By Kamal Pankhania, speaking with Property Week.
How did you join the property industry?
Property has been in my bones from the day I was born. From the age of eight, while other kids were playing computer games, I was filling up skips on building sites. After studying economics at University College London, I joined the family property firm aged 22. I was inspired by the work my father had done and wanted to be a part of the family business. My brother Sunil also joined the company after university, and he is now our group operations director. We could have done something else, but we have always had ambitions to build, grow and develop the Westcombe Group.
What does your job entail?
My job covers all aspects of the business. I work with experts from across Westcombe Group on acquiring sites, progressing developments, managing our rental investment portfolio and liaising with our hotel management teams. I also spend a huge amount of my time coaching and developing my staff – one of the most rewarding parts of my job. Running a property company is a constant juggling act, but I would not change it for the world.
What do you like most about the property industry?
Two things: first, the diversity of skills, trades and people involved; second, our job is bigger than just (re)building bricks and mortar. I get great satisfaction in seeing developers breathe life into old, listed buildings – something we specialise in at Westcombe. The positive impact our work has on the local community is incredible. The buildings we work on help revitalise the identity, history and culture of a place and community.
And what do you dislike most about our sector?
Nothing is done on time anymore.
What would you change about the property industry?
I have always believed that the planning system could be much more efficient through the use of smart technology. Open data, standardised application forms that can be analysed by AI and 3D virtual reality modelling are all things I would like to see more of in planning applications. Much is being done by the government, but we need to go further and faster.
What barriers or challenges have you overcome?
Joining Westcombe at 22 and being a son of the founder came with a unique set of challenges. I had to prove I was committed, capable and able to build trust, particularly with banks. Managing a £500m property company has not been easy, but I feel as though over the years I have grown into the role.
What are you most proud of in your career?
Establishing our in-house housing association and growing our company to be in the top 25 private development companies in the UK.
What do you value in people?
Trust and responsibility, along with hunger, focus and desire.
What advice would you give someone starting a career in the property industry?
Be persistent, motivated and always keen to learn.