This week’s Property Awards were attended once again by the crème de la crème of the industry - who once again had to run a gauntlet of protestors to get into the event.
The revellers without a cause decided to up the ante this year by dumping some cockroaches and manure outside the venue, which was fitting (although not in the way they intended) as they were spouting total bulls***.
Overexcitedly waving placards bearing messages such as ‘Social housing not social cleansing’ and proclaiming that the housing crisis and homelessness are caused by the property industry, they were oblivious to the fact that the event primarily celebrates the commercial not the residential sector, that winners included L&G’s Bill Hughes, who is trying to change the industry in a positive way - and that it was in aid of homelessness charity LandAid. Oh well.
Fortunately, our guests were not deterred and pushed their way through to enjoy one of our best awards yet. There was more to celebrate than usual after such a tough year. Who could have envisaged what a rollercoaster ride 2016 would be? A game of two halves, divided by the EU referendum and descending into a ‘post-truth’, ‘alternative facts’, ‘fake news’ farce of a second half, it couldn’t have been more unsettling politically or culturally.
Higher calibre entries
But it is easy to overstate the impact. Let’s remind ourselves of the truth, the facts - the real news. In the immediate aftermath of the vote, housebuilder share prices tanked, several open-ended funds were forced to suspend trading and a swathe of deals that were scheduled to go through didn’t. However, many more did, the markets bounced back and in its inimitable style, the industry cut its coat to suit its cloth.
That was reflected in this year’s award entries. You would expect the number to have been sharply down, but no. The numbers were marginally lower, but most of the fall-off in the agency categories was made up for by a marked increase in categories such as Proptech Company, Young Personality and Deal of the Year. The Professional Agency category also attracted a higher number of entries, underscoring the fact that while some parts of the agency world have battened down the hatches, others are doing very well, thank you.
What was also interesting was the calibre of entries. Last year, it was high. This year, it was higher still. Why? Because people had more compelling stories to tell - of triumph over adversity, of robust financial performances amid challenging market conditions and of genuinely new and disruptive ways of doing business.
We also celebrated the original disruptors, pausing to reflect on the achievements of two legends no longer with us - West End heavyweight Nigel Kempner and the wonderfully “unreasonable man” Irvine Sellar, who was inducted into our Hall of Fame only last year - and concluding proceedings by inducting two new legends: Gerald Ronson and Sir George Iacobescu.
Ronson self-effacingly likened himself to an “old dinosaur”, while Iacobescu urged the “heroes of the future” to “look conservative on the outside and be a bit crazy on the inside”. The crazies outside Grosvenor House would do well to ponder the achievements of these two - and all the winners, for that matter - before branding them the problem when they are the solution. They won’t, though; it would ruin all their fun.