It has been a while since my last column, so before writing this one I took a look back at where I had left off.

Re-reading the article got me reflecting on my time so far in the world of property. When I started out, I believed that it was all about bricks, mortar and deals. It didn’t take me long to realise that it is actually all about the people and the relationships you build with them.

Winning a Britain’s Top Employer award is a sought-after accolade, and KFC has picked up this year’s honour, but for me it is not just about the people on the payroll, but also the fantastic consultants who feel like family and have worked with us for years. In fact, because we’re a tight team, our decision-making is very fast.

We listen closely to our external customers, from individual small siteowners, through to major developers, landlords and funds.

Need for flexibility

It quickly became apparent to me that a willingness to listen, take a flexible approach and enter into straightforward and open negotiation is essential to success in this industry. Every deal has to work for all parties involved, and doing so makes it far easier to recruit new customers who want repeat business.

When it comes to our buildings, we of course have an ideal design (2,650 sq ft). Despite this, non-standard seems to prevail, and I am increasingly of the view that a standardised modular approach works against
the need for creativity and flexibility.

For example, converting car showrooms, Victorian listed banks, and even one of our franchisees converting and super-insulating an Art Deco listed gatehouse (complete with air-raid shelter), requires much more creativity than a one-size-fits-all modular approach.

Take the situation of landowners.

While we prefer to buy freeholds where possible, this is not always achievable, so we have to be prepared to meet the different needs and circumstances of the owners from site to site. Whether these are big institutions focused on strategic asset planning, or the very small landowners or individuals who lack the resources to build, I strongly believe it is only by getting to know their world that the best outcomes can be achieved.

In one example, a wealthy individual requires a no-fuss Retail Prices Index (RPI) lease to guarantee his retirement fund against inflationary pressures. Risk reduction and speed is his priority, together with our covenant strength. He’ll offset the site clean-up against his income for tax purposes and we’ll do the rest. It’s all about listening to people and being prepared to be flexible. Adapting to their funding, long-term strategy and taxation circumstances is crucially important.

Of course, it is not just about us being flexible and creative — we also need a similar approach from planners. This leads me back to finding ways to address the frustrations voiced in my last column, and the recent encouragement I am feeling due to the increasing pragmatism of officers and councillors.

Drive-through planning applications are rarely straightforward, but we recently obtained delegated consent on a pub site in Derby, where the employment, job creation, investment and regeneration benefits have all
been recognised. We are currently demolishing an asbestos-riddled 1960s office in Birmingham — again delegated planning approval granted.

I strongly believe that where all parties can engage openly and set out needs clearly so solutions can be found, rather than being too clever or point-scoring, we can cover so much more ground. With good relationships between all stakeholders and a positive attitude, challenging planning and development situations may be resolved much more effectively and creatively, for the benefit of all.

Paula MacKenzie is chief financial and development officer at Yum! Restaurants International, owner of KFC