We speak exclusively to Dawn Wylie, who talks to us about her career at prominent housebuilder Weston Homes, which has led from management training to the senior position of land director.
Please tell us a little about yourself and Weston Homes.
Weston Homes is a regional residential developer based in Essex. We primarily focus on regenerating brownfield land within London and the Home Counties. Our portfolio is enormously varied, and features exciting projects such as Stratford Riverside – a 28-storey architecturally designed tower which overlooks the Olympic Park, to the Denham Film Studios – a refurbished, Grade II listed film laboratory designed by Walter Gropius in the 1930s.
One of the unique things about Weston Homes is that we are entirely project driven, and all of our residential schemes are unique and bespoke. We also continually strive to ensure our product is consistently evolving to provide the best product for the best value in the local market.
I have been with Weston Homes for 11 years, and run the nine-strong Land Acquisitions team. I’m 31, live in Essex, and in my spare time I like to travel. I also help to run a local girl-guiding unit, which is something I find particularly rewarding.
Can you tell us about your career path, from education to training, work experience and previous roles?
I was lucky enough to be offered a management trainee position with Weston Homes after taking a year out following my A Levels. I don’t mind admitting that I was a little lost when I left sixth form education – I hadn’t planned on a university education, frankly because I didn’t know what I wanted to be or where I wanted to go.
I worked full time at a local pub/restaurant and travelled – both of which I maintain were incredibly character building and prepared me for dealing with a multitude of situations.
I applied for the position at Weston Homes hoping for a step up. For the first year, the business allowed me to spend time with each discipline, of which there are many, and I decided that I would like to pursue a career in land buying. I found an appropriate degree course in Real Estate Management at Anglia Ruskin University, and I studied part-time for five years, eventually achieving a first-class BSc(Hons) degree in Real Estate Management. In the meantime, my experience as a land manager was building, and in 2015 I was promoted to senior land manager. Through circumstance, I took over running the team in April 2015, and was promoted to the board of Weston Homes PLC in May 2016.
Are there any past projects and/or mentors that have been particularly inspiring?
I have been lucky enough to benefit from several mentors through my career. I work very closely with Bob Weston, whose vision and hard work has proven hugely inspirational. Richard Payne, our former development director, was also absolutely key to my career development, and gave a lot of his time to sharing his years of industry knowledge and experience.
I still remember the details of my first land deal; a small site of 18 apartments in Cranham, Essex, which will always hold a special place in my memory.
However, some of the most exciting projects are those that we currently have in planning, for example Anglia Square in Norwich, which is not only enormously complex, but will also completely regenerate the area and create homes and jobs for local people.
What is it about your current role that you most enjoy?
The sheer diversity. I am a very sociable person and love the fact that I am able to meet such a variety of people. I like the fact that my role requires lots of different skills. Equally, I love the range of projects Weston Homes has in its portfolio, which starts with my team. We are always on the lookout for interesting and potentially difficult development opportunities that many other housebuilders might not be interested in, and seek to find ways to bring developments forward.
Have training, recruitment and HR changed a lot since your first experiences of them?
The core principles are still the same, however we do have to comply with ever-increasing regulation. More importantly, HR has become more intrinsically linked with our people managers, and there is now a much greater focus on training, development and talent management. We have also hugely expanded our training schemes, which were groundbreaking even when I first joined 11 years ago. We now have a dedicated Learning Academy, and a range of schemes that provide sponsored career development programmes with the benefits of full-time employment and an accredited qualification. We need to attract talented young people into our industry, and that all ties in to our HR and recruitment functions.
With national new homes targets increasing, what are the career prospects at Weston Homes?
We have a huge number of opportunities opening up with the company’s continued expansion. We are actively recruiting for a wide range of positions across the business – including planning, technical and commercial. We are growing at a fast rate, and with that comes job creation and opportunity to work for a fantastic firm. We have recently purchased a number of large sites that will deliver quality homes for people to live in.
Does Weston Homes look for particular personal and skills qualities in applicants?
That obviously varies from role to role. But particularly when we are looking for new trainees to join us, whilst their grades are important, equally we are looking at their experiences outside of their education, their interests. Also their communication skills which, ironically, is something that seems to be at risk in this social media age as there is less focus on human interaction. We’re looking for a strong work ethic, which is needed if the candidates are going to commit to study for a degree on a part-time basis. And of course, that little spark! Which is hard to describe, but you know when it’s there.
What’s your advice to those considering or applying for a job in UK housebuilding right now?
It is absolutely the best decision I have ever made. A career in housebuilding can open up a world of opportunity – and it isn’t just about being on site. The sheer number of skills that go into getting the first foundation dug on site is vast – from land buyers, to planners and architects, engineers, technicians, surveyors, accountants, and so on. The career progression can be phenomenal, and I would recommend joining our industry to anyone.