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Women in Real Estate: Alice Umfreville, Director, Head of Chelsea Lettings, London

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As part of a series of interviews highlighting the powerful work of our female employees, we’ve interviewed female employees from across our organisation, from the different countries where we work and from a variety of positions. We interviewed them to find out about how they got into the company, where they’re heading in their careers and to talk a little about what success means to them.

Can you tell us a bit about your role?

I’m the Head of Chelsea Lettings at Strutt and Parker which recently merged with BNP Paribas Real Estate. Day to day this means conducting market appraisals, negotiating fees, managing client expectations, working with other departments, training and guiding the team and problem solving. We also recently formed a Lettings board which I am part of, this enables me to help shape the structure of Lettings and how we go forward in the future.

Why did you chose a career in the real estate sector?

I was actually quite determined not to be an estate agent! As my dad and brother were both agents, I was definite I wasn’t just going to follow in their footsteps. However, when I was on university holidays, I temped for the same agency that my brother worked for and then when I left university they offered me a six week administrator position, which I accepted. After a few weeks, I got pulled into the office of the Director and told I was the worst administrator they’d ever had but it was clear I had the ‘gift of the gab’ and they wanted me to be a full time Lettings Negotiator instead. To be honest, at the time I was a terrible administrator! I took the job thinking that I’d quit once I found one I actually wanted to do, but as it turns out I ended up loving it and quickly became the number one negotiator in the company. So that was it, I was in. I became a manager within 18 months and from there I was head hunted by Strutt and Parker, where I’ve been for the last five years.          

What is the most challenging thing about your job?

Without a doubt, the people! When you have to manage your team, your colleagues and your clients it can be very challenging, although it’s also one of the peaks of the job.

It is important to ensure that everyone is working in the client’s interest and does not lose sight of that. To ensure this happens, as a team we have open discussions meaning that our clients can feel confident that we are working as a team and are all fully aware of their situation and preferences. It is vital to have an opinion and be able to voice it, whilst also actively listening to other people’s opinions and ideas. Sometimes these conversations can get a little heated but the ultimate goal is securing the longevity of the client relationship.

What is the most rewarding?

Winning the trust and loyalty of our clients, achieving deals that people don’t expect or even doubt will happen. And of course having a happy, hard-working team.

What has been the most important thing you’ve learnt whilst working at BNP Paribas Real Estate?

Since the merger with BNP Paribas Real Estate, I’ve been nominated to take part in their Women in Leadership Programme, and attend workshops in Paris. It is refreshing and important to see the attitude towards diversifying employees across different levels. I am excited to see where this will go and to learn and progress from these new changes, both for my own benefit and that of BNP Paribas Real Estate. The Women in Leadership programme has helped to show me how important it is to believe in yourself and push yourself forward.

I’ve been very lucky in my career that during my time at Strutt and Parker, the two direct bosses that I have had have both been strong women who have been very focused on pushing women and lettings to the forefront, two things which until now have been far from prevalent in the property industry. There is however, so much more to diversity than being male, or female and I look forward to BNP Paribas Real Estate leading the way in all aspects of diversity.

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It is refreshing and important to see the attitude towards diversifying employees across different levels. I am excited to see where this will go and to learn and progress from these new changes, both for my own benefit and that of BNP Paribas Real Estate

Alice Umfreville
Director, Head of Chelsea Lettings, London
London

What are you most proud of achieving in your career? 

There are two things that I’m most proud of;

Not being swayed from my moral compass. I can honestly hold my hand up and say that I have never acted outside of my better judgement regardless of the offers or temptations that have been put in my way. 

When I started working at Strutt and Parker, I came into an office that was, although doing quite well financially, losing quite a lot of people. Now, however our clients are extremely loyal to us and I’m able to call them up when it’s time for a renewal or a remarket and they have total confidence in my advice. The turnaround has been a huge achievement.  

What are your professional aims within your job at BNP Paribas Real Estate? 

The BNP Paribas Real Estate and Strutt and Parker buy out has come at a great time, being part of the company during this merger will allow me to drive my career forward. My direct boss is the Head of Residential Lettings and my aim is to be her number two and ultimately her successor when the time is right. 

What advice would you give to someone looking to start a career similar to yours?

I would say, you don’t know everything. Be ready for long hours and hard work! Believe in yourself, and make others believe in you. Don’t be a push over but pick your battles wisely. Most importantly, remember that it’s just a game and that no-one dies but plenty of people get irrationally stressed so don’t let yourself be one of them. 

I also think it’s important to do something outside of work that is totally unconnected to your day job. Whether it’s a hobby, or charity work, or learning new skills, just something that occupies another part of the brain and allows you the time to realise that life is not just about work! There needs to be a balance.

Which powerful women do you most admire?

Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey. As black women, they have had to fight much harder than I ever will to overcome diversity. They are both women who don’t shy away from confrontation but do so in a very eloquent way. They are determined and very focused on what they are doing, which is for the greater good rather than solely for their own gain.

What does success mean to you? 

Success in my career and personal life are two different things, but ultimately I believe that you have to be happy in both and proud of your choices and actions. In my career, success is getting me to the top of my game with long-term loyal clients and colleagues and earning enough to do what I want without financial strain, with a little bit left over in a pot for a rainy day. I may not be there yet, but I’m certainly working on it. 

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