Howard de Walden Estate CEO

Andrew Hynard, CEO of the Howard de Walden Estate, on the Great Estates, the importance of community and his vision for the future

Interview: Mark Riddaway
Portraits: Joseph Fox

How did you come to work in property?
I was brought up down on the south coast, in Sussex. My father was a surveyor, so I have property in the blood. From a very early age, I wanted to become a surveyor, too. I liked the idea of getting out, looking at properties, not being deskbound. That took me to Oxford Poly—now Oxford Brookes University—to study something that sounds, with retrospect, absolutely appropriate: estate management. After that, I knew I wanted to come to London, and I knew I wanted to specialise in commercial property investment. So, aged 21, I started with a firm called Edward Erdman. I stayed there for two years. Funnily enough, that firm has morphed into Colliers International, which is now on George Street, here in Marylebone.

You were at Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) for more than 30 years. What took you there?
To be absolutely honest, it all had to do with a car! In those days, Edward Erdman and most other surveying businesses did not offer newly qualified surveyors a car, whereas the advanced firms—the likes of Richard Ellis, which is now CBRE, and Jones Lang Wootton, which is now JLL—did. So, I moved to JLW for a lovely brown 1.6L Ford Escort. When I was 18, I had ordered myself a Morgan—a classic hand-built sports car from Malvern, a fantastic machine. It was delivered when I was 23, which coincided with me qualifying. There was no way I could afford to run that for work, so I needed another car. I moved for the sake of a very good firm, but also for the opportunity to get that Escort. I still have the Morgan: it’s my pride and joy.

How did you end up at The Howard de Walden Estate?
At JLL, I had many roles over the years, latterly being deputy chairman of its UK business, based at Mount Street, Hanover Square and then in Warwick Street, so I knew the West End well. JLL is a great firm, a big firm with over 1,000 people in the Warwick Street office, so working here is a big change. I was very happy at JLL, and had no plans to go anywhere, but a couple of people got in touch with me to say that I would be a good fit at The Howard de Walden Estate and that I’d thoroughly enjoy it, which has very much proved to be the case. Also, I knew the reputation of the Estate to be outstanding, so I had my head turned, and here I am.

What were your impressions of the Estate before you arrived?
I knew of the Estate, having worked reasonably locally—although south of Oxford Street, which is quite a mental divide! First and foremost, I knew about the transformation of the high street, and I think that in many respects it continues to be the Estate’s shop front. Having done quite a lot of work on retail at JLL, I appreciated the great shop line-up, and the community feel. My impressions were of a company offering good estate management, taking a long-term view, with great integrity and an excellent reputation in a fabulous part of London.

Has anything particularly surprised you since you arrived?
Before I came, I was familiar with the high street and Harley Street, but I hadn’t explored the nooks and crannies, and I hadn’t really appreciated the scale and diversity of the uses, particularly on the residential side. I’ve been going around with colleagues, walking around on my own, riding around on a Boris bike, dipping into mews that I had no idea even existed, discovering all these hidden apartments, mews houses, pubs. Perhaps, I had been slightly concerned before I came that everything that could be done has already been done, but I’m already starting to see pockets of opportunity, and that’s quite exciting. If I am honest, I hadn’t fully appreciated the scale and truly world class standing of our Harley Street Medical Area.

What does the presence of the medical area mean to the Estate?
It’s a genuine USP. When I’m talking to people nationally or internationally, explaining what I do, one reference point they’ll all relate to is Harley Street. It’s a centre of medical excellence, an absolute treasure. Over the past three or four years we’ve been working hard on improving the quality of the occupiers and the fabric of the buildings, investing in the Harley Street Medical Area brand, and working constructively with the medical tenants to promote the area around the world. What we like about the sector is that you see practitioners who are at the very top of their field. In some respects, we could be seen as a very traditional old estate, but with our medical buildings we are right on the cutting edge of things. We’ve invested in our medical offering, and it has become an increasingly important part of our profile.

The Howard de Walden Estate is one of the Great Estates of London: privately-owned businesses with roots that go back for centuries. What is it that makes them different to other landowners and developers?
What’s fascinating to me is how these estates—the likes of Grosvenor, Cadogan, Bedford and our neighbours, The Portman Estate—have transformed themselves in recent decades from being sleepy, sometimes rather neglectful owners of property to being genuinely best in class: innovative, far-sighted. Being family owned, we are able to have a truly long-term perspective. Companies that are publicly quoted have to generate short-term performance over one or two years, but we can take a much longer-term view, aiming to grow in a sustainable and consistent fashion.

We see ourselves as stewards: we have meaningful chunks of property in a single location, which means we can influence the whole culture and feel of an area. Some people would say it’s a risk, having all our eggs in one basket—if something befell London, we’d be exposed. But ours is some of the best real estate in one of the world’s truly great cities, so I’m comfortable about that focus. And of course, we have a good diverse range of uses.

What kind of CEO will you be?
For starters, people-focused. In any organisation, the people are absolutely fundamental. If you get that right, it feeds into everything. We need to equip them with the right skills, then encourage them to constantly chip away at improving things, enjoying the job, having fun. We’ve got about 100 people, many of whom have been here for many years, and they’re a great group. I aim to develop that esprit de corps and further motivate colleagues who are already performing very well.

I’m also very conscious of my external role—my obligations to the community. We’ve got over 2,500 tenants, and many more people who we don’t have a direct commercial relationship with but who live or work in the area. We need to be engaged with them, to be visible, and we need to listen. I want them to feel that they get a genuine benefit from dealing with the Estate. Every contact we have with people, be they suppliers, tenants or residents leaves an impression.

I love being part of a community, and we want to put back into the area. We’ve got a decent sized budget for charitable causes, and our priority will always be the local area, be that the schools, or charities that work with the elderly, the disadvantaged, the homeless. That’s a responsibility that we take very seriously.

What are your big ideas?
The Estate is in very good shape, so I don’t foresee any sudden shifts of strategy or direction. It’s about evolution; steady as we go. I’ve touched on how we engage with the world outside our office, and I really want us to get better at interacting with the community—we’re pretty good already, but we can do better. Over time, we will be more visible. We’ve gone about our business quite quietly and discreetly, but I think we might become better at getting the word out, wanting to show what we’ve done and to further develop our reputation.

I’d also like tenants to feel that they get a service over and above the straightforward landlord-tenant relationship: loyalty programmes, an absolutely first class helpdesk, networking events at which tenants of every type—residential, office, medical, retail—are able to talk with us and with each other.

Central London has been booming in recent years, and has become an expensive place to be. What can you do to ensure that Marylebone remains accessible to people?
In the case of retail, we recognise that we have to have a mix: we need the likes of Daunt Books, La Fromagerie, David Penton & Son, as well as the fashion retailers. The challenge for us is to grow rents and for the retailers to remain trading from a range of shops. We want to extend into the streets off the high street where the rents are going to be less, where we can bring in more individual, independent retailers. I also think we shall be more adventurous around office buildings, so instead of developing a 25,000 sq ft building and letting it to a single occupier, which in some respects is the easiest thing to do, we’ll move with the times and experiment with new trends such as co-working. I wouldn’t be surprised if in the next few years we have one or two of our bigger buildings with multiple small businesses coming in, creating a dynamic environment, adding vibrancy, energy and youthfulness. But for that to work at its best, we need to develop connectivity, in terms of bandwidth, and we’re looking quite hard at that. Technological investment is essential.

As a landlord, you can’t control everything about the area. Of those elements that are beyond your control, what concerns you?
I think something that is vital for London is the issue of emissions. We’re sandwiched between Oxford Street and Marylebone Road, and air quality is definitely a growing problem. In the future, it might end up being a big reason for people not to come to central London, so any measures that can be taken to tackle it, we’ll be right behind—it needs to be collaborative. Related to that, the proposed rerouting of Oxford Street traffic is causing us some angst. The only logical place for buses to go would be down Wigmore Street, which would make it a pretty inhospitable environment. We’re making sure our voice is being heard.

Have you been given any particularly useful advice?
When I arrived, I installed a coffee machine in my office and invited every member of staff to come individually to have a cup of coffee with me and let me hear their thoughts. One of the standard questions I asked was, what would you be doing in my shoes? A common tip was not to do anything too radical, but instead build on the great foundations that we’ve got. I’ve got plenty of ideas, but I’ll bring them in slowly, having carefully considered and consulted. I’m quite driven and in a hurry to get things done, but I will certainly be listening to people. 


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