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Who should run Countrywide? What should they do? - our panel speaks out

The story of this week - the ousting of Countrywide chief executive Alison Platt - prompts two key questions.

Firstly, who takes over? Secondly, what must they do to salvage the company?

Platt’s departure has prompted more fierce criticism of her management style, right down to her £675,000 pay-off, but that is in the past: what of the future? 

With a share price languishing at 100p, a demoralised staff depleted by resignations and branch closures, and challenges from other traditional and hybrid agencies, the person who takes over Countrywide’s leadership will be starting from an unenviable position.

Who should it be? What would they do on day one in the office?

Estate Agent Today’s resident panel of experts give their considered and authoritative opinions on what may well be the running story of 2018 - what becomes of Countrywide?

Our thanks go to our contributors, and thanks to you, too, for reading - and please feel free to add your views.

Iain McKenzie, chief executive of The Guild of Property Professionals:

“Countrywide PLC has to add strength and depth to the senior management team, delivering the new CEO’s direction and vision, quickly.” 

“When I joined Countrywide as managing director for the Solent Region in November 2011, the quality of the 11 other directors was exceptional. Grenville Turner set the vision, Bob Scarff set the targets and tempo and the managing directors brought it to life. There was a team of excellent agents including Vince Corley, Lee Wainwright, Ben Taylor, Keith Knight, Jonathan Simpson and more, all with years of experience in a sector they understood.”

Who should run Countrywide? What should they do? - our panel speaks out

“It is therefore crucial that Countrywide recruits some sales and lettings senior management experience back into the business. It isn’t retail - agency is a service industry. Technology should and will enhance this, not replace it.” 

“What’s more, the divisional managing directors should be given the mandate and tools to succeed. Allow them to pick the regional managing directors. The quality of the people who have left in the past five years is truly shocking.”

“The business needs rebuilding and therefore any successor needs to have the ability to reassure the investors that they have the knowhow and expertise to deliver improvement in the long-term. Or they need the experience and guile to remove Countrywide from the public listing and transfer it into private equity ownership, where appropriate investment can be made.”

Jeremy Leaf, north London estate agent and a former RICS residential chairman:

“I’ve met Alison Platt a few times and heard her speak at conferences. I’ve always been impressed with her clear thinking and understanding of market issues. However, the Countrywide numbers speak for themselves.”

Who should run Countrywide? What should they do? - our panel speaks out

“I believe that the house buying and selling public identify more closely with local brands rather than conglomerates. Estate agency to me is particularly about the strength of individual firms and how those employed by them earn the trust of their public and make a real difference.” 

“However, many of those well-respected brands, which enjoyed excellent local reputations, seem to have been swallowed up by the Countrywide group."

"They could be sold off, that might be the way forward, to regain that identity.”

“Someone at the helm with more knowledge and experience of corporate estate agency may please not just the City but the market – and eventually generate better results.”

Mal McCallion, startup expert and high growth business specialist at Growtion:

“Having worked with Bob Scarff on Callwell, I can testify to his drive to make the industry a much more reputable place. Would he go back to Countrywide? Dedicated football people – of which he is one – know that returning to manage your old club, the one where you had so much success, is never the same.” 

Who should run Countrywide? What should they do? - our panel speaks out

“The next person to take the helm will have a thankless rebuilding job to do in a difficult division – and their tenure is likely to end without gratitude from even previously fervent fans. I’d expect them to try and secure Bob as a non-exec though – and so they should.

“Whoever’s there, I think bits of Countrywide will finish up being takeover targets for enterprising players in the market. It’s difficult to get past perennially-acquisitive Zoopla as a future owner of at least some of the assets.” 

“That said, if Purplebricks can convince investors to stump up even more cash then we might see our own industry’s version of Amazon’s Whole Foods takeover. Premium-branded high street ‘shops’ for Purplebricks’ separately-branded LPE’s to pitch their product from? Alison Platt’s retail legacy could be secure after all…”

Ian Wilson, chief executive officer of The Property Franchise Group:

Who should run Countrywide? What should they do? - our panel speaks out

“Does the board select reverse gear and repopulate the business with experienced industry insiders, or continue with the reinvention as a retail business?” 

“I believe the new chief executive will come from another industry which has followed a consolidation for growth strategy, sell off the non-core profitable parts, take a hit on the goodwill in the brands, and come out the other side with just one brand ‘Countrywide’, which is open 24/7.” 

Anthony Codling, equity analyst at Jefferies International: 

“With hindsight, Countrywide tried to modernise too quickly and in its desire to stay relevant in a fast-changing market, probably took the business backwards not forward. The intention of change was to create value and we should not be overly critical of management teams trying new ways of creating value in an industry facing such high levels of disruption to the traditional model.” 

Who should run Countrywide? What should they do? - our panel speaks out

“I think that Countrywide needs to rebuild its team with a more even balance between fresh ideas and industry experience. The group has a broad infrastructure, a market leading position and the potential to deliver much more.”

“Estate agency was, is, and will remain a people business. When dealing with the largest financial transactions of their lives, I believe that the overwhelming majority of homebuyers and sellers will continue to prefer to deal with a person rather than an algorithm.” 

“The real value of any agency business, in my view, is found at the branch level rather than inside the headquarters. The focus of those based in the HQ is to enable, empower and assist each branch to reach its full potential.” 

Eddie Holmes, founder and chairman of the UK PropTech Association:

“Countrywide now faces a dilemma. Has the change programme that has already been undertaken, which included sweeping changes at senior management and a laudable but ultimately flawed digital strategy, killed appetite for further change?” 

“The property industry is beginning to accept that it is going through a digital transformation process where bold attitudes to change are required if businesses are to succeed in identifying and capitalising on new profit pools.” 

“That means more new skill sets and a deeper commitment to technology. Will Countrywide turn to a safe pair of old-fashioned estate agency hands to lead it through that process or will digital expertise be given the task? It won’t be an easy choice.”

Iain White, industry consultant and mentor at Agency Mentors:

“Whoever takes on the role at Countrywide needs to understand the estate agency sector inside-out on all levels. Most importantly, they must understand the people whose job it is to win customers for the business. 

“They will need to quickly re-ignite the desire of the salesforce to believe in themselves and to re-engage them quickly to the task of re-gaining lost market share.”

Who should run Countrywide? What should they do? - our panel speaks out

“Juggling shareholders with the troops will be tricky, but something that Alison Platt’s successor will need to be capable of doing. The infrastructure needs a complete re-think as does the operational structure - both are crippling the organisation.” 

“The newcomer will have to be thick-skinned, ruthless and mentally tough enough to see through cultural and strategic with laser sharp implementation at break neck speed. It’s a massive challenge and whoever gets the gig will have their hands full.”

  • Simon Shinerock

    When I was 12 my class was notoriously undisciplined and badly behaved, lateness, non attendance, shoplifting, bullying pupils and teachers, these were our hallmarks. As a third stream class the school didn’t consider us worthy of much effort or consideration but somehow we wouldn’t be ignored. I remember the day Norman Rice walked into our class and introduced himself as our new form master. It was a strange thing but from that day on we became a model of motivation and achievement. Several of my classmates have been ultra successful, much more so than the feted first streamers, we even have a high court judge amongst our ranks. Norman Rice did all this by being a great leader, he was only with us for two years and he went on to have a stellar career of his own, that experience has stayed with me throughout my career and given me the confidence to face difficult situations with the belief that the right leadership can solve the worst crisis and do it almost immediately. Countrywide will be full of potentially great people waiting to be lead, the right person could turn the business round virtually overnight. The question is whether the board is capable of attracting or even recognising such a person, I have strong doubts on both counts.

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    1. Exceptional? Really? Some of those names have been culpable at best and partly responsible at worst.
    2. Not a very good judge of ability! Lots ‘talk a good game’ fewer can play. Clear understanding? Really?
    3. Possibly the only sensible comment on the page; although Bob is ‘getting on’ a bit, well done!
    4. Franchises are very different from corporate agency and Martin & Co are hardly ‘market leaders’ where they trade. They have the benefit of having ‘owner’ drivers in charge and are closest to the independent agent.
    5. Well what can be said about Mr Codlin? His analysis of CWD during the Platt debacle has been laughable!
    6. CWD’s digital offering was a joke. Il-conceived and poorly executed. Get the traditional model working first then look to ‘evolve’ in a measured and coherent way.
    7. Sensible and relevant comment. Know anyone suitable?

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    How very dare you? 😎

     
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    I know Robert Bartlett from Chestertons he's got the experience, knows how to be an estate agent and is a good leader.

    The only problem is dragging him off the ski slope

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    Sorry Bob. Comment was made from the perspective that you’d probably not want it rather than ‘being over the Hill’!😘

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    As for most of the comments above, I have some advice for you. ‘Better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool; than to open it and remove any doubt’.

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    Does the same apply to you too, then, Paul? ;)


     
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    🤫

     
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    Apologies; my comment above refers to those quoted in the article as opposed the comments subsequently.😉

  • David Bennett

    Great analogy Simon. Let's hope you are right.

    Simon Shinerock

    Thanks David, I think the real hope has to be that such a leader emerges from within or without, in the right circumstances with the right backing I’d have a go....

     
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    When I was at Countrywide I was a very successful lettings agent and dedicated 7 years of my life to them. When I got a promotion to a regional role I had 6 different directors in 18 months to report to. If they had not had restructured I am confident I would have cracked on with my job and added significant market share to the Group. Instead, they gave power to people who made decisions for the sake of making decisions and to be seen to lead "change". And instead of growing market share or holding firm in the Brexit sales market, the whole London business capitulated because everyone forget that they were actually lettings and sales agents rather than some form of management consultant. No one there gets that apart from those who left, pushed out or fired, because they were expensive and made poor decisions. Or indeed, followed the lead and made decisions based on the guidance of those from outside of London who did not know the market well enough. Get London right and they can leverage themselves to take on purplebricks outside of London. But I think a big player needs to come in now and divide up the assets if anything is going to be salvaged. And that comes from a shareholder of 12k worth of sharers in 2015 which are now worth - well - to be honest I'm frightened to look otherwise I might have to tell my wife.

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    People like a certain North Region MD who overlooked talent in their regions should also hang their heads in shame. She made hideous decisions without proper thought and wanted the outcome immediately - no care for the team and how it would impact the business.

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    I was a branch manager in Cornwall. It was the Financial Service Director who destroyed our business. A horrible man who drove every good estate agent away as he wanted us to force clients to do a mortgage with an overpriced spotty horrendous advisor!

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