Sam Barrell, director of real estate development in the UK at Sonder, on how he got started in property, his TV and podcast recommendations, his best and worst purchases and his number-one travel destination.

Sam Barrell

Sam Barrell

How did you join the property industry?

After university, I was fortunate enough to join Deloitte’s graduate scheme and start my career as a finance and strategy management consultant. After completing my accountancy qualifications, I joined IHG in an FP&A position, tracking the company’s global £300m-plus capex budget. It was a fascinating role, which included briefing the group CEO and CFO on capex requests from across the business. I finally joined development, working in a talented team to grow the IHG estate of brands and complete the transformation from chemistry to property.

What does your job entail now?

As director of real estate for the UK, I am focused on growing our UK portfolio by collaborating, maintaining and building relationships with real estate partners. With a strong track record of being a well-capitalised and experienced hospitality provider, Sonder sees more than a third of our proposed real estate deals derive from existing partnerships, ranging from internationally renowned real estate and investment firms to smaller local operators.

What do you like most about the property industry?

The people – there is a real sense of community and I’ve been fortunate to meet and learn from some amazingly talented individuals. I’m also yet to find anyone in this industry who doesn’t enjoy the employee discounts.

And what do you dislike most about it?

Growth is fundamental to the success of publicly traded hospitality companies. Being responsible for identifying, negotiating and closing real estate transactions on behalf of the company comes with pressure, particularly around quarterly and year-end deadlines. Having said that, while it can be stressful, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of satisfaction (or relief) once a transaction closes.

What would you change about the property industry?

To evolve at a greater pace, the industry needs to be better at integrating technology. Sonder has consistently been ahead of the curve on this. We believe the future of the hospitality industry is one where technology and design are applied to every aspect of the business, not just the transaction. From supply growth and interior design to day-to-day operations, technology is infused into Sonder’s DNA, allowing us to simplify operational challenges and scale rapidly with new properties and markets.

What do you value in people?

In order for a team to truly thrive, recognising the value that each individual can contribute is key. This mentality is what makes Sonder such a great place to work – it brings together people from different backgrounds, experiences and skill sets to work towards one shared goal.

What advice would you give someone starting a career in the property industry?

Pay attention to how you treat people and be open-minded to new perspectives and ideas. Different people have different styles, and what works for someone else may not work for you. I don’t play golf and will never be the last man standing at networking drinks, but I will be keen for a pre-conference run or to join a networking cycle ride.