Our series of profiles of senior housebuilding figures continues with this interview with Lauren Atkins, who explains the career path to her current role and her thoughts on the best approach for those looking for a successful career in the UK’s new homes industry.
Please tell us a little about yourself and your current role.
I am the managing director of The Malins Group property development and investment company, a mother to my nine-year-old daughter Bella and the patron of women’s charity Aurora New Dawn.
Founded in 1972 The Malins Group, an award-winning aggregate of private property companies and trusts, is owned and controlled by the Atkins family. The Group has established itself as a dynamic and entrepreneurial property development and investment company.
We are highly acquisitive, high performing, cash purchasers with the capability to contract in 24 hours for the right opportunities. The Malins Group has significant experience of acquiring both development and investment properties with a 45-year history in the property market.
With a strong design ethos our products are innovative and highly desirable. We have long standing relationships with architects, planning consultants, structural engineers, viability assessors and an in-house design studio and build team. Our end-to-end operation is seamless and highly scalable.
What education and career paths have brought you to this position?
I studied international business at Southampton University before I embarked on what I now call my ‘past life’; spending about 10 years working in big corporates – IBM, HP and Oracle. When I left Oracle in 2008, after the birth of my daughter Bella, I was the head of SME applications sales for UK and Ireland.
My life plan was always to join the family business; I had been brought up with The Malins Group in my blood. I spent a large part of my maternity leave analysing the business (in between bottles, nappies, and unrelinquished screaming) and I soon realised that I had so many transferrable skills which could be drawn upon to transform and grow the company.
Furthermore, I was passionate about development, design and architecture and soon the business and the industry consumed me. By the end of my first year I had moved our HQ to Surrey, hired a new team, brought our build in-house, embarked on a program of regeneration across our existing portfolio of now circa 600 properties and was bringing to market circa 100 units a year across our development and investment divisions.
What is it about the property industry that you particularly like?
The diversity of the industry is a big draw for me. I operate across a wide breadth of sectors from residential, across every class of commercial, to student. My passion however is residential development, because it gives me the greatest creative freedom. Purchasers are looking for something that little bit different, which has been thoughtfully designed and meticulously finished. The Malins Group has been bringing to market schemes like this since 2009 and have been consistently achieving unexampled pounds-per-square-foot, in unprecedented time frames in what is a difficult market.
Have there been projects and/or mentors along the way that have been especially inspiring?
My father has always been my mentor. Whether it was instilling pearls of wisdom as a child, while collecting rents or 50p’s from sub electricity meters, to teaching me the intricacies of the Leasehold Reform Act in later years, I’ve always had him on the end of a phone, often up to ten times a day in the early years!
Does a strategy-related role need certain qualifications and personality?
Personality and gut instinct have been far more useful to me than qualifications in this industry. You can have all the qualifications in the world, but unless you are a deal-maker you will fail. My father always wanted me to study for my RICS at university, but at 18-years-old I had other ideas (!) and I pursued a completely different career.
Looking back, I think my ‘past life’ served me very well. I learned how to become a deal maker in big cooperates and circumnavigate the red tape; I learned how to manage, lead, and inspire teams of people, and within the confines of multi-national companies I learned how to carve out my own niche to run my own businesses my way. When I was lucky enough to have the freedom to do this for myself at The Malins Group, it meant I could act with new found speed, yet respect the rigour and attention to detail that is necessary in today’s property industry.
Does your company offer diverse employment roles, and are training and new qualifications a part of many roles?
Initially I built my business through harnessing a team of working mums and apprentices. In 2009 my business did not warrant a large staff of full-time employees, and I was always keen to keep the direct employed staff as lean as possible.
By offering a very flexible working environment I was able to attract some excellent people who were looking to return to work post-children on a part-time or flexible basis. By offering apprenticeships I was also able to work with talented young people whom I could train and mentor to become key members of the team for the future.
My operations director (who was my first employee at our new HQ in Surrey) has been with me since 2009 and as her children have grown, her working hours have flexed accordingly.
My construction and design assistant completed her apprenticeship, was in the finals for Apprentice Of The Year, and has now completed her British Academy of Interior Design qualification.
Retention and development of staff is so crucial to me. While the direct team has needed to grow substantially, I still believe that the reason we are now able to handle multiple projects all in-house, alongside actively managing a portfolio of over 600 properties, is because I have an excellent team who intimately understand the business as they have been with me a long time.
What would be your advice to people aspiring to a role like yours?
Don’t expect much sleep! If you want to have it all then you need to do it all. Running a successful business, being a good mum and trying to be active and have a social life is exhausting. If you want a ‘work/life balance’ you simply need to sleep less!
What are your biggest challenges?
Finding the right sites has always been my biggest challenge. My land team are continually running appraisals, checking planning guidance, CIL, affordable housing requirements and liaising with our architects, because 90% simply do not stack.
We specialise in the residential conversion of buildings with an interesting history or provenance; mixed-use schemes where we harness our design ethos to create something different in the commuter market, and sites that may provide existing income but also offer opportunities to redevelop to increase capital value and ERV.