Katherine McCullough, director, head of UK property at Merchant Land talks to Property Week about how she got into the property sector, and any advice she would give somebody starting a career in the industry.
How did you join the property industry?
I first started working in property 22 years ago, after seven years working in property finance. I joined a start-up joint venture as a partner and commercial director before heading up Merchant Land. I did a degree in history, followed by a postgraduate law conversion. I quickly realised I didn’t want to be a lawyer, but I did enjoy property law. It sparked an interest in a sector I had never really been aware of or considered.
What does your job entail now?
Merchant Land acquires, funds and delivers small or mid-sized residential, commercial and mixed-use schemes, predominantly in London as well as holding a commercial and residential portfolio, often including properties we have built. In practical terms, my day-to-day can vary quite a lot, from viewing new property or sites to acquire to working closely with consultant design teams and engaging with the local community on proposals. Plus aspects such as banking, marketing and overseeing our asset management and construction responsibilities.
What do you like most about the property industry?
I have always found it fascinating and multi-faceted. I enjoy the challenge of balancing different priorities, opportunities and constraints at both a project, asset and business level. I also love the fact that it is so tangible and connected to so much of what is happening across the wider country at any one time.
And what do you dislike most about it?
While I am ambitious and competitive about achieving my own goals, I don’t agree or try to get involved with the side of the industry that seems to equate success with overt displays of wealth or ego. I decided from the get-go that I was not going to put pressure on myself to play up to anyone’s image of what success in property should look like.
What would you change about the property industry?
The industry makes it very difficult for SME developers, but the contribution these businesses make is vital to addressing the housing crisis and utilising smaller brownfield sites. The planning system in England has the same process for assessing large masterplans as it does for small schemes providing fewer than 10 homes. A simplification of the planning process in recognition of the barriers to entry for SMEs would help competition.
What barriers or challenges have you overcome?
Coming from a background where people didn’t start a business or work in property, early on I found myself questioning if I was up to it. Disappointments felt a lot more personal and I’d worry whether I had deluded myself going into it. Given the money and lending involved, that can feel pretty scary. I also didn’t have people in my personal life who were in a position to help me think through dilemmas. Now that I have been doing it longer, I have the support of a professional network that has grown overtime.
What are you most proud of in your career?
Just still being here, with a track record and a business and brand that looks like what we set out to achieve.
What do you value in people?
Honesty, humour and street smartness. Those three things make resilience in a person or team of people.