A Look Back – An Interview with the Retiring Paul Vernon-Smith
After an 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.
1. 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!
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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. With 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.
6. 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 Oddfellows Arms)
7. 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!
8. 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.