixed role to perform. I’d seen a bit of corporate life, quite liked it, and when the FD of British Land wanted someone who knew accountancy but also had an understanding of derivatives, bond issues and financing, I joined in my first time here as a Treasury executive.
In real estate the financing side tends to be quite important. There are some industries that don’t use much debt at all, whereas in real estate there’s always an element and it gives us flexibility as a business, so going into Treasury was a useful starting place. I then went into corporate finance, had the opportunity to run both departments and was head of strategy by the time I left the group.
I joined Quintain Estates which developed Wembley Stadium because I wanted to be a CFO. They were looking for someone who had transaction and strategic experience because it was obvious there would be the need to undertake some kind of liquidity event for shareholders- the company had been in distress but had had a good run.
Our access to capital was not really sufficient to maximise the value of Wembley so there was a need to find more capital to unlock value, for our shareholders and the shareholders of a purchaser.
It was my second day in the job when Lone Star lined up their first bid. It was certainly a baptism by fire. It became a very interesting and valuable experience working with Lone Star on a new business plan for the business and developing a financing structure that would allow us to deliver Wembley. Despite a ‘dusk raid’ by Elliot Capital Advisors, Lone Star were able to pay a bit more to seal the deal.
A fantastic opportunity came for me to join Logicor, a pan-European logistics platform backed by private equity (PE)firm Blackstone that was planning a dual track IPO and private sale. It was like a start-up but there was an element of transitioning from PE ownership to a more institutional ownership, and it ended up being owned by CIC, a Chinese company.
What I recognised in both Lone Star and Blackstone is that they’re very good at forming a strategic view on a particular asset class, and making a conviction call and then executing. They were very good people to learn off in terms of how you run a first sale or acquisition process- and what that looks like. They had an incredible focus on the objective across the whole organisation.
There was no grand plan for me to return to British Land as CFO. I had planned on staying at Logicor for the next four or five years- it was an exciting business and this was pretty much the only opportunity in real estate that would have taken me away from Logicor. But it was a business I knew incredibly well, with assets, great people and a role I always aspired to take on.