My near three-week summer holiday to Canada this year represented the longest period I have been out of the UK since moving here in 2008 - and I must admit I did not miss reading and talking about Brexit every minute of every day.
Obviously our EU divorce continues to keep everyone on their toes, but there are a number of other issues that need addressing, both in our industry and more widely.
The BPF Summer Reception - this year held at Canada House and just days after Canada’s 150th anniversary - gave me, in my new role as president, the opportunity not only to thank David Sleath for his leadership over the past 12 difficult months, but to set our key areas of focus for the next year.
Diversity and inclusion, themes very much close to my heart, will be the watchwords in the coming months.
After moving to London nine years ago to set up the Oxford business, one of the first things I did was meet Melanie’s predecessor at the BPF. Shortly after that, I received two phone calls that I have never forgotten from two former BPF presidents to say how pleased they were that Oxford had joined the BPF, and that it sent a strong message that we were not like a lot of other ‘foreign investors’ but were serious and committed to being part of the British property industry.
Although I am now a full-fledged British citizen, it is also true that I am the BPF’s first-ever non-British president, hence why I thought it fitting to hold the reception this year at Canada House. Needless to say, I was extremely honoured to be asked to become JVP two years ago and to take on the presidency this year.
Over the past year, we have ensured significant resource has gone into preparing the BPF Manifesto and maximising engagement with government. We want government to understand the significance of the property industry, the role we play in all aspects of the UK and particularly the BPF’s overwhelming desire to be a partner in helping navigate the challenges ahead.
We want government to understand the significance of the property industry
One of the things I believe to be at the root of many of the challenges we face in society today, and which may have contributed to the ‘leave’ vote, is the significant diversity that exists in society.
We seem to lack the ability to work out a way for more people to prosper and benefit from economic progress, instead creating further divergence and polarisation.
It is crucial that diversity in all forms is celebrated. We, as the real estate industry, should emphasise our diversity of geography, asset class, ownership, capital structure, scale, function and investment horizon.
This will show that our industry is incredibly well equipped to work with government to ensure that we come out of the Brexit negotiations in good shape - not just for the benefit of our own businesses, but for all those who rely upon us. We also have to look at ourselves in the mirror and ensure that those who work in our industry are equally diverse.
As much as I love this country as my new adopted home and feel incredibly welcome since moving here, I am also blessed to be Canadian and to come from a country that is a little younger, with less baggage and where everyone is from somewhere else.
Although not without its own challenges, perhaps in some ways we started with a cleaner slate than the UK. Approximately two years ago, I had the privilege of attending a reception to meet the new Canadian PM Justin Trudeau. On the podium was a plaque that he had used as part of his election campaign that said ‘Diversity is our Strength’. He is considered to be a rock star - and, just to be clear, I am not that cool - but his message really resonated with me.
I intend to emphasise diversity as a way of better engaging with membership, government and the broader community
Today, the OMERS office in London has approximately 90 people, of whom more than 40% are women. The average age is 36 and the team hails from 21 countries and speaks 14 languages. I acknowledge that, like Canada, we had a clean sheet of paper, but I truly believe that part of our success is a function of the composition of our team.
So it is for this reason that, as BPF president, I intend to emphasise diversity as a way of better engaging with membership, government and the broader community.
Earlier this year, the BPF launched its Statement of Principles on Diversity and Inclusion. As we are not the only group that recognises the importance of this, and in the interests of not reinventing the wheel, we are partnering with Real Estate Balance, Pathways to Property, Purple and Freehold to help lend our voice to those currently under-represented and achieve greater diversity and inclusion within the industry.
Bearing this all in mind I am excited if a little apprehensive for the year ahead. As I write this column, prime minister May and prime minister Trudeau are meeting in Ottawa to talk about the state of the world and the way forward post Brexit. I truly hope one of the prime ministers is doing a lot of listening…