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By Nat Daniels

CEO, Angels Media


OTHER FEATURES

Property Natter – why OTM’s Jason Tebb shows the importance of good hires

In the world of football – very topical at the moment, as we all enjoy the Euros – there is an ongoing debate about whether it’s the players or manager who make a great team. But, in many cases, teams don’t win stuff on a consistent basis unless they have a Sir Alex Ferguson, Jurgen Klopp or Pep Guardiola-style figure in charge.

The importance of good management can also be starkly seen in the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic – with one appointment going very badly and one going very well.

Dido Harding was appointed as the boss of the much-derided test and trace programme in May 2020, and has come to be seen as the symbol of all the government has got wrong in the crisis. She has also been faced with accusations of cronyism and serial incompetence.

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By contrast, Kate Bingham, the boss of the UK’s vaccine taskforce - which has helped to roll out the UK’s highly successful vaccination programme - has been widely praised and received a damehood in the most recent Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

There are no doubt numerous reasons for the success of one and the failure of the other, but while the vaccine programme has been seen as a British success story, the test and trace system has come to be seen as a national embarrassment.

In the property world, the most obvious example in recent history of an appointment that has gone badly wrong would surely be Alison Platt at Countrywide. The ins, outs and failures of her disastrous stint at what was then the UK’s largest collection of estate agent brands has been much-discussed, but it was a clear example of the recruitment process going seriously awry.

Some would argue Countrywide was on the decline anyway, and Platt was right to try a brave and ambitious (but ultimately doomed to failure) retail revolution. But the drastic falls in share price, the boardroom fallouts and the loss of big industry names with years of experience all pointed to a company that badly lost its way and never fully recovered – so much so, it was bought out by rival Connells earlier this year.

Even after Platt left, the appointments made to try and revive Countrywide didn’t work as the ‘Back to Basics’ campaign failed to transform the ailing company’s fortunes.

There’s also an argument that Propertymark, the UK’s biggest property trade body, got it wrong when it tried to appoint someone from outside of the property market to act as CEO. Tim Balcon impressed early on, and seemed like the person to finally give Propertymark a clear voice and identity, but his tenure was short-lived as the organisation seemed to be mired in crisis at the start of this year.

He lasted only four months, one of a number of shock resignations as something odd appeared to be going on behind the scenes at Propertymark. The body insisted there was no crisis, but a number of high-profile resignations suggested otherwise.

However, Nathan Emerson – an industry veteran with an intimate understanding of the industry and how agents tick – took over as interim CEO and has helped to steady the ship since, with the help of another industry veteran in the form of Mark Hayward.

We will probably never know the full story of what went on at Propertymark earlier this year, but a full-blown crisis was averted by the canny appointment of Emerson, who has an amiable manner and approach - and insists his goal is to make the body more transparent.

Which brings us nicely onto Jason Tebb and OnTheMarket, another example of a firm employing a former agent who inherently gets the market and understands how things work. There is nothing wrong with hiring someone with no experience in a sector – in fact, sometimes it can be a breath of fresh air, offering new ideas, vision and a kick up the backside to the old ways – but in the property world it has never worked very well.

And, again, we can return to Bingham versus Harding. Bingham studied Biochemistry at Oxford (graduating with a first) and had many years of experience in pharmaceuticals and biotechnology before getting the job as chair of the UK Government’s Vaccine Taskforce. By contrast, Harding had no obvious experience to make her a candidate for heading up the Test & Trace system other than who her husband was and her various connections to high-profile members of the Cabinet. Even if that portrayal is unfair, that has very much been the perception.

Tebb, like Emerson, is a former agent, with experience of working at Foxtons, Chesterton Humberts and LSL Property Services in the past. His CV, from a property and real estate point of view, was second to none.

Since becoming OnTheMarket’s CEO at the start of this year, he has gone on a charm offensive and would appear to be winning over many agents. Wherever you stand on OnTheMarket or the portal debate, few would question his appointment as a very savvy move.

And the figures appear to back up OTM’s mini-renaissance, with the company’s latest trading figures showing that agency numbers are up, the firm back in profit and ready to repay the furlough grants of £449,000 it took out temporarily under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

OTM seemed to have settled into the position of a solid number three portal, not quite achieving the cut-through it had maybe expected or hoped for. But the pandemic and the increased competition in the form of Boomin seems to have given it a shot in the arm (if you’ll pardon the pun), ably led by Tebb.

Leadership and management are never easy, particularly at large companies with complicated corporate structures, but the very best manage to make it look easy and effortless and, perhaps most importantly, bring people along with them. They make it about the collective; they make everyone believe in the vision.

There are stories regularly told of Sir Alex being on first-name terms with the canteen staff and the cleaners at Old Trafford and Manchester United’s Carrington training ground. The top-down approach almost never works well, whereas a bottom-up one is far more likely to yield success, contented staff and happy customers.

A good figurehead is important in another sense – as, more often than not, this person is the main representative of the brand. The face of the brand, if you like. And sometimes that can go sour very quickly if bad press and accusations of a toxic work culture hit the headlines.

Two of the biggest news stories of the last month or so have proven this. First, there were the controversies surrounding BrewDog, the fast-growing brewery chain originally founded in Aberdeen, and in particular its co-founder James Watt, who was getting a lot of heat for his management style and actions over recent years.

He and the company – after initially planning to fight fire with fire – decided instead to appear more contrite and apologetic, but the damage to the brand had already been done. Everywhere you looked - on social media, on news websites, on the news itself - the company was getting a kicking.

It again shows that success shouldn’t come at all costs. The pandemic has highlighted, more than ever, the importance of a healthier work/life balance and employee welfare. In our industry, there has been a call for greater awareness regarding the struggles and pressure that overworked conveyancers, agents and others are facing in a hugely busy market. Greater kindness has been urged.

Meanwhile, initiatives to improve the relationships between agents and conveyancers, as well as allowing people to open up about their issues and mental health struggles, have also been launched.

All these things will help towards creating a better, healthier, more efficient property market, post-Covid.

The other major story sees us return to the heart of central government again, and the controversy surrounding (now former) Health Secretary Matt Hancock over an affair with his aide and breaching of social distancing guidelines he himself created. The hypocrisy was breath-taking, it quickly became clear he had lost all authority and credibility, and that public anger was very real, and inevitably he fell on his sword only a few days later, his reputation tarnished.

The PM has been widely criticised for a lack of leadership in not sacking Hancock before he felt forced to resign, but it again showed how much of a difficult balancing act high-level leadership is, especially during a crisis.

What have you made of Tebb’s appointment? Has he impressed you? And has OTM now turned a corner in its efforts to challenge Rightmove and Zoopla? Let me know in the comments below.

Until next time…

*Nat Daniels is CEO of Angels Media, publishers of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today. Follow him on Twitter @NatDaniels.

  • Michael Day

    Jason has, as you say, gone on a “charm offensive” but this has, crucially and rightly, involved more listening than talking. The “honeymoon” period will only last so long though.

    Therefore he has identified some “Low lying fruit” and has already introduced a number of partnerships with suppliers that will bring tangible benefits to member agents.

    Under his leadership, OTM has also completed its acquisition of Glanty (teclet) and whilst this will require some continuing investment it brings a significantly enhanced series of software platforms to the table than were in situ when the acquisition was originally brokered.

    teclet is set to be a major force in the sales, lettings, property management, client accounting and CRM space with its modular and customer facing approach that joins up best in class providers and helps agents reduce costs, increase productivity and generate more income, all within an automated and compliant environment.

    The journey for Jason has begun well but the competition will not stand still. Winning the hearts, minds (and wallets) of both agents and consumers will require more innovation, out of the box thinking and excellent delivery.

    I think he can do it. Time will tell as history is always written by the victors!

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