This week’s exclusive interview with a senior figure in the housebuilding industry is with Andrea Gardner, a director at Wales-based Waterstone Homes and passionate supporter of equal opportunities in the new homes industry, about her current role, how she achieved it and her thoughts on the sector for a career path.
Please tell us a little about yourself and Waterstone Homes.
Waterstone Homes is a luxury housebuilder building homes across South Wales and the West of England.
Personally, I have worked within the property industry for more than 20 years and have a real passion for selling homes. After working for some of the UK’s leading housebuilders, including Westbury plc and Charles Church, I decided to join Waterstone Homes, inspired by the way the firm puts consumer choice first, something I strongly believe in.
After all, the purchase of a home is one of the biggest personal spends a person will make in their lifetime. Customers’ desires for properties change, and I wanted to work with a firm that adapted to suit these desires. Waterstone Homes is forever evolving by listening and working with specialists and its customers to react to lifestyle changes.
Can you tell us about your career path, from education to training, work experience and previous roles?
My career in the property industry didn’t start out quite how you might expect as I followed a somewhat unconventional route. After leaving school at 16, I spent over 13 years working within the production industry, firstly in a factory for the London Rubber company, followed by a stint at a tech firm, supplying games to key players within the gaming industry, where I achieved the implementation of ISO9001. During this time, I was selected to undergo management training, learning how to handle challenging situations as well as effectively manage and develop people, and this really was the making of me.
After taking some time out to have a family, I had itchy feet and wanted to return to work, and decided to take up a part time role at Westbury Homes working as a negotiator. While the job was very different to the previous positions I’d experienced, the skills and knowledge I had learnt over the years were very transferable and I found myself thriving in the sales environment, working my way up to trainer level, before moving on to work for Charles Church. During this time I gained a ton of experience selling homes and saw first-hand how important the customers’ journey was to successful developments.
After more than a decade of property sales, it was time for a change. Making the move to Waterstone Homes, where I would be selling luxury properties, was the natural next step for me. I was drawn in by the company’s forward thinking approach to property development, its strong family values, and of course the stunning homes.
I initially started off as a sales executive at the firm, where I helped to develop the brand and oversee developments, before being promoted to sales and marketing director where I play a key role in the planning of future schemes. I am committed to continually investing in my professional development and have recently completed a postgraduate course in Sustainable Leadership to further add to my skills.
Are there any past projects and/or mentors that have been particularly inspiring?
My very first MD played a big part in my development at a young age and instilled the work ethic that I have today. When I started at Westbury, both my sales director and manager were female which I found very inspiring. As women in construction, both made a huge impression on me as great examples of women working in a male-dominated sector.
At Waterstone Homes, I am fortunate to have worked with a whole host of inspirational people who I have learnt so much from since starting at the company in 2007.
What is it about your current role that you most enjoy?
I absolutely love selling, and doing so is a pleasure when you’re selling a product that stands out against its competitors. I really enjoy interacting with customers, and helping them to find their dream home is very fulfilling.
It’s great to work for a company that welcomes collaborative working with a team that strives to change and adapt to the needs of today’s paying purchaser.
Have training, recruitment and HR changed a lot since your first experiences of them?
Yes – there’s certainly much more of an emphasis on qualifications these days but while I certainly think there is a lot of value in education, I believe it’s important not to focus too heavily on this or you risk missing out on real talent.
There are many talented individuals who ‘fall’ into this industry, much like I did, who may not have the desired qualifications but who have a lot to offer. It’s the job of senior people in the sector to recognise and harness this potential with tailored training and mentoring. Learning from experience and quality coaching are what will make the real difference to people coming into the industry, helping to create a culture that’s productive and motivating. I’d also like to see more engagement and nurturing at roots level to develop the talent pipeline in advance.
With national new homes targets increasing, what are the career prospects at Waterstone? Do you look for particular personal and skills qualities in people who join your team?
As the number of projects we work on increases, the number of jobs and contracts we will have to offer will inevitably rise. In particular, across the industry, we have seen a growing demand for affordable housing and in response to this, Waterstone Homes will evolve and launch smaller house-type collections. This in itself will bring with it a range of jobs and create new positions in specialist areas such as research and development to make sure we have the right product in the right locations. We also expect to see a growth in opportunities within other areas such as market research, to ensure that we fully understand our customers’ habits and therefore advertise in the right places. We also envisage growth in planning regulations, which is of huge importance to property developers.
Skills-wise, aside from job-specific skills, we look for passion and commitment in new employees.
What’s your advice to those considering or applying for a job in UK housebuilding right now?
It’s a fantastic industry to come into with a variety of career opportunities within it. Like any industry, the construction sector has its ups and downs but it is an industry that will always be in demand – after all, everyone needs a home.
The job comes with a lot of responsibility as by creating properties, you are essentially influencing the ever-evolving infrastructure of a town, city or village, as well as changing the very culture of how we live, which is pretty special to be a part of! When I look back at some of my first developments I was involved with, I am very proud. Housebuilding is not just a job – it’s a vocation and a fulfilling career path.
Patience, attention to detail, along with a strong belief you can make a difference, are key traits required in the industry. When it comes to housing, nothing stays the same – what’s popular today will change tomorrow – and so anyone interested in the sector needs to make sure they keep up to date with trends in order to adapt and help the business grow.