The head of build to rent at Harris Associates on how he got started in the property industry, his top book and song picks, his favourite destination and the most ridiculous fact he knows.

Alex Matthews

Alex Matthews

Why did you join the property industry?

The book At Home by Bill Bryson sparked an interest in the industry as I became more acutely aware of how integral property has been to society, and the connection we share with the buildings we live, work and play in.

In the 1,000 years or so that property has been a functional asset class, it is fascinating how much it has changed and grown, but also how constant it is. We always have – and will need – a roof over our head.

What does your job entail?

I provide investment advice to a range of clients on the disposal and acquisition of multi-family and single-family build-to-rent (BTR) developments and operational assets throughout the UK.

What do you like most about the property industry?

I love that one of the foundations the industry has been built on is creating and building relationships. Whether it is with team members, ex-colleagues inevitably returning in a new setting or new clients with whom you form a connection via shared interests, it is really energising and exciting going on those journeys.

And what do you dislike most about it?

The industry has historically had a rigid structure that has resulted in a lack of diversity of thought at the top, which in turn has stymied progress. Positively, more modern sectors such as BTR have a hotbed of young, diverse talent that is bringing fresh perspectives and disrupting the landscape.

What would you change about the property industry?

I sympathise with my developer clients over the delays and uncertainties they currently face, particularly with the planning system – which needs reform. There has also historically been a lack of innovation and creativity in how we market properties and the pivotal importance this has in increasing investor understanding and engagement. By utilising technology and artificial intelligence, other industries have revolutionised their approach. Real estate needs to catch up, and I am really excited to be at the forefront of this change.

What barriers or challenges have you overcome?

Since beginning my professional career, I have found myself working in different sectors and teams that never felt quite right for me. Continually pushing myself to new frontiers has been challenging and stressful at times, but ultimately more rewarding and enjoyable in the role I have reached and settled in.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I am most proud of the team I work with at Harris Associates and the shared vision we have. In a world going through seismic shifts in how we interact, engage and spend our time, we understand the need for modernisation within the world of investment agency in order to deliver the best results for clients.

What do you value in people?

There is so much I value and admire in individuals – respect, open-mindedness and commitment are a great starting point.

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

Really do your homework around aspects of the industry, talk to whoever you can and learn as much as you can outside the classroom before finding a job. I can suggest – with bias! – the Reinventing Real Estate podcast as a great place to start. Then, find an area of the industry that interests and compels you and that also has strong future growth prospects as a sector.

Top recommendations

Something to read:

Daring Greatly by Brené Brown is a great read based on the notion of making yourself vulnerable by being in the arena of life instead of being a spectator. Individuals and organisations can create a culture that encourages openness and brave decisions, which can lead to greater success, innovation and fulfilment.

Something to listen to:

Don’t Worry Be Happy by Bobby McFerrin. While the lyrics are fun, the ultimate message is powerful and one I try to live by: live with a positive attitude, worry about what really matters, forget the rest and be happy. 

The most ridiculous fact I know:

I love the cosmos and its mind-boggling size. If our solar system was drawn to scale and Earth was reduced to the size of a pea, Jupiter would be more than 300m away and the nearest star to our solar system would be 17,000km away – that’s as far as London to Sydney.

Top travel destination:

My fiancée has grand plans for a horseback safari in Botswana for our honeymoon. I am always up for an adventure and this one certainly matches that, although I am already nervous about the amount of time I’ll be in the saddle.