You would not expect a Canadian expat to love the quintessentially British sport of rugby, but the British Property Federation’s new president Paul Brundage does - in no small part because the game shares so many characteristics with business.
The Oxford Properties executive vice-president and senior managing director, Europe, who was officially inaugurated to the role at the BPF this week, believes the teamwork involved in rugby has direct parallels with how a successful company is run, which is why he took his Oxford Properties team to Pennyhill Park - the training ground of the England national team - for a recent away day.
As we sit in the boardroom at Oxford’s offices at the Leadenhall Building to discuss his presidency, he says teamwork will also be critical to the success of the BPF over the next year.
“We’ve done a pretty good job of not making it feel like the president is just coming in for a year - it’s a presidential team. I feel like I’ve been in the role in some shape or form for a lot longer,” he explains.
“There has been lots of continuity - from Chris [Taylor] to David [Sleath] to me, and then from me to Rob [Noel] and the new junior vice-president [Helen Gordon].
“Hopefully, because of that, we’ve had greater continuity with the BPF team in not just having a new person come in for one year and try to put their own stamp on it. A year is not long enough.”
Brundage has taken over at arguably the most turbulent - and significant - period for the property industry in recent history as it contends with the ongoing political and economic uncertainty and prospect of Brexit. However, he is not daunted by the challenges ahead.
“Being BPF president at a time when the country is going through probably the single most fundamental change it has ever experienced, you can either be really scared about it or be really excited about it,” he says. “I’m certainly the latter and can hopefully make a difference.”
As much as the Brexit situation is challenging, it creates the opportunity to maximise engagement
In Brundage’s view it has “never been more critical for the industry to engage with the government”, which is why he has put engagement at the top of his list of priorities during his one-year tenure.
“I think the BPF is the pre-eminent organisation in this country to do that,” he elaborates. “I haven’t always felt that we have engaged with the maximum possible extent.
“It takes two parties to engage and we have had to spend a lot of time demonstrating to government what the property industry is and the contribution it makes to national government. In a way, as much as the Brexit situation is challenging, it does create the opportunity to maximise that engagement.”
The BPF’s manifesto calls on the government to support real estate investment by:
To that end, he intends to push the BPF’s Brexit manifesto, launched this January, calling on the government to support the real estate sector and understand how “critical” it is to the economy.
“We need to convey to the government how multifaceted the real estate sector is,” he argues. “We touch everything - work, home, leisure. Often the lobbies from the financial services sector, housing sector and consumer sector get more attention than real estate because we are a small ‘i’ infrastructure for all of those aspects of the economy.
“What we are trying to say is that because we touch all of those aspects, it is really important that we have a partnership with government.”
Within the industry, Brundage also intends to bang the drum for greater diversity - and he believes the industry deserves more credit than it usually gets in this respect.
Our industry is incredibly diverse. That should be viewed as great, not fragmented or negative
“Our industry is incredibly diverse - we have multiple sectors and multiple types of companies,” he says. “That should be viewed as great, not fragmented or negative. I don’t think we’ve always done a good job talking about and embracing that diversity. The BPF is the British Property Federation, not the London Property Federation or the Office Property Federation.
“We are trying to do a better job of engaging with our diverse membership and I think that is critical and aligns with the key Brexit manifesto initiatives.”
However, he concedes there is plenty of work still to do. “We’ve got to look at ourselves in the mirror as an industry and say that if we truly want to be viewed as critical to the national economy, we need to be as diverse, open and exciting as possible - and we haven’t been.
“We are not going to reinvent the wheel at the BPF - we have enough to focus on - but we want to use our influence, our relationship with government and our broad base of stakeholders to strongly endorse groups and programmes that are already down the road in diversity.”
The BPF has put its weight behind four groups so far: Real Estate Balance, which aims to create better gender balance at senior levels; Pathways to Property, which was set up to widen access to the sector; Purple, which links business with disabled people; and Freehold, which aims to progress equality and raise the profile of LGBT professionals working in the real estate sector.
Brundage, who moved to the UK nine years ago and gained British citizenship last year, is in a good position to support the BPF in its diversity goals. Having opened Oxford Properties’ London office accompanied only by a part-time receptionist, Brundage now employs a team that is 50/50 male and female, spans nine different nationalities and can speak 13 different languages.
Instilling a strong teamwork ethos has been critical to the company’s success - and if Brundage has anything to do with it, it will also be critical to the BPF’s success navigating the choppy waters of Brexit over the next year.