The man who admits he was “the acceptable face of Foxtons” in its golden period says he finally left because it had “zero empathy”.
Peter Rollings is now a veteran of the agency industry, a non-executive director at outsourcing viewing service Viewer and a non-exec at Irish agency Sherry FitzGerald.
But he’s very much better known for having been managing director of Foxtons between 1997 and 2005 (he had joined the firm in 1985) and then managing director of Marsh & Parsons, which he joined in 2005; he retired from that agency in 2016.
Now he has - arguably for the first time at such length and with such candour - given the lowdown on what it was like to run Foxtons under the ownership of Jon Hunt, who is still in the Sunday Times Rich List on the strength of his sale of the agency in 2007 for £375m.
In a new podcast with eXp agents Scott Gunn and Ben Moore, Rollings spills the beans on what it was like in Foxtons when it was most aggressive in the London market.
Rollings says that in the early days of his leadership he would interview up to 100 prospective employees a week, sometimes getting them into a room together for a social event. “At the end of the evening we’d put their pictures on a wall and say Yes, Yes, No, No, Yes … it was that intense.”
He admits now that the huge level of staff churn was sometimes “too brutal” but on other occasions it was necessary “because they were in the wrong job.”
Rollings says Foxtons in the 1990s and 2000s was ”amazing” and “revolutionary” thanks to Jon Hunt, and deliberately went in the other direction from what the calls the “boring” work of estate agency at the time.
He uses the podcast to reveal the sort of team strategy and pressure individuals worked to, and the unique way the company had of running teams.
“We had eight different caps - baseball caps - and you earned a cap on the basis of the deals you’d done, and they’d say Ace or Genius, right up to Superstar or God. We had an army of people delivering them round the offices as people hit targets.”
Rollings says the company was “universally hated” by rival agents and some clients, and was intentionally aggressive.
“I left in 2005 and at that stage we were still hyper aggressive. The internal lingo was that if a property was under offer with another agent it was ‘Under Offer EA” - and EA didn’t stand for estate agent, it stood for enemy agent. We really saw our competition as the enemy” he tells the eXp interviewers.
“We wouldn’t do any fee split. Fee splits in London were all over the place at that time, but bollocks! We wouldn’t do that at any stage, and we wouldn’t go to the drinks parties to launch a house…There was nothing genteel [about Foxtons].”
He says he was the acceptable face of the company “being quite nice to people” - but he says that while the company under his stewardship was undeniably tough, it was also fair.
However, Rollings then explains why he left Foxtons in 2005.
“I’d fallen out of love with them. They had become too aggressive and too nasty and too unfeeling and with zero empathy. I think that’s changed now, but at the end [of his time at Foxtons] I was severely managed by Jon - let’s put it like that.”
It’s a fascinating interview, and Rollings goes on to give his insights into estate agency today too. You can hear the full 47 minute podcast here, although the Foxtons section is chiefly in the first third.