Zafar Bhunnoo, co-founder and co-chief executive of build-to-rent specialist Balance Out Living, on how he got into property, his career highs and his cultural recommendations.
How did you join the property industry?
Interning with a community centre developer eventually landed me a role with development manager M3 Consulting. I then joined Blackstone before eventually taking a leap of faith to co-found Spaces, where I led on the creation of a £250m co-living portfolio.
What does your job entail?
Anyone in my position will tell you that no one day is ever the same.
Fundamentally, it is creating, iterating and executing the strategic business objectives, supporting the whole team to achieve the high standards we – that’s me and Balance Out Living cofounder Sarah Christie – set ourselves.
What do you like most about the property industry?
It is physical, you can touch it, and it has a lasting legacy that will permeate the original intention for as long as it stands. That carries a huge responsibility and presents the opportunity to really do some good – leaving the world in a better place than I found it.
And what do you dislike most about it?
The archaic nature of it all. There are so many organisational structures, standards, processes and thinking that are severely outdated and need a fresher, more innovative approach.
What would you change about the property industry?
Equality, diversity and inclusivity (EDI) is an area where there’s so much more to be done, despite the progress we’ve made over the past five or so years. Sarah and I are a diverse co-foundership in many ways and I am proud of this.
That said, this isn’t too common across the industry and EDI considerations begin to ease off the further up the seniority chain we look. It’s a case of recognising the industry hasn’t sat on its hands, while also accepting that more needs to be done.
What barriers or challenges have you overcome?
Sarah and I have been pretty open about experiencing burnout, which came about by not taking care and failing to prioritise personal, physical and mental health. Channelling that in a positive way and applying my learnings to the creation of Balance Out Living is something I’m proud of.
It’s important to add that, sadly, there is significant unconscious bias in our industry and it’s been a challenge to clear the hurdles of systemic racism and discrimination – but here we are.
What are you most proud of in your career?
Taking the leap of faith into the uncertainty of entrepreneurship in 2016, despite having commitments to a young family. That has taught me an awful lot and supported me in the founding of Balance Out Living and getting our rst scheme through planning.
What do you value in people?
Authenticity, honesty, integrity and a passion for growth.
What advice would you give someone starting a career in the property industry?
Get clear on why it appeals to you, your core values and personal vision. Be ambitious, and recognise that there are fewer qualities more important than remaining curious but grounded, humble and kind.
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