A Look Back - An Interview with Paul Vernon-Smith
A Look Back – An Interview with the Retiring Paul Vernon-Smith
illustrious 47 years in property, the legend that is Paul Vernon-Smith has
sadly decided to hang up his property boots. Nevertheless, before the man many
refer to as the “nicest agent in the City market” can sail happily away into
the sunset I was able to catch up with him over a coffee, to talk through some
of his experiences.
Why did you get into property?
Initially, I had planned to go into advertising and managed
to get an interview with my uncle who was then managing director of Royds
Advertising in the West End. My Uncle quickly concluded that advertising was
not suitable for me……the fact that I couldn’t draw didn’t help! At the time, a good
friend of mine seemed to be making a few quid in commercial property and
recommended me to give it a try. It just so happened that the surveyors acting
for Royds at the time had a vacancy for a trainee, so good old Uncle Denis
arranged an interview for me. Needless to say I got the job and the rest is
history….. my first introduction to nepotism!
Give me a brief history of your professional career?
1970 – I started as a trainee
with Smith Melzack in Cork Street, W1 mainly working in their retail department.
1972 – I then moved to
Smith Melzack’s City office to do office agency ultimately becoming an
Associate Partner and then on to full Equity Partner in 1988 by which time I
was running the City office.
In the mid-90's Smith
Melzack changed significantly. We merged with Pepper Angliss to become SMPA. We
were then bought by Mercury Group and finally, the SMPA arm of the business was
sold off to Vail Williams.
I left Vail Williams about
10 years ago and became a Consultant with Newton Perkins.
What is the biggest deal you have done and what was your fondest?
My biggest deal was advising Baker
and McKenzie in 1988 (at the time the biggest law firm in the world) on their
acquisition of new headquarters of 80,000 sq ft in 100 New Bridge Street, moving
them from their existing offices in Aldwych.
My fondest deal was acquiring some 75,000 sq
ft in Exchange House, Broadgate on behalf of Société Générale Strauss Turnbull Securities
to enable them to move from their old HQ in Moorgate Place, which we later disposed
of. My lasting memory was having a true gent of a client, Roger Wellesley-Smith,
who insisted that the deal had to be signed in Paris by the Chairman of Société
Générale. The whole team, solicitors and both agents, were flown to the signing
in Paris. The signing took five minutes and the rest of the day was taken up
with an almighty lunch in a fantastic Parisian restaurant, followed by an
evening flight home.
Who has been your greatest influence?
It would probably be Rod Symondson
who was running the City office of Smith Melzack and persuaded me to join him
as his assistant. I had a great working relationship over many years with Rod
and he remains a good friend to this day.
What has been the biggest change since you began and what is
the biggest professional challenges that office agency faces?
For most of my career we got by with just a
telephone at our desk and a plastic box with a card system of our applicant
list. Therefore, the introduction of computers and emails has obviously been a
complete game changer.
regard to challenges I fear that the accessibility of the Internet and the ability
to easily research available market opportunities is having the effect of
diluting the skills and market knowledge of agents.
What does PVS get up to in his free time?
Golf, cricket, walking, squash,
trips to Germany, holidays, watching sport, socialising (ie a few pints in The
Where is your favourite spot in the City of London?
My favourite lunch spot is the Boot
and Flogger Wine Bar off Southwark Street, albeit not really in the City of
London but near enough. It is a good old-fashioned place with sawdust on the
floor that offer fantastic bangers and mash washed down with Davy's Claret!
What is the best piece of advice you could provide to a
graduate joining the market today?
Look and learn from those around
you. Make and keep contacts as you never know how young contacts today could
become the big clients of tomorrow.
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