Our exclusive interview this week is with Martin Skinner, who is chief executive of Inspired Homes and Inspired Asset Management, and he talks us through is career and his company’s recruitment position.
Please tell us a little about yourself and what your current role involves.
I am 39-years-old and am the founder and CEO of Inspired Asset Management and Inspired Homes. I’ve been working in property for around 15 years now and have delivered approximately 3,500 units for rent and sale.
As CEO, I get involved in every part of the business. I build the team and join the dots, so everything comes together profitably for all our stakeholders: customers, investors and employees. I spend most of my time in meetings or at networking events, but I would like to have more time to visit sites. My diary fills up quickly!
What working history brought you to this point?
Well, I didn’t go down the traditional real estate route. I graduated with a degree in Business Computing and started my career in tech. When I sold my first web design business and joined the acquiring company’s leadership team, and I used the proceeds and my new mortgageable salary, plus a £10k loan from my mum, to buy a three-bedroom house in North Woolwich. I reconfigured it to add bedrooms while retaining a compact open-plan kitchen/dining/living room. I lived in one of the rooms and rented the others.
As house prices rose, I remortgaged to buy new properties and repeated the process. After a couple of years, I had achieved financial independence and quit my job to work in property full-time.
I developed my room rental portfolio into a professional house share platform which I branded Nice Room (the main focus of my first property company Nice Group), which through two joint ventures with large fund managers, enabled me to build portfolios worth more than £150m.
From your earlier days in homebuilding, were there projects and/or mentors that were especially important to you?
I started Nice Group in my early twenties and had to learn the ropes pretty quickly. I didn’t have the benefit of working my way up a company with senior people to support me. Of course, there are always people and businesses that I admire, such as student accommodation business Unite Group, Tony Pidgley from Berkeley Homes, the Candy brothers and of course Steve Jobs. Tim Watts of BPT PLC (forerunner to Grainger) was the closest thing I had to a mentor, aside from my dad who was awarded an OBE for services to education for his work in Uganda and the Solomon Islands, where I was born.
Which elements of the housebuilding industry do you find most appealing?
I love it all! Particularly the challenge of finding a site, preparing a scheme that works, funding it and then delivering it to an exceptionally high standard. I like to challenge the status quo and find more efficient ways to design and deliver homes so that our product continually improves but remains affordable, whilst also being more profitable for myself and my investors. Property development is extremely risky, so it does get the heart racing. But I’m a bit of a thrill seeker – hence my passion for motorsport!
Is there something about the sector you work in that offers particular challenges for your team?
We’re best known for building micro-apartments, so that’s a challenge in itself. Space standards means we can’t get planning permission for new build micro schemes, so we convert offices under permitted development rights to mitigate the planning restrictions on unit sizes. However, there is a limited supply of offices, particularly in the best locations, which means competition for sites can be fierce. There are also lots of challenges in converting old buildings, but we’ve become pretty good at overcoming them.
Has Inspired Homes taken on many trainees/apprentices in the last few years?
Yes, we’ve taken on quite a few. Oliver Boag joined as an intern in acquisitions after graduating from Oxford Brooks with a BSc in Real Estate Management. At the time we couldn’t take him on permanently, but we brought him back as soon as we could – two years after his internship. James Ball also joined us as a graduate in Real Estate Management from Oxford Brooks and he has risen through the ranks to development manager. Toby d’Ambrumenil joined as an intern without a degree and floated around different departments before settling in the development team. Harry Wright is a Geography and Business graduate and is learning his trade with our acquisitions team whilst undertaking a RICS-accredited MSc part-time.
Has there been a high standard of experienced people to choose from when bringing on more senior staff?
The best people are always in short supply, but we have been fortunate enough to build an outstanding team. This means it is even more important to keep the best people, which is why we try to motivate our team with exciting projects and the freedom to be entrepreneurial and express themselves.
Whatever the role you’re offering, junior to senior, are there particular qualities you look for in potential candidates at Inspired?
Yes, I like people to be loyal, hard-working, persistent and creative thinkers. You need people who can think outside the box to find efficiencies and improve.
Is there advice you’d give to anyone considering a career in the new homes industry?
Work hard, be persistent, get creative and make lots of friends. You’re going to need them when things go wrong and you’ll want to celebrate with them when things go well!