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Property Values

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The property sector is belatedly realising the value of good people management. Keith Nash, Land Securities first HR director, explains his role to Lexie Williamson

Keith Nash, group HR director of UK commercial property giant Land Securities. He is clearly struggling to be diplomatic about a sector that has traditionally put investment in bricks and mortar ahead of its own people.


Nash has a point. Many property companies have had an image problem. Most people dont know or care who owns the building they work in. Lots of property firms let a building over 25 years and only get a phone call if the lift breaks down. The staff employed to solve the problem are rarely acclaimed for their customer-facing attitude.


Even in property, though, the world is changing. And part of that change at Land Securities has come with the arrival of Nash himself. He is the companys first group HR director, arriving at its headquarters just off Trafalgar Square as it was reforming into three divisions. The first, Portfolio Management, rents out central London offices, shopping centres and warehouses. The second Development centres on the building of large-scale developments like the one it is creating for the BBC in White City. The third is Land Securities Trillium, which takes property portfolios from companies and manages them, from renting out any unused sites to handling their security. BT, for example, handed its estate of 6,000 buildings over to Trillium for 3 billion for 25 years.


According to Nash, the property company that is a stranger to its tenants is fast becoming extinct. Land Securities 2,000-plus occupiers are now demanding more customer service and flexible deals on leases. The company, which boasts a property portfolio worth 7 billion, has also cottoned on to the fact that it can increase rents if more customers visit shopping centres such as Birminghams Bullring. A significant part of its modern-day role, therefore, is marketing its buildings to the local community. The days of merely sitting on your properties and counting the cash are over, he explains. Nowadays its all about the people who work in our buildings or go to our shopping centres.


This shift towards a culture of improved customer service and performance meant Land Securities needed to attract a new breed of employee separate from the surveyors who still comprise the majority of the companys 1,800 workforce. Suddenly it required marketers, customer-service experts and finance people au fait with schmoozing investors. For an industry that few outside property would nominate as a dream sector in which to plot a career, this was a significant recruitment hurdle.


Enter 49-year-old Nash, a man with a career full of variety. He has managed a Holiday Inn in Newcastle, overseen UK sales for brands including Mr Muscle for Bristol-Myers Squibb, held the post of vice-president, human resources at Coca-Cola Enterprises and added the words human resources to the Latvian business language while at Cable & Wireless. We werent attracting people from other industries, he explains. We needed to strengthen our image so that we werent just another landlord.


His first step was broadening recruitment advertising beyond trade magazines to media targeted at a wider business audience, because, as he puts it: Coke wouldnt just advertise in The Grocer. He also picked a recruitment firm with broad business contacts, helped modernise the Land Securities website to facilitate hiring and revamped the firms induction materials, replacing the word tenants (its a bit feudal) with clients or customers words with which new employees would feel more comfortable.


It has been a qualified success. Most of the new marketing and customer service staff came from other property firms that were ahead of Land Securities in these areas, but the finance team now houses senior staff from Bass, GlaxoSmithKline and Railtrack. People must be hearing about Land Securities and, if they havent, the impression theyll get from headhunters is dramatically different from the one they would have had three years ago, he insists.


Nashs second task was to work towards a performance-driven culture in a company that did a decent job of looking after people, but wasnt particularly performance-oriented. He created Values into Action, an initiative that centres around measuring the extent to which employees demonstrate five values: customer service, respect for the individual, integrity, excellence and innovation.


Anyone can be nominated for a Values into Action award and


the nominations are judged every other month by an employee assessment panel that includes previous winners. Prizes have included travel vouchers worth 1,500 for, say, demonstrating excellent customer service. Some winners went to extremes, albeit unintentionally: one triumphed by defending his shopping centre from robbers who drove a Land Rover through its glass doors to raid a cash-point machine.


Nashs most controversial offering, however, is probably


his Performance Management Programme, where employees have a set of agreed key performance indicators (KPIs) that relate to their job. He stresses that, in order for the initiative to work, every KPI has to be clearly measurable, so the employee is given a sheet listing each objective and the target completion date. As well as individual KPIs, management also has them for business units while group-level KPIs are linked into a balanced scorecard, which assesses the extent to which things like financial goals or customer-service objectives have been achieved.


Nash hasnt even left the humble staff restaurant alone. It


now stays open all day, rather than just at lunchtime, and houses a Costa Coffee outlet. The idea was to create a more attractive space for holding impromptu meetings. His final act of rebellion was to introduce dress-down Fridays to an industry whose uniform is pinstripes and braces. This is stuff you would never have seen in the property industry. But it was done in a way that was acceptable to the culture, says Nash of his three-year overhaul.


He admits that there was some resistance to his initiatives, particularly from those who suddenly found their nine-to-five activities under the microscope. There were a few grumbles from people who said: I work as hard as I can, he admits. But the Performance Management Programme works because its fair, its objective and its very measurable. Managers dont decide an employees KPIs so theres nothing personal about it.


One blessing of directing HR at Land Securities is that retention is not an issue: people tend to stick around. It is therefore possible for Nash to achieve his aim of filling 75% of management jobs with home-grown talent. This has come about with some help from personal development plans. For the companys top 200 managers, these include stints at development centres run by Ashridge Business School, as well as comprehensive feedback from their bosses, colleagues and staff.


Nash has an HR department of 20 staff. Five of the team operate a centralised unit to deal with the basic employment stuff, like pensions or company cars, and this leaves more time for HR managers to be closer to the business. He has four HR managers for Trillium, because staff numbers can expand dramatically when a contract like BT is won. For the remaining two groups he has HR manager Ann Bird, who describes Nash as great fun to work with he has an open-door policy, is approachable and has a very positive, can-do attitude. Her boss would appreciate the comment. It demonstrates that his relaxed management style is similar to that of his mentor, Richard Martin, the former chief executive of recruitment specialist Adecco. Nash and Martin, who is now shadow chair of -The NHS Professionals Special Health Authority which finds temporary staff for NHS Trusts worked together at Inchcape. Richard was very quick to make people feel at ease, Nash remembers. He used to sit on car bonnets and chat to mechanics one minute and then walk into a board meeting and equally easily talk to investors.


Declan Fitzsimons, an organisational development consultant who created change management programmes with Nash while the latter was at Cable & Wireless and Coca-Cola, has witnessed the ease with which he argues his case to the board, something which comes partly from having a pre-HR career in management. Keith has got the gravitas to take the strategic HR agenda straight to board level and explain the consequences of not implementing it to a companys most senior directors in a way that leaves them saying: Oh my God, wed better do this, explains Fitzsimons. He can talk their language. Hes a commercial man in HR clothing. Bird confirms this: Keiths business background has been beneficial in raising the profile of HR within the company.


Nash certainly didnt follow the tried and tested HR director route through personnel indeed it wasnt really until his job at Inchcape in 1989 that he homed in on the sector. He even admits: I was conning a few people because I knew bugger all about HR. As a graduate he started out in hotel management, launching a Holiday Inn in Newcastle and later selling training courses to hotels and restaurants. Five years on, he jumped at the chance of joining the more sophisticated pharmaceutical industry.


He wasnt in his initial role of assistant HR director at Bristol-Myers Squibb for long, however, when he found himself as UK sales director not the last time he would be lured into a wider business role. This move was prompted by his increasing involvement in the structure of the organisation. Having a good HR director, I started picking up a much broader remit than just training, he recalls. To cut a long story short, Nash suggested combining Bristol-Myers Squibbs pharmaceutical and consumer sales forces under one national team whose members could sell both products to the UKs doctors one sales rep doing the previous job of two. Management liked the idea and Nash agreed to take on the assignment for 18 months. But when he found it hard to go back to an HR role, he switched industries again, making a move to the car dealership arm of Inchcape in his first pure HR job as HR director.


At Inchcape he had the daunting task of increasing the publics trust in car salesmen by replacing the stereotype who could sell, but do little else with staff who had better customer service skills and financial savvy. I hadnt come through the traditional route so didnt have a clue about HR basics like employment law, Nash admits, but I had great chemistry with the managing director.


Does Nash think that his management background was a boon in securing the Inchcape job and future roles? No one will like me saying this, but its relatively easy to get HR people that can recruit or manage the pension plan, he argues. Ive noticed in my career that its the people who move a company forward that get noticed. All too often HR professionals are forced to spend 90% of their time dealing with relatively mundane things, but Ive climbed out of my HR box now and again and jumped on commercial people.


Nashs skills were tested to the limit at his next job, when Cable & Wireless sent him to the Latvian port of Riga. I brought in expats to work on the venture, he recalls, but we had to set up an international school because there was nothing like that there [he has three children son Toby and twin girls Isabella and Claudia]. We had to establish the whole structure. When we left, the school had 120 kids and 28 nationalities. His extra-curricular activities also included teaching local employees the words human resources and personnel and even negotiating with the Latvian prime minister.


Cable & Wireless was Latvias biggest employer with 7,000 staff, but we only needed 3,000, he says. The unions had agreements with the government that they wouldnt make any redundancies, yet they had this modernising business plan. Eventually the government relented, but, fed up with talking through translators and put off by the freezing cold, Nash left Riga for Hammersmith and Coca-Colas UK arm, where they were more familiar with HR.


Again Nash found himself embroiled in a wider business issue as he tried to get Cokes US people to overcome their differences with Cadbury Schweppes, from whom they had taken over UK bottling. The US contingent wanted to increase UK sales by 20%, which Cadbury Schweppes thought impossible. Nashs solution was to fly Cadbury Schweppes managers to the States and send the Americans to British corner shops to learn about each others


distribution set-ups.


His final role before Land Securities was as HR director for property developer TrizecHahn. It was not such a happy experience: the plan was to launch a Europe-wide company and Nash set up HR teams in 10 countries before hearing that the US board was getting cold feet about the 3 billion project. He jumped ship before it sank.


Despite his love of travel, Nash now seems content to read about it at home in Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire, one of the beauty spots where ITV crime drama series Midsomer Murders is often filmed. He used to play tennis to county level and at weekends coaches his children, proudly mentioning that he and Toby have just won the local generation doubles tournament.


His days as a salesman have obviously left their mark when his son heard that his dad was going to have his photograph taken for Human Resources magazine, he pleaded with him: Dont do a David Brent no cheesy leaning thoughtfully on the desk-type poses. His style of management is clearly a lot more successful than The Offices odious Brent, but his sales patter is something he could always fall back on. At Land Securities, his skills in selling and promoting the value of HR have certainly paid off.n