The New Glass Ceiling

Having qualified as a surveyor, I am always surprised how few property experts make it to corporate board level. With property such a significant part of the corporate balance sheet, it seems astonishing there are so few board members with the right expertise and real experience in a senior enough position to make a success of buying, leasing, occupying or investing in properties from which the company trades.

There are many examples of the consequences of this vacuum. However, for me, one of the worst cases was a company I came across with 650 outlets . The properties were under the care of the Company Secretary (not a board member). For this busy individual, the properties always slipped to the bottom of the to-do list; not least, perhaps, because his only experience of property was buying and selling his home.

His solution was to employ a firm of property professionals. Unfortunately, the ‘surveyors’ were entirely unqualified for the role and only given the resource to consider each property once a year, at best. As I delved further, it turned out that the company secretary was responsible for more than 1,700 properties and legal property interests across seven European countries. That’s quite a job to languish at the bottom of the pile.

This situation is far from unique, but I’m wondering about the consequences that this lack of expertise have been for businesses generally? Do you have any experiences to share?

So, what can be done about it?

In my view, it is incumbent upon senior property professionals interested in corporate leadership to find a way to break through this particular glass ceiling onto corporate boards. Whilst it may seem a clumsy comparison, it is now well known that women have broken through their own corporate glass ceiling in increasing numbers across our top 350 listed companies. As a working example for property professionals, women have done so by being demonstrably capable, expertly qualified, and quietly (rather than brashly) confident in their own abilities.

It is about experience, yes, but also about corporate expertise. If that means a post-qualification, mature student approach to further business education, then so be it. That is why, even though I already hold an independent, non-executive director role on a public company quoted on the NYSE, I am attending a course for extant and aspirant non-executive directors at Cranfield University this Autumn. It’s about improving my knowledge, my understanding and my competence relevant to the role.

If you are a property professional, what are you doing to get on the board of companies? Or, if you are a director of a non-property company, what will it take for you to invest in having the right people at the top of your business to oversee the vital role of property on your balance sheet?

I’d love to know your thoughts, so please do leave a comment below, or share this blog with others by using the share button below.

See also CoStar’s guest column from me on Property’s Glass Ceiling

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