Commercial Property Blog
All posts from: June 2009
I’ve finished my training. Now I just have to wait. It's only two days away, or enough time for Jack Bauer to save the world from terrorists twice.
I couldn’t usually call the back-to-back gigs I did this weekend ‘training’ but I’ll make an exception given that the Property Comic for Land Aid (http://www.pmguk.com/comic/) is this week. I was down in Brighton on Friday at a night called Rabbit In The Headlights and in Hove on Saturday at The Comedy Station. I was happy with how both of them went.
Okay, it’s not like I’m training for the King Sturge and Property Week triathlon on Friday (http://www.propertytriathlon.com/) for The Children’s Trust and Orchid. Stand-up does involve sweating, but it’s more through nerves than physical exertion.
Yes, the ‘n’ word: nerves. I find that there are a few things people say when I reveal that I tell jokes in my spare time. Some say I’m brave, although I'm hardly saving people from burning buildings. Some say they’ll turn up and heckle: I could fill a small football stadium with them, if I wanted to. And some ask if I get nervous.
That’s probably the toughest question, but I’ll try to answer it now.
Do I get nervous? I certainly want it to go well, and it is a little daunting walking into the spotlight not knowing if the crowd will like what you’re going to do or not. You could either call that being nervous, or being excited.
It helps to feel like that, though. It shows you’re ready, and not going onstage to recite what you wrote like a joke zombie. I know I’m ready when my fingers are tingling.
And I don’t mind feeling that before I go on as, if it goes well, the great buzz when I come off more than makes up for it. On Saturday at The Comedy Station, for example, it was fun to perform to an audience who wanted a good laugh to kick off their Saturday night. As a new act, most gigs are mid-week and calling the audience a ‘crowd’ is generous.
So I won't say I'm nervous about Property Comic. I'll say I'm excited. If you’re coming along then I’ll see you there and it’d be great to have a chat, but only after I’ve been on.
And if you can't wait that long, or you couldn't get some tickets, here's some comedy I'm enjoying at the moment by Flight of the Conchords. It's on BBC Four at 10.30pm on Tuesdays:
You can click here if you want any more details of the charities mentioned in this column:
The Children’s Trust - http://www.thechildrenstrust.org.uk/
Orchid - http://www.orchid-cancer.org.uk/Home
Land Aid - http://www.landaid.org/
‘So, what do you do?’: the most dreaded question for anyone who is unemployed.
It’s a question that must regularly knock you off guard. Whenever you are introduced to someone new, it’s going to be one of the first things you’re asked.
But does what you do – or not do – for a living equal who you are?
It’s a dangerous game to define yourself by your career, because as so many people in property – and indeed, across most professions – have found out, as an employee you’re never truly in control. Essentially, you’re putting your identity in the hands of others.
But we all judge people by their career decisions. When you meet an architect, a lawyer, a fund manager, you make assumptions about who they are as individuals: their backgrounds, their intelligence, their motivations, the money they earn, their lifestyle…
In April last year, just as the redundancies started to happen, psychotherapist Phillip Hodson, head of media for the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, was quoted in the Guardian saying that he thinks men in particular are likely to describe themselves according to their careers.
‘[…] I do think more often than not a man's career is central to his identity,’ he said. ‘Men are more invested in work status - perks, cars, titles, privileges - so losing these things can be devastating.’ (http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2008/apr/19/redundancy.workandcareers).
It’s not just about status though, it’s about everyday things, such as, how do you know what you should do on Monday mornings if you’re not being paid to do it?
If redundancy is the card you are dealt, you surely have to separate yourself from your job title in order to gain the perspective needed to make decisions and move forward.
So, what exactly do you do? Well, that’s up to you to answer, but ‘Who are you?’ is a completely different question.
Edward Jones is a YEP committee member and solicitor who specialises in advising the Property industry.
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Looking back in history there is an 18 yr cycle of boom and bust, with a less severe "dip" at 9 years.
In June 2009 we are probably 2 yrs/18 months into a 4 year "bust".
I have not been through this before, so do I believe the older guys who say the good times will return?
Or is it different somehow this time around and are we in for decades of gloom and financial hardship in the property world.
But what should we do? We can't just sit at our desks and wait for the years to pass. How do we make the best of the current situation - how do we identify and seize the opportunities that recession will bring.
And how do we position ourselves ready for the upswing. That is if we can see when we have turned the corner, as we are only likely to be able to pinpoint the start of the recovery sometime after it has happened with the benefit of hindsight.
Hard times often brings about innovation, so how do we catch a ride on the next big thing in our fields of work. Or just maybe should we look for something totally new.
In years gone by many young professionals enjoyed increasing salaries and expected to be promoted if we worked hard enough. But choices made are more important now, with some projects, departments and companies struggling or closing while others are thriving.
It seems we have to be smarter in our decisions, as just doing a good job is not enough to ensure success anymore. For many of my friends, as well as balancing their busy work and social lives, the last few months have been a time to look up and evaluate where they are now, and where they want to be.
Quite a few are concentrating on keeping their jobs, some are looking for new jobs, but others are looking where the opportunities lie - within their existing workplaces and beyond.
In the coming weeks Young Entrepreneurs in Property will write a series of blogs addressing the issues that face young professionals in the property and construction world.
If you have any burning issues why not respond to this blog and get the debate started.
Edward Jones is a YEP committee member and solicitor who specialises in advising the Property industry.
He is a consultant at Rawlison Butler LLP www.rawlisonbutler.com and can be contacted at email@example.com or 07876 255 398.
It turns out that property people have better comedy connections than I do. I met two of them at drinks with King Sturge last Thursday. I'll come to that.
My best comedy connection is rubbish, but I'll share it anyway. In January, I performed at the Comedy Cafe in Shoreditch on the same bill as former Sun editor Kelvin McKenzie. He was filming a 'Kelvin tries stand up' show for obscure digital TV channel Blighty and it didn’t go well. Here's a review: http://www.chortle.co.uk/news/2009/01/29/8194/
See? It's a rubbish story. If it was judged the same way as a Property Week news story it'd be a news in brief, at the bottom of page 11, and news editor Laura Chesters would probably axe it before it went to press. It's a rubbish comedy connection too. Kelvin McKenzie isn't a comic.
Two people at King Sturge did much better.
The first is European investment partner Penny Hacking who told me she was once in a troupe of ten backing dancers for Julian Clary. He was very kind and patient with them, she says. I didn't think Penny would be as impressed if I told her I recently saw Pete Burns looking at kitchenware at John Lewis on Oxford Street. You know, Pete Burns from Dead Or Alive. And Celebrity Big Brother. Oh, forget it.
The second King Sturge comedy connection is residential partner Tim Wright who said he regularly has dinner parties with Jack Dee. He is like that in real life, apparently.
As a teenager it was Jack Dee videos that made me want to try stand-up, so even meeting someone who washes up while Jack Dee dries - I'm guessing - is a bit exciting.
I had two thoughts when Tim first told me this. The first was: 'I wonder if he'll put in a good word for me.' That was quickly ousted by the second: 'As if Jack Dee would even be remotely interested.' I doubt their next evening do will involve Tim telling a similar anecdote about how he met a wannabe stand-up who also writes about the proposed RICS valuer accreditation scheme. It's even less likely than me talking about Kelvin McKenzie.
The other topic of comedy conversation was The Property Comic (http://www.pmguk.com/comic/) for Land Aid (http://www.landaid.org/), and how tickets had run out for 1-2 July. It's true, but Property Merchant Group is looking at putting on two more dates on 22-23 September. I hope I'll be asked back if next week goes well. We'll have to see.
For now, I'll leave you with one of my favourite bits of Jack Dee.
In return, if you've got any good comedy connections then please let me know at: firstname.lastname@example.org
And if you've got any videos of Julian Clary's backing dancers then send them through too.
I had my first nightmare about it last Tuesday.
In two weeks I’m taking to the stage in a bid to entertain the property industry at the first night of The Property Comic, the comedy event by the Property Merchant Group and Property Week for Land Aid (http://www.pmguk.com/comic/).
I’m due to perform on both nights. I can’t promise that I’ll drag property out of its gloom. If I wanted to do that I’d need more than jokes: I’d need to be onstage giving away large amounts of money and, as I'm a journalist who moonlights as a comic, I’m not exactly being lined up for The Secret Millionaire. But I'll do my best.
It’s a long time since the idea surfaced on 3 March in The Goring Hotel. I was having breakfast with the Property Merchant Group chief executive James Bowdidge, sustainability director Richard Burge, and their PR man Nigel Henson. I mentioned my strange hobby, telling jokes to people in small rooms above pubs in London and Brighton (www.myspace.com/richheap).
I’ve been doing it as a hobby for about ten months. James liked the idea of running a comedy night for property, where laughs have dried up along with bank finance. I headed back to the office and didn't think much more about it.
I found out more on 6.22pm on Thursday 23 April. I was struggling with a news story that was more than two hours overdue when an email popped up in my inbox: The Property Comic was happening and, even better, I’d been booked. At that point it was only for one night. At Tuesday’s BPF conference James said I should do both. Cheers.
Anyway, back to my nightmare. I’d just been onstage at a comedy event for the property industry. I knew something wasn’t right: it was being held in a sports hall, not 295 Regent Street, and I didn’t have my glasses.
I have an idea about why I'm anxious. It isn’t the bright lights, forgetting the punch lines, or getting hit with a killer line by an erudite heckler. I'm anxious because this isn’t a room of faceless strangers. It’s friends, colleagues and people they like, all who’ve paid £25. If it goes badly, they’ll all know about it. At least if a normal gig goes badly, I can come into work the next day and lie about it.
It was only a dream though, and really I'm a lot more optimistic. I've done it before and it usually goes well. Hopefully, you'll be able to judge for yourself. We're planning to put a film of my set up on propertyweek.com afterwards. If it goes well, that is. If it goes badly then the camera of web editor Iain O’Neil may have an ‘accident’ with the four-year-old bottle of champagne on assistant editor Mark Shepherd’s desk.
So if you’re there and there are only two people laughing, you know who has a vested interest in it going well.
For more info on Land Aid go to: http://www.landaid.org/
“Have you ever met Alison Carnwath?”
Doing my socialite rounds of the property industry over the last fortnight, nearly every woman I have hob-nobbed with has popped this question. Why? Well, for those of you who have been hiding under a rock, Ms Carnwath is the fearsome new chairman of Land Securities. Over the bank holiday weekend, the Sunday Times famously reported she has given Land Secs’ chief executive Frances Salway six months to turn the company around - or face the sack. Oooh! The nasty lady!
Here’s the non-sensational version: in the wake of Land Secs reporting a £4.8bn loss at its full year results, the chairman orders the chief executive to carry out a strategic review and deliver a new business plan. So far, so dull. But the fact that the chairman is a woman gives this story legs.
That she is a successful woman with a number of influential non-exec roles in the City makes the story even better. We are told that Ms Carnwath is a “former investment banker” (surely equivalent to a first degree in ball-breaking) with newspaper reports describing her as “tough”, “powerful”, “formidable”, “unsentimentally tough” and having a reputation that is universally described as - you guessed it - “tough”.
The picture caption accompanying one web story simply reads; “Alison Carnwath: Tough”.
You almost expect her corporate portrait to growl like a Rottweiler when you run your cursor over it. There are many Google images that show her smiling, but predictably the papers all used the ones of her looking steely-eyed and serious. It’s amazing they didn’t Photoshop in an axe.
She is variously described as “chairman”, “chairwoman” or simply “chair” when Land Secs’ own website makes it perfectly clear that “chairman” is the correct and only form of address. And editors are compelled to tell us her age (56) when they don’t bother to disclose Mr Salway’s (he is 50).
The gender bias continues with headlines like “New chairwoman takes hardline approach”. We are told she has “laid down the gauntlet”, and has “delivered an ultimatum to Land Secs’ chief” as if he was an errant husband. The Express even reports (in quote marks) that she has told Mr Salway to “shape up, or ship out”. This conjures up images of some school marm chucking a board rubber across the board room and shrieking “you’ve been a very naughty boy!”
Predictably, male newspaper columnists have leapt to Mr Salway’s defence. He is described as “a decent victim” by one, and hilariously as a “country vicar” by another. Which casts him very much as the little lamb that the inhuman Ms Carnwath is preparing to slaughter.
The fact that Land Secs has since issued a statement denying that Ms Carnwath has threatened anyone with the sack, or even imposed a six month deadline for this summary execution is largely lost on the press (although it was carried by a local paper in Liverpool).
The real story is whether Ms Carnwath can use her considerable talents to return Land Secs to glory. And that’s what admiring women (and men) within the property industry are desperately hoping she can pull off.
As the MPs’ expenses scandal reaches the fifth of – only the Telegraph knows – how many weeks, I reflect on parliamentarians’ living arrangements when I began reporting Parliament 40 years ago.
They either lived like the haute bourgeoisie or like students.
In the last year of the Labour government, Cabinet ministers were intimidatingly grand, and seldom lived in their constituencies.
I would never have dared ask Anthony Crosland why he didn’t live in Grimsby; Roy Jenkins why he didn’t live in Birmingham; Barbara Castle why she didn’t live in Blackburn or Jim Callaghan why he had no home in Cardiff.
They generally had second homes, but these were country cottages or, in Callaghan’s case, a farm in Sussex.
Jeremy Thorpe, the Liberal leader, used to joke about the grandee who said as an election was called: ‘I have got to go to my constituency. And, damn it, at the next election, I’ll have to go again.’
Thorpe lived in his North Devon constituency. At the end of a day’s canvassing during the 1970 general election campaign, his wife, Caroline, invited me to their cottage.
This was no John Lewis-list second home. She proudly gave me the history of each elegant, polished antique.
The memory lingers sadly, because Caroline was killed in a car crash a few days later while driving back to London.
The new parliament included a record number of working class Ulstermen. After their first day in Westminster they had nowhere to spend the night.
There is a rumour that they walked round Smith Square, Cawley Street and Lord North Street, knocking on doors, asking if anyone was renting out rooms. Although these terraced houses were already the preserve of the fabulously wealthy, to the newcomers they were no different from a Belfast terrace where rooms were for rent.
That was what an MP did: rent a room. I was friendly with a Scottish journalist with a stolid mansion flat in West Hampstead where he rented a room to Dr Maurice Miller, a government whip, and Labour MP for Glasgow Kelvingrove.
The late Dr Miller was such a passionate Zionist that once, when we were feeling silly, we went into his room and hung up a Palestinian flag.
In retrospect, Dr Miller deserved better.
On what point in the scale between student slumming and moated estate, should become clear in the next few months.