The HBD executive director on hiking, boom and bust cycles and why property needs more diversity.
Where did you grow up and where do you live now?
I’m a Cheshire girl. I grew up in Hale, South Manchester. I now live in Glossop, where it seems to rain constantly. Glossop is a lovely place, a small town on the edge of the Peak District.
What do you value in people?
In the work environment, it’s integrity and I’m disappointed when people don’t have any. Outside the workplace, it’s kindness. I think there’s more kindness around than the news and social media convey.
Who do you admire most in the industry?
My boss, when I joined my first job with St Quintin, said to me, “you don’t have to know everything, but what you do know, you need to talk about with authority”. I take that with me.
What change do you think has had the biggest impact on the industry in the past five years?
The growth in ecommerce has been huge, impacting both positively and negatively across the industry. I think Covid-19 has massively accelerated this change.
What do you like most and least about the industry?
I like the fact we make a physical difference to people’s environments. That gives me a level of responsibility to make sure I do a good job. When I’m driving, I’ll say to my daughter, “Oh look, I developed that”, and she always looks amazed.
What I don’t like about the industry is its boom and bust nature. When a sector collapses it can be catastrophic. The whole industry is rarely on an even keel. That’s how it goes. I’ve been in this industry 28 years and I’ve seen most of the sectors rise and fall.
What is your favourite way to relax?
I love hiking. I like to go out in the hills. It’s a bit Wuthering Heights and wild this time of year in the Peak District. I also own a cottage in Wales and [pre-lockdown] I went there as much as I could. I switch off, get in the car on a Friday evening and two hours later I’m there.
What would be your dream job?
I’d like to work for an NGO and get involved with creating projects in some distant location.
How did you end up in your current job?
I started in St Quintin, which is now CBRE, where I was the only female surveyor in the office. How I wound up there was interesting. Back in the day, property companies would go round universities and pitch themselves to graduates, but they never came up north.
Outraged, I sent a letter to three companies in London telling them what they were missing out on and that’s how I got the job at St Quintin. I worked there for a few years, then I went and did some travelling, came back and decided to work client side in development for HBD. I worked my way up from an assistant surveyor and I’ve been with HBD for 22 years.
What advice would you give someone starting in property?
Email less and phone or meet more.
What one thing would you change about yourself?
When I was young, it would have been to be less afraid of people in authority. Now it’s to be more patient.
What do you admire most about yourself?
I am perpetually optimistic, and I do look for the best in people. I’m also resilient.
If you could have one conversation with someone alive or dead who would it be?
Mo Mowlam – she was a politician, probably best known for being instrumental in the negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland. She didn’t hide from being a woman.
As a senior woman myself in a male world, it was probably half way through my career that I realised I do not need to be more like a man to be successful.
What one thing would you change about the property industry?
Diversity. For me, it’s a class issue. We’ve got to break down barriers to attract the best talent. My pet hate is the boys’ rugby club culture which is exclusive. Outsiders often only hear about the industry because they know someone in it, so you attract a lot of very similar people.
We can all make a change; everyone should visit a local school or college and introduce young people to the industry. I’m working with Sheffield City Council and the Sheffield Property Association on the “See It Be It” property career video library.
Is the future for industrial and logistics still bright?
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Five minutes with… Vivienne Clements, executive director of HBD