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Platt's legacy - Countrywide's recent torrid years

It is now an industry truism to say that Alison Platt has transformed Countrywide - but recent evidence, and now doubt over Platt’s own future, may reveal that the transformation has been anything but a success.

What is beyond doubt is that in a series of reorganisations, restructurings and resignations, Platt’s reign saw the departure of many hugely experienced agents.

Some would say the rot set in in late spring 2015, around six months after Platt’s arrival, when the former managing director of estate agency and the group commercial director at Countrywide both stood down at short notice.

Bob Scarff, managing director of estate agency, had been involved in agency for 37 years: the official statement from Countrywide at the time said he intended to pursue his own personal ambitions outside of the group. 

Nick Dunning, group commercial director at Countrywide, had been at the group for seven years, mostly involved in the lettings business. The official statement in early May 2015 merely said he was leaving the company “to pursue other activities.”

Many other experienced hands departed - some pushed, others jumping.

Then in came many senior executives with little or no agency background. 

The ‘Managing Director, Retail’ (until her departure last year) was Samantha Tyrer, who joined from Dixons Carphone and pioneered the ill-fated online experiment that Countrywide abandoned last autumn. 

The head of marketing (again, until her departure last year) was Helen Normoyle, from the BBC. Kate Brown - whose departure was announced last week - was the Group HR director recruited from Bupa, where Platt also worked before arriving at Countrywide.

Old agency hands that remained were given unexpected responsibilities. 

For example, an announcement in 2016 said that the company’s respected sales director Andrew Pennells was in future “leading the transformational change agenda as part of the Building Our Future Programme.”

Platt herself surprised at every twist and turn.

Keen on transparency, she told industry journalists and shareholders early in her tenure that she would report on Countrywide’s performance in detail at least every six months - possibly part of her undoing given the attention paid to a series of poor figures produced frequently over recent years.

However, almost exactly two years ago Platt also joined the board of Tesco as a non-executive director including membership of the remuneration committee; later that year she was named on a ‘power list’ as being amongst the 100 most powerful woman in British management.

Meanwhile Countrywide’s performance declined consistently during her tenure as chief executive.

Back in March 2014 Countrywide’s share price was sailing high at 686.00p; a series of falls meant that by late 2016 the listing was dropped from the FTSE 250 and had fallen below 170.00p. Yesterday, Countrywide closed at 103.00p - its lowest ever closing price.

Financial performance also suffered, most recently displayed through last week’s disastrous figures for the fourth quarter of 2017, which prompted a profits warning. 

Total income in the sales and lettings business for the full 2017 year was expected to be circa £360m, down 14 per cent on 2016, “reflecting a disappointing fourth quarter performance.”

Total Countrywide group income for the full year - including non-agency activity such as financial services - was expected to be circa £672m (2016: £737m), with quarter four income of circa £164m (2016: £179m). 

Income in the UK business was expected to be circa £205m, down 17 per cent year on year, and in London was expected to be circa £155m, down 10 per cent.  

Against that background, the Countrywide board’s apparent efforts to move on from the Platt era appear unsurprising.

  • icon

    Well written piece.

  • Simon shinerock

    Retail is about Marketing, Presentation and Logistics. Estate Agency is a service which has to be sold so we are in the People business. The fundamental misconception Alison Platt is under is that estate agency is a passive responsive business when in actuality successful estate agents are proactive and generate business through personal prospecting. One day robots will learn to prospect, on that day we will see the beginning of the end for traditional estate agency, until that day traditional estate agency will prevail, it will evolve but it will prevail

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    • Mr P
    • 23 January 2018 11:39 AM

    I don't normally comment on here but as an ex countrywide manager of 12 years I resigned along with 100's of other senior staff as a result of the changes that were bought in by Platt and her team. The changes she implemented lead to drops in business levels. New policies took decisions out of the hands of experienced managers. The mass office closures & mass redundancies have left staff unhappy and constantly in fear of losing the jobs. The share price and profit warnings say it all. Such a shame, as from day one I loved working for Countrywide, I felt a sense of purpose and was proud to work there, yet in the end I couldn't get out of there fast enough and could never imagine going back. All that remains is the question of what to do with my shares as the value has decreased substantially. Do I get rid of them or buy more on the basis that this company could not get any worse and confidence should return with the departure of Alison Platt.

  • icon

    Alison Platts vandalism and destruction of a generally respected and very successful estate agency brand should be a warning to anyone who thinks they can re-invent the wheel in our industry. The available technology has provided some very useful tools but the fundamentals of our industry have not changed. The banks and Building Societies in the late 1980's and early 1990's tried to turn estate agency branches iinto financial services outlets failed big time. Alison Platts lack of in depth knowledge and experience at the sharp end of estate agency shows in her insistence in trying to turn Countywide into some kind of retail outfit. I hope that Countrywide will now bring back some of the big guns who know the industry inside out to get back on track.

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