Will – how did you get started in this sector and what does your career path look like?
I started my career in 1987, with a firm called Edward Erdman, who were probably one of the top two or three retail agents in the country. That was a mixture of retail agency on the high street advising landlords and retailers, as well as shopping centre leasing / development work.
That was a five-year stint, I was then poached by Jones Lang Wootton, and it was back in the day before they became JLL. When I moved across in 1992 there was a mixture of retail agency and shopping centre development.
I was involved in some high-profile schemes at Jones Lang such as the development of The Bentall Centre in Kingston-upon-Thames – a top six town in the country, back in the day.
I had seven years there and then moved to a business called Nelson Bakewell where I ran the the retail agency team for three years. Again, before I was poached to join Strutt & Parker, so that experience was predominantly suburban and provincial across the UK.
When I joined Strutt & Parker, I realised there was a gap in their business, no one was covering the central London piece. That was in 2002, I focused on retail agency, shopping centre leasing as well as work in central London, advising landlords, so I worked very closely with their investment teams in the West End and the City.
Again, that involved some high-profile schemes such as Land Securities, One New Change, various schemes in the City on Cheapside, Poultry, and at the time, we were probably top two or top three advisor in that market – us and CBRE.
When did you transition across from leasing to asset management?
Once we, as a business, advised the clients on purchasing a property or an asset, we would then implement the business plan as well. I would take on that asset management role and coordinate personnel within our teams to deliver what we set out in the business plan.
Typically, in Central London, you will not come across many pure retail properties, there was a range of uses and I’ll give an example, in Kensington High Street where we advised an ultra high net worth family, the owners of the Royal Garden Hotel – we acquired for them a block next door to the hotel for £62.5 million.
It was a mixture of retail, restaurant, gym, offices, a language school, residential… I then worked with that client in delivering what we set out in the business plan.
Through working on some of these investment situations, that side of my business grew so I was no longer a pure retail leasing agent or a pure shopping centre advisor. I was becoming more of a Central London adviser on high profile prime locations and my clients tended to target what I call the ‘Monopoly board addresses’.
So we would be looking to buy properties in these proven locations, AAA locations, which would be very resilient to any potential downturn and it was often the case of advising the clients without them seeing the building.
I had a mixture of not just the High Net Worth families, I was working with pension funds, Standard Life or Aberdeen Standard now, Aviva and a little bit of local public sector type work.
You had a project with King’s College London around that time as well?
Yes, that was on Borough High Street, I came to that project in 2011, it was a cleared site producing no income for King’s College London yet it was in a good position. Together with colleagues in our business, we recommended to King’s that we develop it and the kinds of uses which would be most appropriate in that location – a gym, three retail units and ultimately a 100-bedroom hotel.
Typically on that I’d spend two or three years working with the design team to produce a scheme which would be acceptable to the local planning authority, and to the leasing market. So we secured the planning consent, it was built out and we pre-let the majority of the space as well.
What was the route in for you joining Black Mountain Partners?
Interestingly, I’d come across Black Mountain Partners when advising a previous owner of 68 King William Street through an in-house investment colleague. That building is fascinating, House of Fraser took a site which was ultimately a secondary location in retail terms. Nonetheless, they took this store, it was inevitably quiet but they paid a big rent and had onerous lease terms and the business got into trouble. Mike Ashley of Sports Direct bought their business.
We then reviewed what could be done, examining options such as re-letting, splitting it or turning to other uses such as gyms, members clubs, hotels and so on.
Then we had Black Mountain Partners saying they wanted to buy the building. I was potentially looking at either a leasing deal on all of it to a retailer, health and fitness operator, private members club, hotel, or an investor coming to buy it.
This was all happening around November 2018, I then left that business and was locked out for a while but began negotiations through an agency in 2019 as Black Mountain Partners were interested in finding somebody in an acquisition capacity to push on with Investment and Development.
The thing which made Black Mountain Partners stand out was that they not only bought that building but implemented a business plan pretty swiftly to say the least. They had it all packaged up beautifully, had sorted things out with the office tenant and had a plan to put in a rooftop bar and restaurant as well. I was pretty much sold on joining by that point!