Hailing from the Midlands, UK, Ben Whitehouse arrived in New Zealand in February this year and took the helm of the Prendos Wellington office. Now, four months on, we catch up with Ben about his past experience and where he sees the company going.
Ben’s career didn’t start in the property industry. He initially trained as a chef and planned to take over the family restaurant business. However, when the business broke up, he was left with some hard decisions to make.
“I was forced to think about where I wanted my career to go. My father-in-law at the time was a talented carpenter and asked me if I’d ever thought about surveying. So that’s what I did – I kept cooking to pay my way through university and got a degree in Building Surveying.”
Ben graduated in 1996 and took a role in the property department of a retail company that had around 700 stores in the UK and many more globally. It wasn’t long before he became manager of the team.
“I had limited experience and a varied educational background, so I think it was my people skills and ability to think commercially that helped me move up the ranks. From there I took a role that involved the development of bars and hotels, which brought both aspects of my training together. When that business was acquired by a larger one in 1999 things really took off – in just three years it went from being a company no one had heard of to a huge, blue chip FTSE 100 business. And because it had to grow so quickly, so did I! The business got bigger and more sophisticated and so did my role and my team. The great thing was that it was a really non-egotistical business. It was all about the value you could add – you had to deliver, you couldn’t just talk about it.”
The next decade saw Ben secure his RICS qualification and move between starting his own business, launching a consultancy and setting up a restaurant, before eventually moving back to the Midlands to work in a small building surveying and architectural team. When history repeated itself and the company was acquired by a larger business, Ben ended up running the building surveying function across the country.
“I have to say I love a challenge! I don’t like to sit still. Each role I’ve had has helped me build experience, broaden my skillset and gain confidence in the industry. I like to take a chance, so when Prendos approached me and asked if I’d take the job of Wellington manager, I thought ‘why not?’!”
“I can already see so much opportunity here. I love the country and the people. One of the things I found in the UK is that it was often about whom you knew and where you studied. I’m relieved to say it doesn’t seem to be like that here – business appears to be very much built on relationships. That suits me. I’m someone who sees what needs to be done and just gets on with it. I thrive in an environment where you can work with people and get to know them, and that is clearly important here.”
Ben is particularly excited about the caliber of his team in Wellington.
“I’ve worked with a lot of people over the years, and I have to say these are some of the best I’ve seen – they’re incredibly technically competent. We’ve got a great foundation to build from, so the next step is to recruit more of the right people with the skillset to meet market requirements.”
It’s this market driven approach that Ben believes is key. He’s currently in the process of talking to existing and potential clients to assess what they’re looking for, and says he’ll then build a team that can meet market needs and make the most of the opportunities on offer.
“For me, it’s about focusing on what customers want. Whether you’re a small outlet or a really big business, you have to understand the local market. It’s also important to have that rapport or relationship with those you’re working with – to be heading towards a common goal. I like a fast paced commercial environment but I also like to be part of a team and know that I’m on the journey with them, making a difference.”
Ben says this team approach should extend to the contractor-consultant relationship, where a really collaborative mindset is required to achieve the best possible outcome for the client.
“One of the things I’ve found here is that contractor-consultant relationships can seem a bit adversarial. In the private sector, particularly, there’s a need to create a more cooperative environment where people can work together to come up with a client focused, collaborative solution.”
“Having worked in an organisation with multiple commercial properties that needed to deliver an income, I think strategic property management is so important. You should be led by the needs of the customer and come up with a high quality, tailor-made solution to fit. Prendos has the capability and vision to do this. First and foremost we do what’s required to make the building safe and help maintain a good quality property, then we look at our clients’ core business and ensure they have the right environment to deliver it – whether it’s teaching, cooking, selling or accommodating people.”
“Prendos is changing and growing to meet the market. Our approach will be collaborative and long term, not just job-by-job. I’m really excited to see where the business is heading and hopefully do my part to shape it too.”