Leena Gillespie, commercial director at Public Sector PLC, on how she fell into property, the enjoyment in bringing added value to assets — and how Star Wars shows girls can do whatever they put their minds to.
How did you join the property industry?
I fell into property lending by accident. I left Manchester University with an aerospace engineering degree, planning to join the RAF as an engineering officer. But there was a 12-month wait before I could start, so I started temping at Alliance & Leicester. Twelve months in, I was hooked; I enjoyed the commercial interaction and being involved in projects that changed your environment.
What does your job entail?
As commercial director, I manage our development managers who look after council partners and the delivery of their projects. I also work with our senior leadership team to identify opportunities to grow our business.
What do you like most about the property industry?
I enjoy the variety property brings, particularly the challenge of adding value to existing assets and repurposing buildings to regenerate an area. It’s a great feeling to walk past a project you were involved in years after it’s been completed and to see the impact it has had on the wider area and community.
And what do you dislike most about it?
The lack of diversity. The property and banking industries can sometimes be seen as a boys’ club.
What would you change about the industry?
I welcome the changes in diversity, but there is a long way to go to get to a point where the people in senior and board positions represent our diverse communities. Having taken a senior position at PSP this February, it is great to be able to have a say in how we grow and build our business. Our diverse backgrounds and skillsets at PSP mean that we are able to bring forward innovative solutions for our partners.
What barriers or challenges have you overcome?
Starting my property career in 2005, I’ve seen the highs and lows of the market. Facing recessions and two redundancies showed me that where there’s a will, there’s a way. I’m grateful for my time in restructuring as it can sometimes be an easier ride to add value to assets when market conditions are in your favour. When they are not, you must get creative and think strategically.
What are you most proud of in your career?
What started as a job to pay the bills while I waited for a career in the RAF has turned into a career in a sector I am passionate about. It means a lot to be able to influence our business growth and aspirations, as well as support my team to build their careers in the sector.
What do you value in people?
Integrity. It is key that you live and breathe what you say. It is important in building relationships that we are honest with partners and deliver what we say we can.
What advice would you give someone in the property industry?
Try and find something you enjoy in your role and work hard to make that your career. There will always be stressful situations in your work or in the organisations you work in. However, the enjoyment is what will get you through.