The rise of the Private Rented Sector (PRS) has led to the creation of jobs in that part of the UK property market, and here we speak exclusively to Jennie Fojtik on her role at Tipi, the PRS arm of developer Quintain, about the career path leading her to working at the major regeneration of Wembley.
Hi Jennie, please tell us a little about yourself, Tipi and your current role.
Apparently I am now middle aged… however I believe am a very young at heart 40-year-old, working class girl, originally from Stratford-upon-Avon, but having been in London for 17 years, I am not sure ‘Midlander’ is actually the correct term for me anymore! I am head of leasing for Tipi, although my role is evolving more and more into new business projects. I have been with Quintain for almost 10 years and I worked on Tipi before Tipi was even called Tipi, helping to shape and create what we thought we would be, and then helping it evolve to what you see today – I have no doubt my role and projects will continue to be diverse.
Can you tell us about your career path, from education to training, work experience and previous roles?
From being a Stratford High School girl, I actually went on to be a Film, TV, Literature and Theatre grad from St John’s in York, and I enjoyed a great work experience many moons ago with BBC Radio York. However, I always worked part-time in retail through my studies (from the well-known old-school menswear brand Dunn & Co through to The Windsmoor Group in Brown’s of York). I always loved dealing with people and I think my instincts told me that I belonged more in business than I did in the arts. Leaving university I spent over a year with Burberry in York Designer Outlet, getting used to the joys of working full-time and stepping in when the managers were absent. However a year into this, I was straining at the reins for something new and more challenging, having not only outgrown my work, I also felt it was time for a change of city.
As ever with life, opportunities tend to find us – I was interviewing frequently for all sorts of graduate roles from retail to insurance to banks to recruitment, but none of them seemed to ‘feel’ quite right. On a trip to London for an interview, my aunty suggested I met a property recruitment consultant who had found my cousin a fun job in lettings – and even better, she got a car! I met Amanda at Property Personnel, she gave me lots of information and convinced me that I would be perfect for either a sales or lettings role. So after a bit of fear and hesitation, I bit the bullet and said “OK, just book me for interviews” – and that was it! I was suddenly arriving in London with a rucksack to kip on my cousin’s floor for a few weeks, to pick up a bit of a battered Peugeot and be let loose on the general public looking for a place to rent. I became a trainee letting agent with a south-west London estate agency, and then a manager, then a senior and area manager and then after over seven years I moved on to Quintain, to set up their lettings business. Ten years later, I am still here.
What is it that first interested you in the property sector?
My original interest in the property sector was driven by – a car, variety of work, not being in the office all the time and sales/dealing with people. Over time, this has evolved into a passion for property and architecture itself and still the huge variety of work and experiences I have enjoyed, thanks to it being a fast paced, unpredictable and fun industry.
Build to Rent and the Private Rented Sector are relatively new, and growing – are there a lot of career opportunities in construction/admin in that sector?
I am not sure I can comment on construction/admin but certainly from a lettings and management perspective – there are fantastic opportunities – not just for those already in the sector, but for people in other industries who are passionate for selling, for customer service, for being part of something innovative and new.
What are the personal qualities needed for a role like yours and how might they differ from a similar job in homeownership?
I am not the best letting agent or head of lettings in the world, but what sets me apart from someone doing the same role in estate agency, for example, are probably things like: challenging the norm (do we NEED six weeks security deposit?); a strong desire to fix ‘stuff’ that causes pain and stress both for the customer and staff (you can collect your keys at ANYTIME on your day of move in, you do not have to wait for an available check-in clerk); pride in being ‘different’; and a nose for seeing opportunity and being forward with ideas.
What is it about your role that you find most satisfying?
Variety and opportunity to make a difference, trying new things, making mistakes – of course I am blessed that at Tipi we have a culture where we can do all of this. I also love influencing the design of our apartments, always with the customer in mind – my favourite line is “where do you put your pants and socks in that bedroom”. Thankfully we have great colleagues who try to embrace all our views from the front end.
Otherwise – it’s the team. I truly believe that the right (happy and hard-working) staff impacts directly on the customers, so I am keen to always find ways to develop the team and help them grow – and hopefully keep them inspired to keep doing a great job. I don’t compliment often, but when I do, they know I truly mean it from the bottom of my heart and I am lucky to have had staff stay with me for many years. We also benefit from great colleagues here, where we can be ourselves, argue our point and then (maybe, eventually) be able to admit when we are wrong.
Is there a career path you’re following, and ambitions you hope to achieve?
I have always been blessed to benefit from so many different opportunities – from setting up a business from the first let, to helping with overseas and UK sales exhibitions, to off-plan leasing, to helping create Tipi. I simply always strive for more learning, more exposure to great projects and more opportunities.
Are there jobs in the creation of new homes that you find particularly admirable?
Architecture and construction, in the simplest terms – knowing what to put what where, and the speed and detail of the operation – it just blows my mind.
What’s your advice to those considering or applying for a job in UK new homes industry right now?
The joy of property is that there are opportunities for everyone – for those who don’t have a degree, to those that have a Master’s. So wherever you start, the industry can serve you well if you work hard, don’t rest on your laurels and always strive to improve. Oh – and, of course – have fun.