The Generation of Brexit and Beyond

Max Shepherd, Director and Head of Funds & Investors at Holtby Turner Executive Search speaks with Guillaume Cassou, Head of European Real Estate of KKR, Noel Manns, co-founder and Principal of Europa Capital and Rob Bould, NED of IPSX about the impact of Brexit on the future workforce.

With speculation over the US presidential elections and Brexit, a shadow has been cast over 2016 that has stalled real estate investment and development in the U.K. Amidst this political uncertainty comes unsettling times for Britain’s industries and the vast swathes of employees who work here.

I asked leaders of real estate investment managers how these current events will test the loyalty of real estate’s rising stars, and if we will experience a shortage in millennial talent within the UK?

Brexit: Impact & Perspective

KKR, similar to many major US investment firms, has large operations in London with 200 plus staff and 120 qualified professionals, with a minority being UK nationals and the majority coming from Continental European countries. KKR believes this wide diversity in nationalities, cultures, and languages offers huge value to their clients, and they are proactive in ensuring their London team has people on it from each of the countries where they are investing.

I asked Guillaume Cassou how he feels three months on from the EU referendum. “The honeymoon period is over,” he told me. “September brought with it tough talking from the government, and a move towards a ‘hard Brexit’. This would be bad news for the UK economy, with no benefit coming from a hardline stance.”

Noel Manns asserts that it will be government policy that’s going to be key. It is pivotal that the government presents its strategy clearly and concisely, both to the UK and overseas.

Rob Bould feels optimistic post referendum, seeing sentiment improving and markets recovering. He has a view that Brexit is being used by some as an excuse for pricing corrections and volume drop, which experts have speculated was coming anyway. Volumes of transactions may not have yet recovered but he foresees those returning by early 2017. “We are seeing new overseas investors coming in and readying themselves to take advantage of the market conditions.”

A Mass Exodus Ahead?

Guillaume Cassou believes that top talent will go to wherever the opportunities are: “If those are in Berlin or Paris, then that is where they will go”

However, Rob Bould is confident the opportunities will remain here. “The UK market remains the biggest and most attractive in Europe. The language of business will continue to be English – people are not going to suddenly translate legal contracts into French or German.”

Grounded optimism is also shared by Europa Capital’s Noel Manns: “people who love living and working in London will not suddenly up and leave for Frankfurt. Remember, there are more people employed in London banking than there are living in the whole of Frankfurt.” Noel thought it unlikely a noticeable difference would be seen anytime soon. “Hopefully in a couple of years, things will have settled down and firms will not need to move their people anywhere.”

Guillaume Cassou is not so certain. He points out that the argument that London is the place everyone wants to work is a proposition that should never be taken for granted. Remembering the 1990s when London certainly wasn’t the coolest place in Europe, in Guillaume’s opinion it’s taken 15 years or so to brand London as a dynamic and inspiring place to live and work. “It won’t happen overnight, but Berlin or Paris could undertake the same transition London has achieved.”

Opportunity vs. Location – Where Does Loyalty Lie?

Guillaume Cassou’s view is that career-orientated high achievers will have more loyalty to a company than a country. “Unless someone is tied to a specific location for family reasons, then job opportunity comes above location. The majority of KKR’s employees in London chose to work for us because we offer truly exciting careers and a dynamic environment to grow. They are not here just because of London.”

Noel Manns believes loyalty stems from a multitude of things, and can’t be oversimplified. However, a well-designed stylish office in a great city and prime part of town can go a long way. Alongside this, “Europa have tried to create a strong partnership culture so people feel ownership of the business.”

“Culture is key” Guillaume Cassou agrees. “At KKR, we have created a culture centered around a strong sense of ‘team’ that carries through to how our performance is rewarded. Everyone is rewarded in the business’s successes, not purely the leader of a transaction.”

“Making sure KKR’s executives don’t get bored, we keep them challenged and give them room to grow. For senior managers at the top of their field, we deepen engagement by creating new investment strategies they can help to develop.”

Loyalty is a two way street

Rob Bould is of the view that too much attention is on millennials and simply how their attitudes have changed. Focus should shift to the way employers have also changed their attitude and behaviour toward their staff. Loyalty is strongest when it is reciprocal.

“Go back 30 years and firms behaved very differently – they were more nurturing towards their employees, often with a family feel. Today’s multi-nationals struggle to nurture and create a sense of togetherness that creates loyalty. Also, technology is changing the workplace; people are now accessible 24/7, 365 days a year. This culminates in faster burn-out rates with employees, quite rightly, feeling exhausted and eyeing opportunities elsewhere.”

A Good Kind of Churn

Churn is part and parcel of a healthy business culture for Guillaume Cassou. “There’s always short-term pain and stress when someone leaves. But long term, there can be much to gain by giving others opportunities to grow or step-up into a role with more challenge and responsibility”. His views align with the consensus for management today that employee movement encourages positive shifts in perspective, productivity and performance too.

Do we think Brexit will create opportunities or force our finest talent to leave?

Rob Bould feels the UK remains the gold standard to the real estate market, because of its scale, depth and transparency. “For Britain to give itself the best chance of continuing to be an attractive place to do business, we need to continue to be competitive on tax but also it needs to remain transparent and clear on the decisions that are made.” (e.g. passporting, work permits, tax etc.)

Noel Manns shares this view. “As long as the UK remains competitive on tax and continues to be welcoming and more transparent than European counterparts, then we will remain an attractive business hub. It is a lot easier to start a new business and get set up here compared to other European countries. Real estate has shown its resilience in the face of major macro events, because the majority of people in the sector are opportunistic and entrepreneurial.”

For Guillaume Cassou, the biggest risk he sees in attracting talent won’t be Brexit: it will be losing top league stars to other industries. “Competition comes from the tech innovators, not competitors in real estate or banking,” he reveals. “There are similarities today to how people viewed the finance industry in the 80’s and 90’s. It was the exciting industry that everyone wanted to be a part of, but today the tech industry is a tough competitor.”

To speak to Max Shepherd at Holtby Turner Executive Search about any of the points in this article, or to discuss the findings of our research in person, call 0203 371 6680 or email 

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