Well 2020 was pretty rubbish, and whilst 2021 was far from a knockout vintage, it was shaping up to have a nice finish. We had all 500 MAPP people working how they wanted to work, retailers and leisure operators were feeling a little more confident, and clients were out there talking about new Funds as confidence grew that Covid was not the end of modern civilization.
Omicron (which still feels like a villainous organisation from a James Bond movie) then came over the horizon armed with a rather large spanner. Epsilon, Iota and Kappa (sounding more like a bunch of South American footballers) did not even get five minutes of Covid fame, so were obviously a lot less scary mutants with smaller spanners.
Who knows what the next ten days have in store, but here are ten things I have observed this year.
- Christmas parties are best avoided during a pandemic.
- Apart from some politicians, most people remain fairly sensible, balanced and want to do the right thing on all things Covid. That includes all of our clients, who remain an eminently fair, reasonable, agile and pragmatic bunch. Almost every occupier also falls into that camp, but financial pressures take a huge toll on people and we have had to deal with one or two rascals in 2021.
- The market is broadly in agreement that retail still has some way to fall and that the repositioning of office buildings into workplaces of the future and life sciences are the next big thing. There is no such agreement on sheds – many believe it’s overcooked, but an equal number see further growth. We worry about the ability to keep some shopping centres running – one or two we manage are loss making/
- Property Management has been invited to the Ball. For too long it has been cast as Cinderella, with a role in the real estate sector largely consigned to washing the dishes and scrubbing the floors. Over the last few years, driven by changes in the workplace and retail and supercharged by the pandemic, it has become clear to pretty much everyone that having a property managed well, plays a large part in driving retention, loyalty, demand and rental income.
- That getting B Corp accreditation is tough, but is one the things that I am most proud of. When people hear that MAPP is now a B Corp, they either wax lyrical about it or wonder what on earth you are talking about. It’s still niche, but not for long.
- Inflation feels like it’s running at more than 5% and salary expectations are not far behind. Service charges are going up and in some cases significantly up, driven by inflation, salary growth across the supply chain and energy prices. A long story, but I also know that the price of ammonia has roughly doubled from a very high base since October
- Cinderella still needs to wash the dishes and scrub the floors. Great Property Management still starts with doing the basics really well. If you cannot collect the rent, manage risk and compliance and keep a building clean then Prince Charming will look elsewhere. Property Management needs solid foundations. We call that V1.0. Investment in technology is vital.
- V2.0 Property Management is all about driving towards people-first experiences that turn spaces into places where businesses and people can really thrive. Buildings need a great welcome, need to be flexible, agile and to look and feel good. That’s why we have taken new offices in Birmingham, Glasgow and Manchester, refurbished our London HQ and launched a Flex business this year. Cinderella has to be seriously sexy and so do the buildings it manages.
- Cinderella also needs to be seriously sustainable. B Corp was a statement of intent as is our intention to be net zero by 2025, but our footprint across the £14bn of real estate we manage is huge and provides so much opportunity, the odd challenge and an enormous amount of work. We call that V3.0. Bring it on.
- Retaining and recruiting great people and remaining a great place to work is absolutely fundamental to our success. If you love your people, they will love what they do, love your clients and the occupiers entrusted to us . We have recruited 165 solid, sexy and sustainable new people this year – they are the stars of tomorrow.
That’s it. 2021 is done – please do not rush back, you were only a marginal improvement on 2020, but I remain very hopeful that 2022 will in relative terms be a banger. I cannot wait.