Property Week catches up with the “Class of 2004” — 10 graduate surveyors we have been following since the start of their careers — to see how they are coping with the downturn. David Hatcher reports. Photographs by Trent McMinn at One New Change

Class Struggle

In 2004 Property Week interviewed a group of fresh-faced graduates, who had ambitions to be the next leading lights of the property industry.

Back then, the market was hotting up towards the truly remarkable boom and our group would, of course, be blissfully unaware of the rollercoaster ride on which the property industry would take them. They were embarking on their property careers at graduate trainee schemes with Segro, Donaldsons, Knight Frank, GVA, Savills, Drivers Jonas, Lambert Smith Hampton and Cushman & Wakefield.

Eight years on, they are older and wiser. None are with the firms they originally joined. The realities of working in a depressed market have set in: some have suffered the harsh reality of redundancy, and they are all hardier and more experienced.

Some are married with children, so responsibilities — both professionally and personally — have increased.

Property Week tracked down the graduates to find out the lessons they have learned since we last met them three years ago, and the advice they would give to those coming through the ranks now.

James McAdden

James McAdden

Age: 32

Job: central London investment surveyor, Kingly Partners

McAdden has stayed with his current employer, Kingly Partners, for the past five years. The specialist central London investment practice has enjoyed the best of the generally downbeat UK market and McAdden considers himself fortunate.

“The volume of deals is down everywhere, whichever asset class you deal with and wherever you are, but we have been sheltered a bit as a result of our specialisation,” he says. “We are growing the business and it feels good to be a relatively big part of that.”

McAdden started his property career as a graduate trainee at Donaldsons, which was taken over by DTZ in 2007. After a six-month stint at EA Shaw, he moved on to Kingly Partners.

“When I was at Donaldsons, I didn’t really have a lot of idea about the market. It seems a different life looking back, with so much more responsibility now. I remember looking at the senior partners back then and thinking, ‘Wow, how do you do the deals that you are doing and run the business?’ I’m not quite there yet, but I’m now much more involved.”

Finding good deals in the central London market has been tough, but McAdden reckons buying a derelict house in Barons Court at a Savills auction in 2009 was “the best deal I’ve ever done”. The house had been untouched for 70 years and after five months of intensive refurbishment, it is now home to McAdden, his wife and 18-month-old son, Maximus.

Katie Pearce

Katie Pearce (née Johnson)

Age: 32

Job: associate director, Jones Lang LaSalle

Pearce’s life has been dominated by becoming a mother for the first and second time since Property Week spoke to her last three years ago. She had her first child, Lyla, in November 2010, before heading back to work six months later. Nine months on and she took more time away from work when she became pregnant with her second child, Harrison, who was born in May. She is now on maternity leave for the next few months.

She praises Jones Lang LaSalle for being flexible about her work situation, but there has still been an element of inevitable sacrifice.

“It has been hard balancing a career and having children but, in a way, it’s good to get it over and done with. It is hard watching everyone else’s careers taking off and mine stalling a bit as a result but I don’t regret it,” she says.

Pearce says she wants to go back to work part time when the time is right, but that finding childcare is the biggest challenge in making that happen. Having been promoted to associate director in 2010, Pearce says she felt more comfortable becoming a mum and with the prospect of returning to work afterwards.

“It’s a nice level to be at — it’s not too junior. I didn’t want to find myself a working mum at 35 and still be a senior surveyor,” she says.

Tom Richardson

Tom Richardson

Age: 34

Job: research analyst, Russell Investments

Richardson jumped ship from Cushman & Wakefield Investors in April 2010 to join Russell Investments, where he now advises fund managers on the non-listed European real estate market.

“If you’re in a job now, you’re in a good place and I dread to think what I’d do if I graduated now,” he says.

He married his wife, Camilla, in June 2010 and they now live in Putney with their one-year-old son, Milo.

“I get to travel around a bit in Europe, but it tends to just be for the day, attending investors’ advisory meetings and helping to carry out due diligence. It means I don’t have to be away from the family for too long, like I would if I was away in the Asian market for a week at a time,” he says.

The tumultuous market conditions of the past few years have made Richardson’s job difficult in terms of judging strategy and he hopes that he and his fellow graduates will be wiser for living through it.

“We went through a period in 2008 to 2009 where values where falling and no one knew what was going on. It was like catching a falling knife and there weren’t a great deal of options.

“Hopefully, we can be a generation that won’t just look at things through rose-tinted spectacles, but be aware that things can go wrong and lose value,” Richardson says.

Claire Elderfield

Claire Elderfield

Age: 34

Job: senior surveyor/consultant, CBRE

Elderfield made a lifestyle choice to move to the Isle of Wight in May 2011, after having her second child, Alexander. Along with husband Nick and four-year-old daughter, Evie, she is enjoying being away from it all.

“It’s not Sydney or London, but we live by the sea. It’s idyllic and it’s good for the children,” she says.

Elderfield started her career at GVA in London and then Sydney before moving to Alder King’s Taunton office in 2007. She joined recruitment company Set Square in Taunton as an in-house surveyor before the big move.

She is now working at CBRE’s Southampton office as a senior surveyor on a part-time basis. The commute takes about an hour and a half each way.

Like fellow graduate Katie Pearce, Elderfield feels she has had to make sacrifices as a result of having children: “You can’t have it all, whatever anyone says. When you’re part time, you’re not going to progress as quickly. It’s like you’re on hold, but that’s just the way it is.”

The market has changed since she joined GVA eight years ago and she was shocked at how difficult it was get work after maternity leave.

“Everything has changed in terms of the perks and the parties that used to go on. I think only around three part-time jobs have come up in Southampton in the last year.”

Natasha Firman

Natasha Firman

Age: 36

Job: portfolio director, Lloyds Banking Group

Firman’s change of focus in the past three years, within the property industry, could hardly have been greater. Having been investing in shiny new shopping centres in Brazil, she is now dealing with distressed residential property in the UK.

In 2010 she was made redundant from Brazilian developer and investor Squarestone. She had been investing UK capital in Brazil but the market dried up.

“I had been expecting to invest in the UK initially when I joined Squarestone, but as a result of the market decline here that didn’t happen. I had previously worked with Knight Frank in eastern Europe, so I was actually quite pleased to have a UK focus again,” she says.

Coming back was not without some effort though.

“I knuckled down, got working on my CV and didn’t leave the phone for three months,” she recalls. “I jumped at the opportunity to work at Lloyds and the Business Support Unit in particular.”

Firman works in the solutions team that deals with the bank’s distressed property assets in particular and has worked on developing its Residential Asset Management Platform (RAMP) partnership with Grainger.

“It’s a bit of an eye-opener and you have to have sympathy for some of the borrowers who have found it difficult,” she says.

Her personal challenge for 2012 has been to raise £3,000 for the English Federation of Disability Sport through a combined series of challenges, including 430 miles of cycling, 25 miles of running and 6 miles of swimming.

When Firman first met Property Week in 2004 she had just won the Formula Woman Championship. Although she has struggled to find the time to race since, she is hinting at a return.

“Watch this space,” she says.

Robbie MacKenzie

Robbie MacKenzie

Age: 29

Job: currently out of work

Like many of the younger generation in the industry, Mackenzie was made redundant early this year. Having previously been a senior asset surveyor at Segro, a change of strategy by its chief executive David Sleath in November last year culminated in it putting up for sale £1.6bn of “non-core” property outside London and the south-east. Managing this was central to Mackenzie’s role.

Directors at Segro say he was highly thought of during his time at the company, having been there since he graduated from Reading University in 2004.

Mackenzie is now taking time out away from the industry and is uncertain whether he will return.

Andrew Nicholson

Andrew Nicholson

Age: 31

Job: assistant portfolio manager, Swire Properties

Nicholson is still the only member of the Class of 2004 to be working abroad, for Swire Properties in Hong Kong. He says he is fortunate to have escaped to the Far East, where the market is in a healthier state.

“Thankfully, there’s still a lot of activity and it’s relatively buoyant. We are just over the border from China, and Hong Kong is supported by the flows of capital and people, but what happens in Europe and the US affects us all,” he says.

Nicholson helps to manage the Taikoo Place portfolio, a 10m sq ft portfolio in one of the city’s fastest-growing business districts, which he compares to Canary Wharf. He deals with both strategy and property management.

“We have a large number of headquarters buildings in the portfolio for firms such as IBM and WPP, and we have around 300 tenants in total.”

Nicholson’s wife, Victoria, is due to give birth this month and he is pleased their firstborn will grow up in the Far East.

“I do miss the UK, but Hong Kong is a very entrepreneurial place that has a great future. There are pros and cons of raising a child in either place.

In the UK we’re closer to family, but over here we have better access to help [nannies and maids].”

William Rohleder

William Rohleder

Age: 30

Job: director, Bride Hall Developments

Rohleder made perhaps his most valuable property contact at Haileybury College, Hertfordshire, where he was at school with the daughter of Bride Hall chairman and chief executive Danny Desmond. His first taste of property was a placement at Bride Hall in his gap year.

After time at Lambert Smith Hampton and ING Real Estate, he rejoined Bride Hall two years ago.

He now works predominantly on retail- and food store-led mixed-use schemes — from the desk where he sat more than a decade ago.

“It’s not the sort of work you tend to get through an agency, I guess. We’re a small team of four, so we are always busy and you can’t waste any time. You have to get in the car and meet people, and try to find the opportunities,” he says.

It is a career change from ING, where he mainly focused on investment and asset management: “You start with a blank sheet of paper and have to build up a whole new contact base, as it’s a different side of the business. You can’t sit back and rely on introductions from agents. But it’s getting to the point where the hard work has started to pay off.”

Jack Busby

Jack Busby

Age: 34

Job: portfolio manager, Land Securities

Having been at Land Securities for more than four years, Busby is an example of how employees can develop within a large company. Although still a portfolio manager, as he was when Property Week last spoke to him in 2009, he has moved from the retail warehouse portfolio to the shopping centre and leisure portfolio and has taken on responsibility for managing people for the first time.

“I still find it a challenging and exciting place to work. I’m now working on the Cornerhouse in Nottingham and Cathedral Plaza in Worcester, and I will be getting involved in deciding what we buy in the future,” he says. “I’m now a line manager for a couple of PAs and a young surveyor. I enjoy it and try to help them grow their careers.”

Having started at Savills in 2004 following stints at PWC, Dow Jones and a foreign exchange company, Busby sees a variety of experiences as an advantage: “As an employer you’re now looking to see what work experience someone has got, that they’re competent and that they don’t need to be nursed on day one and have got the fundamentals.”

Busby now lives in Wandsworth, south London, with his wife and children, Daisy, four, and Ben, one.

“I’ve got a young family and I’m beyond my crazy days,” he admits.

Selena Taher

Selena Taher

Age: 31

Job: director, Apollo Real Estates

The downturn may be having an impact on the way Taher is doing business at the Putney-based property company employer but she is determined that it will do the Class of 2004 good in the long run.

“We will be stronger for it, definitely,” she says. “We graduated in a very hedonistic market and it’s better now than in five or 10 years when we have bigger mortgages or larger families.”

Taher started her career as a graduate at DTZ before moving to Candy & Candy in 2007, where she became a development manager. She has been at Apollo Real Estates since Property Week last caught up with her, in 2009.

“The difference now is that I’m learning to run a business, rather than just being a development manager or surveyor. It’s not something you can just learn. You have to gain experience on the job.”

The downturn has brought a different approach to development, and most of Taher’s focus is now on working up sites for a recovery.

“At Candy & Candy in particular we could go out and just finance anything. Now we have to use the real skills that we learnt when becoming surveyors and look at the property fundamentals and true value of what we’re doing.”

Taher’s focus away from work is now firmly on planning her wedding for early next year. Her fiance proposed to her on a holiday in Cornwall over the jubilee weekend.