An interview with our newest Board Member. Welcome to the Penhurst Team!
What was the path you took to get to where you are today?
To be candid I only drifted into banking with NatWest in North Wales but found I had landed on a career I really enjoyed. I learnt so much particularly about the importance of giving customers good service.
I subsequently moved into Credit Office roles in the West Midlands in the late 80’s / mid 90’s dealing with so many sectors amidst a very deep recession characterised by large company failures. Although very tough this was also a great learning environment, the lessons from which were to stand me in good stead for later chapters in my career. I also had some terrific mentors who encouraged me that I had an aptitude for lending (I am still not sure if this is an art or a science!).
In 2002 I was appointed head of a new commercial lending division of The Principality Building Society – a Welsh Mutual established in the 1860’s. We placed a great emphasis on service.
I was fortunate to lead a team of like-minded colleagues who were eager not just to ensure the commercial success of the business but to build a trusted brand and support projects which made a demonstrable difference to local communities.
After almost 20 years in the role I felt the time was right for me to seek new challenges. Having been part of many board committee discussions and given a real interest in housing I was successful in being appointed Chair of RHA Wales – a housing association which owns and manages 2000+ homes in the Rhondda Valleys. This is a very different challenge but so enjoyable working with a new, committed team sharing the same objective of making a difference.
What has been the highlight of your career to date?
From my perspective I have always enjoyed collective achievements as opposed to any individual deals or events. I feel fortunate to have worked in a sector which – despite its detractors (sometimes deserved!) I found enormously fulfilling. Looking back the area which gives me most pleasure is having been able to lead a division which supported its customers and worked its way through an unprecedented financial crisis.
From your many years of experience what are the key factors that you will bring to your role as a non-executive director
Having lived through several quite deep recessions the importance of ensuring the group has resources not just to whether any short term challenges but to capitalise on opportunities – always being alert to these. Markets are very cyclical and remaining focused on the long game will avoid taking short term decisions which might be suboptimal. The importance of developing colleagues is also an area I have placed great emphasis on – businesses perform better when colleagues are aligned, purposeful, and operate as a team.
Last but by no means least we need to ensure we don’t lose focus on our customers. Quite rightly expectations around how tenants are looked after are high with demands increasing not least around aspects such as climate change. Penhurst need to maintain a solid reputation in this area. I have recent experience of policy development in residential aspects which hopefully will be of help to the team as they look forward.
Why is joining our board important to you?
I have long been an admirer of the achievements of Penhurst which has built a formidable business over several decades. It was an honour to be invited to join a team and work alongside John and his colleagues with their terrific collective experience. I also believe that you are never too old to learn and it is a good opportunity for me to continue to develop my knowledge and skills working “the other side of the fence” to my time in banking.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome?
In 2012 at Principality we embarked on an initiative with Welsh Government to bring to life a 50 acre brownfield site in Cardiff. It had enormous potential but also significant challenges as a former Paper Mill. The idea was to create a not for profit company that would build 800 homes of which over half would be for rental with the majority of those at affordable rents.
Principality have provided the majority of the development funding in phases. Thankfully patience, and tenacity are qualities that I have been able to draw on – although at times the well was near empty! It is true however that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. Over a decade on the finishing line is in sight with about 650 homes now handed over and the final phase well under way.
Whilst the initiative was challenging there was some great collaboration on the journey and it was a pleasure to work alongside some really talented individuals who shared the vision for the site and got behind it. I was enormously grateful for the support and encouragement received as it was the first project of this scale and nature embarked on in Wales.
What are your outside interests?
Both our children now live in London and we are frequent visitors. Friends and family have always been very important to us and we love spending time with them. We have a small camper van and have travelled far and wide across the UK over the last few years always trying to visit one area each year neither my wife nor I have been previously. I try to keep fit – we used to go dancing quite often and will try and pick this up again and I do have a (not terribly impressive) morning yoga routine. I can play a little golf and generally have a go at most activities- within reason!
What do you feel is the biggest strength of Penhurst right now?
I think Penhurst is in a really strong position. There are clearly a lot of headwinds for the sector and landlords face multiple increasing costs not least ensuring compliance with escalating standards and higher interest costs. Penhurst have the scale and financial strength to whether these and also potentially capitalise on new development opportunities. Equally importantly they have a committed team of individuals who are excellent at what they do which should stand the company in good stead for the years ahead.