Never Ending Exploration.

In terms of learning, I completely binged last week. And it wasn’t just the quantity, it was as if Gordon Ramsay, Heston Blumenthal and Marcus Wareing had created an “all you can eat buffet” and I polished off the lot.

Visits to Foxtons to meet with the Heads of Sales, Lettings and Customer Experience. A tour of the new Douglas & Gordon HQ with inspirational CEO, James Evans. Our All Members Day with Trusted Advisors, Dale Norton, Frank Webster and Peter Rollings. “Prospect, List Negotiate” with Australian Superstar Trainer, Josh Phegan. And on top of all that, a week with the CEO and leadership team of Melbourne based Jellis Craig, one of the best agencies I’ve ever seen. And there’s one thing all of these incredibly successful people and agencies have in common.

Their constant, relentless, exploration of ways to improve.

In the 80’s and 90’s Foxtons changed the London agency market forever. The “old boys club” model was shown up for what it was by this “upstart” agency who now, in turn, have become the establishment. Some might point to their recent share price falls, but they still generated income of £117million last year with a £15.1m EBITDA (12.8%). Even more impressive, in my opinion, is their appetite for improvement in developing their people and culture, their technology and also their brand. We saw the passion for change, the desire to improve in all areas of the business and a real hunger to once again be at the pinnacle of agency.

I wouldn’t bet against Foxtons but there’s a new kid in town, or rather a new CEO who’s taken the reigns at Douglas & Gordon. Most people like D&G but their issue is that they’ve had one foot in the new wave with the other firmly stuck in the traditional. Not now. James Evans, (who previously had 17 years at Foxtons), has great ambition for the agency and seeks to more than treble the business volumes within 5 years. In simple terms, he plans to take the best of Foxtons and the best of D&G and bolt them together. And I think this makes for one of the most appealing estate agency cocktails, indeed in many respects it mirrors Jellis Craig in Australia. James’s drive and energy is infectious and whereas before D&G seemed “awfully nice and friendly” there’s a steelier side to the culture that is the start of the change process.

There are few individuals whose agency careers come close to those of Dale Norton (founder of Romans), Peter Rollings (former MD of both Foxtons and Marsh & Parsons) and Frank Webster (former Vice Chairman of Finders Keepers). And yet despite all exiting their businesses superbly well, these three really good friends of mine continue to seek out new opportunities, and to learn and develop new ideas. For example, Peter has invested in and talked with great enthusiasm how they’ve recruited 4,300 people already. Frank has just returned from a tour of New Zealand where he’s discovered several ideas from their leading lettings agencies to bring back to the UK. Dale just never stops, his new developments will showcase all the ideas he’s suggested to house builders over the years, for example, a scheme of four houses will be 100% finished, with all landscaping and everything in place before anyone is allowed to view them. As they listened to each other speak, as well as to the other presentations, I saw them all making notes and diarising actions for implementation. Three people who you could say “know it all” clearly don’t and are still very much in learning mode.

The seven senior directors of Jellis Craig, including co-founder, Richard Jellis and CEO, Nick Dowling, came to London for a week to learn and find ideas for improvement. This typifies the mindset of the very best – they keep on wanting more, they’re not satisfied with being number one, (and by some distance), their ambition is as strong as the day the business was founded over a quarter of a century ago.

Josh Phegan introduced a leadership concept he calls “Hungry and Humble” – all too often successful people lose their appetite and/or their humility – they believe their plaudits and in extreme cases, their invincibility. But not the people I and all our members had the privilege to be with last week. They all showed a passion for learning and improvement of a first year at school, and I believe it’s this relentless pursuit that has made them so successful and is the reason why they will enjoy the sweet taste of victory again and again in the future. As TS Elliott put it so well: “We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

If you’d like to explore how you can learn from the very best in the industry please get in touch.

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