Lisa has unrivalled expertise in complex high profile commercial, retail, hotel, residential and mixed-use developments and regeneration projects across London, and has worked on iconic London landmarks such as the British Library, 8 Bishopsgate and the regeneration of London Victoria. She has also helped shape the city’s built environment, having previously held key industry roles, such as Board Member and Treasurer of, the City Property Association (CPA).
Lisa talks about:
- the importance of bringing women in the industry together; and
- new, more flexible ways to help women network, which better reflect our modern working lives.
Clare Breeze: In this episode of our women in real estate success stories podcast series, Lisa Webb, a partner in the Planning and Development department and a member of the Executive Board at Gerald Eve, talks to Rebecca Ashton, a senior associate in our commercial real estate team. Lisa provides an insight into the challenging yet inspirational decision that shaped her career when she merged her company Moseley & Webb with Gerald Eve in 2007, and what she has learnt from this and her years in the industry.
Rebecca Ashton: Thanks Clare. So, this is the latest in our women in real estate success stories series, where we talk to inspirational women in the property sector, which is a notoriously male dominated industry, just to get top tips, tricks and more background to successful women’s careers. Today I’m joined by Lisa Webb, who’s a partner in the planning and development team at Gerald Eve. Hi Lisa, thank you for joining. It’s probably best if we just kick off by getting some more background about your career to date. I know you founded the very successful Moseley & Webb, and then merged with Gerald Eve, and then have been very successful there as well. So over to you.
Lisa Webb: Thanks Rebecca and thanks very much for having me on the podcast. So, in terms of my career, I started my first job back in 1995 in a small retail planning consultancy called Alsop Verrill, who primarily did supermarket development around the country, and it was a really small practice; for a lot of the time that I was there it was just me and a Malcolm Alsop, and I learnt a huge amount. I had great experience having to run projects from a very early stage on my own, and deal with clients from an early stage, and it was really, sort of, in at the deep end, and when I look back, the experience I got in those 4 years, I think really kick started my career and then I moved into what I do now, which is central London development planning; when I moved to JLL and I met my future business partner Hugh Moseley at JLL – he was running the central London planning team there at the time, and I found the work really exciting. I couldn’t believe I was able to work on such landmark projects like Central Saint Giles with architects like Renzo Piano and half of Covent Garden for the Mercer’s Estate, and then I really started to enjoy my job and see my future career potential in planning. And then Hugh and I decided to leave JLL, and we set up Moseley & Webb as a sort of niche central London planning consultancy in 2003, along with one of the other associates who’d been working with us, and pretty much all our clients came with us, and it was such great fun just setting up and running your own company. Sadly, Hugh died, for those who don’t know, Hugh died, in 2005, in a plane crash, which was a huge shock and obviously tragedy. He wasn’t just a fantastic business partner, he was also a very, very good friend. As you can imagine, I had to dig deep, but did continue to grow and run Moseley & Webb with Sally, who had worked with us, and some new colleagues who we brought in and remarkably the business continued to go from strength to strength, but it was sort of proving to be a bit of a challenge to resource the projects and to recruit and so, in 2007, I decided to merge with Gerald Eve, and went in and joined Gerald Eve as an equity partner. A number of other businesses had approached me over the years but I’d been working alongside Gerald Eve on a number of projects’ with Hugh Bullock and the team and really liked the people, and really liked the sort of partnership culture that Gerald Eve had; it felt very similar to the way that I did business, and the way we operated at Moseley & Webb. and so that was 16 years ago, and everyone kept telling me when I went there "Oh, it’s going to be a huge culture shock going from such a small company’" but it really wasn’t. I walked in, logged in, went to a meeting, and have really never looked back and as you said, Rebecca, I’ve been on the executive board now of Gerald Eve for the last 9 years, and you might have seen in the press, we’ve recently become a Newmark company so we’re now part of a larger corporate entity, but that partnership culture that attracted me all those years ago is still really important to us, and really makes the company sort of what it is.
Rebecca Ashton: Thanks, it’s fascinating to hear about such a varied career, and being in such a range of different companies, both very large and then much smaller, and I’m so sorry to hear about Hugh as well. I didn’t know about that before today. What do you enjoy most about your role? What’s best on the day-to-day job? I know there’s probably a lot of management headaches, being so high up in a company, but I know you thoroughly enjoy it.
Lisa Webb: Absolutely. I feel really lucky with my career. I feel really lucky to be able to work on some of central London’s most exciting developments, working with top clients like LandSec, British Land, Stanhope, to name just a few and a whole host of amazing, world leading architects, so it doesn’t really get much better than that. My day-to-day work is really diverse, so I’ve been involved in all sorts of projects. So, anything from city towers to major new life science developments, which there’s a lot more of these days, to things like the new Museum of London, the British Library, big, new, residential neighbourhoods. You know the list is really endless, and every project is completely different. One thing I really enjoy as well, is the fact that you can make a difference, and I know that may sound a little bit like being a bit of an idealistic grad, but more and more projects these days are focusing on being genuinely inclusive, and a lot of the work I’m doing is around how these projects can actually improve the life chances of the residents and local communities who live near them and I find that a really rewarding part of the work. Then finally, the people, I mean, it’s such a people industry. I love working with the great people across the industry, whether they be clients, project teams, local authorities. Of course, all my colleagues as well.
Rebecca Ashton: I think, being in the property industry, it is a fantastic place to be, to work on a really wide variety of really exciting developments and exciting projects with fantastic people, and innovation is a massive part of the industry. Everyone’s always trying to seek the best development, the best project – learning from the previous ones and making residential developments the best place to live, office development the best space to work and retail the best place to visit. So it does feel forever evolving and it's one of the things that I really like about being in the property industry as well.
Lisa Webb: Yeah, absolutely it’s really exciting and it's always changing.
Rebecca Ashton: It would be really interesting to hear a bit about your time with the City Property Association. Obviously, I'm on the CPA next Gen Committee and very involved there and I know recently, on the annual lunch, you got a big send off at the end of your tenure as treasurer. Obviously having been very involved in the city through the CPA and generally in the day job as well, so it'd be great to hear some more about that side of your role.
Lisa Webb: Yeah, sure. So, I joined the CPA Board in 2006, at a relatively young age, hence despite the big send off, having been on it for the last 17 years. So, for those who don't know what the City Property Association is it's a member organisation for owners, investors, and advisors in the City of London, and it supports members and lobbies in the industry's interests, whether that be through planning policy, which I was obviously closely involved with, or other matters and being on the board was great. It really meant that I was at the heart of discussions with senior offices and members of the City of London, as well as being around the table with senior leaders in the industry. So it's been a fantastic experience. A few years ago the CPA with its sister organisation, the Westminster Property Association, formed the umbrella organisation, the London Property Alliance, which sort of, really reflected that the Central London market had moved beyond the traditional areas of the City and West End and given the work that I've been doing in life sciences which I referred to earlier, I now chair the alliances’ Camden working group and knowledge quarter liaison group, which bring together key developers in Camden, and we liaise regularly with senior offices and members at Camden council so it's moved beyond the City and Westminster now, which is great. And as you just said, Rebecca, that in the last few years the organisation's been developing its Next Gen Network and it's been amazing to see that develop as it has it's hugely popular and is going, from what I can see, from strength to strength, and really enabling the sort of next gen in the industry to get involved in industry matters, but also to make a really fantastic network, as well, you know, for those earlier in their career. And I should probably say, even though I no longer have a vested interest, no longer being treasurer, it is a very good organisation to join if you're active in central London, and I would highly recommend it. As I’m sure you would too!
Rebecca Ashton: Yes, I also have a vested interest, and also say definitely, sign up, come along to the events. The CPA is doing a fantastic job, and we often host joint events with the CPA and the WPA, which are really good to come along to. I suppose, moving on to the main topic of the podcast and about being a woman in the property industry in particular, I'd be interested to hear if you've experienced any particular challenges in your career to date, and if so, how you overcame them to be as successful as you are? From my recollection, I think you might be the first female partner on your merger with Gerald Eve and so I'm sure that you must have driven a lot of the change that's happened there to date.
Lisa Webb: Yeah, thanks. As you can probably appreciate, Hugh’s death is probably the biggest challenge that I've had in my career, and I mean honestly, at the time I was not sure what I was going to do. I had just landed in Argentina, on holiday, so, I spent 2 days wandering around Buenos Aires just thinking about every scenario under the sun, and he was 15 years older than me, so brought a lot of experience to the partnership. So, to put a very long story short, having gone through all the options, I decided to sort of dig deep and continue to run the business myself and I really appreciated the fact that our clients were happy to stick with me and trust me with major projects, like the whole of Victoria for LandSec, for example, so I guess I must have been doing something right up till then and I think I would say confidence is often talked about in terms of holding women back. I think it's very easy for women not to believe in themselves, but we are much more resilient than we think. I think if you'd asked me what was going to happen, I would never have believed it, but I guess I was forced to face into it and I know I certainly came out stronger, and I was able to prove to myself that I could do it. So, I think that's been a real lesson in life and career actually. Yes you're right, I was the first female active partner at Gerald Eve which had its challenges as well, you know sitting around a table of VPs who were all male and somewhat older, but I had really good support from colleagues like Hugh Bullock who went on to become our senior partner and, as we said earlier, being in the property industry introduces you to that at an early stage so, I was pretty used to being the only woman in the room by that stage, but we've been doing an awful lot since then to sort of develop women's careers and really look at the gender balance in the firm.
Rebecca Ashton: I think it's fascinating what you said about resilience and confidence. I see a lot of women who, at those turning points and moments in people’s career or lives in general, they fail to back themselves enough and there's that point where you can either have confidence, throw yourself in and go full steam ahead, or you cower back, and then everything just fades away and I think it's really important to have conversations like this, and women like you to look up to, to show women in the industry that they should back themselves. If you think you've got 50%/60% of the qualities that you need to be a success, then still go for it. You don't need to be a 100% – every “i” dotted, every “t” crossed, before you run at something and it's amazing that you turned such a horrendous experience into, not the career blocker, but just an acceleration almost.
Lisa Webb: Yeah, absolutely. I completely agree, and I sort of had no choice in terms of dealing with it, but it taught me an awful lot and I think you're absolutely right. I think, as women, we do tend to not have that confidence and not put ourselves forward, not believe in ourselves and it's absolutely something we all need to be doing more.
Rebecca Ashton: So, with being obviously the first female equity partner at Gerald Eve, you were the only woman in those senior rooms, I know there's a perception that the property industry is very male dominated, and historically it was the case, and you experienced it. Do you think that bias is now shifting? Are you seeing more women at the top? Do you think any bias exists within sectors that's holding people back to reaching those top tiers?
Lisa Webb: Yeah, it's certainly changing, but I think it's still male dominated. I think we probably all agree with that and it's challenging to change that quickly, I think. As a firm, at Gerald Eve we've significantly increased the number of women in the business over the last 10 to 15 years’. We've got now a fantastic pipeline of females coming through into more senior roles and I really hope that we will see gender balance at all levels in the not-too-distant future, because it's that challenge about getting women into senior positions, which is really the key challenge. We appointed our new COO Kate Morgan last year, so she joined us and the heads of our HR, business development and finance departments are all female so we've got some really good female role models in senior roles around the firm, which is fantastic, and as I say, really important. When I joined in the planning department, I was also the only female partner, but now we have 7 female partners in the planning team out of 17. So, good progress, and many more coming through the pipeline as well. It is a little bit easier in planning, because there are more women in planning and in that sector than in some of the more traditional areas of the business, like the transactional area, for example, but we are also working hard to address those areas as well and I think for me, I would say, what I’ve seen and learned is that providing the right environment for women, and crucially providing the flexibility for women to continue their careers after having children, is really the key to keeping women in the business and enabling them to get to those senior roles and I think the work we’ve been doing over the last sort of 10 or so years is, has proved that you can do that, but there’s obviously still more to be done.
Rebecca Ashton: With the flexibility side of things, it’s really interesting seeing how women who maybe would have struggled to have come back full time, for example, after having children or having similar pulls on their time, how they can now have a really successful career and a really successful home life through remote working, and that Covid, however much it’s got its negatives, it did spark that change and accelerate it so much quicker, and I feel very lucky that I'm able to do remote working; I can go and see family down in Bath, I've got two nephews who I see a lot more of than I would have done if I had to have been in the office five days a week.
Lisa Webb: It really helps. It really does. I mean we’d started flexible working prior to Covid, we also introduced core hours, so we were moving in that direction, but you're right that the real sort of, embracing of remote working has made a big difference I think and really helping women, but actually all parents, in terms of managing that balance between home and work.
Rebecca Ashton: Yes, it's good to remind yourself that it's not just women who have that issue, and in a way, a lot of men are now experiencing a much better balance, and it doesn't feel as firmly within female and male roles, and stereotypes, that a lot more men are now taking paternity leave and having shared parental leave schemes is really good as well, and it's useful to see everyone taking the same approach, not just women having to fight the good fight.
Lisa Webb: Absolutely, it’s really important, I completely agree.
Rebecca Ashton: It would be helpful to talk about some of the initiatives that you're involved in, in the property industry as well. I am very lucky to be part of your “hophop” networking and that connects women in the property industry through remote half hour chats every fortnight. I don't know whether you want to explain bit more about it?
Lisa Webb: Yeah, sure. It's been great, a few of us in planning in Gerald Eve started it about 18 months ago, and the reason we did it was we'd always held female client events, and we'd always had really good feedback from them, and everybody always said, “oh we should do this more often”, and so we sat down and thought we wanted to do something ongoing, and it was designed to work on an ongoing basis and designed to be sort of easy to do, particularly for women. So we started it, a network, using a web based system called hophop, which is really simple and easy to use and so it's an invite only and hophop matches you with a different woman in the network every two weeks for a half hour chat at a time to suit you and most are done virtually. But really it’s up to you, whether you want to meet in person or do it virtually, and you could opt in or opt out, depending on how busy your diary is in any particular week. But I've always found, even if my diaries completely packed out, which it is quite a lot of the time, that I could always find the 30 minutes and all the chats have been absolutely worthwhile and enjoyable, and I've met a lot of great women through it, including yourself Rebecca. We had a very nice hophop chat a couple of months ago. And it’s been growing, so we're pushing up to 200 women in the network now and there's about 30 to 40 chats consistently happening every fortnight, and I think we calculated that we've made something like 400 introductions and the feedback has been amazing. I mean, as I said at the beginning, it's been so positively received, it's been great, and people sort of say “well it's really simple”, “really easy to use”, “really convenient to suit your diary” which actually has been an important point that's come through because sort of old style networking was always a fixed time, fixed location, usually after work, which is often difficult certainly for women, but also really, as we were saying, any parents. Another theme that's come through from people is that it's not intimidating, like networking events, so people often feel intimidated walking into a room full of people they don't know. So they found this a much easier way to do it, but they've also said, it's good because they're getting to meet people who then, when they do go to those networking events, they've got a friendly face in the room. So again, another benefit that's come out of it and then also just the mentoring benefits. So we've got everyone, from senior leaders, to students, and that sort of opportunity to seek advice or give advice or just support women in the industry has been really, really well received. So yeah, we're hoping it'll keep growing.
Rebecca Ashton: I've really enjoyed being part of the hophop networking group for some time now. So I've been part of it for a handful of months, and I think I've only missed one week when I was on holiday because you can always cut out half an hour a fortnight to talk to someone, because it is remote, because you can choose what time is suitable for you it gives sufficient flexibility that you can squeeze it in between other meetings, you can find a time, and I've met some absolutely fascinating women who've had such a wide range of careers. And yes, people who are senior like yourself, and then the other week I was talking to a students and sort of talking her through my career, and it's fantastic to see all of these amazing women here from our industry, and I do feel much less daunted walking into a room at property events now, because there will always be at least one friendly face, and it's much easier to walk up to someone and say “hello”, and then join their group rather than standing in the corner and hoping someone talks to you.
Lisa Webb: Oh, great! Well, it's fantastic to hear that you're having an equally positive experience from it.
Rebecca Ashton: From your experience then, I know that you've been so involved in so many different initiatives from and also supporting and mentoring people both inside and outside your organisation. Do you think that companies in the property sector are doing enough to support women to get to the top? Do you think they need to be doing anything more? Any tips/suggestions?
Lisa Webb: Yeah, I think they need to be doing a lot. I think they are. I think companies are doing a lot more now but it's really, really important that that continues, because we are seeing the benefits from it, in terms of women staying in their careers and developing their careers and moving into senior roles, but it's still relatively early days. We've got to make sure that continues and keep supporting women in the industry. So yes, there's a lot of initiatives going on, but we've got to keep pushing those and keep investing in them. I mean, we've been doing huge amounts in the last sort of few years aimed at developing and supporting women, and we've had sort of bespoke training programs, and I know other firms do as well. And I think they, the feedback we've had from those from the women who've been on them has been so positive and as we've been able to see such a positive impact on their careers from them, that we're certainly looking at developing those more and more. We've also appointed an equalities, diversity and inclusion manager recently who's looking all areas of our business, so from recruitment processes to promotion processes, and just making sure that everything is sort of genuinely inclusive and supporting women and others in fulfilling their career so I think there's an awful lot that needs to be looked at there; we've probably always done things a certain way in the property industry and actually, we probably, well we do need to be looking at it differently now. And I know a lot of firms have women's networks, and we've also launched our own and that's been hugely popular internally, which is great and there's a number of committees now working with our HR team on all sorts of things, from mentoring to networking, and we've been running networking events with some of the other organisations like "Ladies in Real Estate" and "Real Estate Balance’" who are all also doing fantastic work in this field, and also recently talking to Vanessa Murray at Stanhope, who, I know, you've also had on the podcast who's doing I think, a fantastic job with ’Mentoring Circle’ and you know, we're also talking to her about how we can potentially work with her as well more going forward. So yeah, long may all of these initiatives continue.
Rebecca Ashton: It feels like there's definitely a good wind and a good backing behind all of these initiatives, and hopefully, it will continue going, because, although we're moving in the right direction, I don't think it's sort of “problem fixed move on” territory yet - definitely not, still a long way - got a long way to go! I suppose, just to round up the podcast it'd be really helpful to know about any women who inspired you, whether professional or personally, and how and why they inspire you and what you do.
Lisa Webb: It's a really good question and it's really hard I think, to pinpoint individual women, because I think all women I've come across in the property industry inspire me for doing what they do and achieving what they achieve in what is still quite a male dominated industry. But I can name a couple that really spring to mind. One would be Colette O’Shea at LandSec; I first worked with her when she was at the Mercer's company, and she then moved to LandSec and went on to sort of really lead the way in the UK's biggest development company, at a time when, certainly in my experience, there were very few female clients around and so certainly, I would say Colette, and also, you know, for having the confidence actually and trust in me on her Victoria projects, which was a game changer for my career and it was also a game changer for Moseley & Webb and to some extent, Gerald Eve, in planning terms as well. Another woman I've been working with a lot more recently is Deborah Saunt, who's co-founder of DSDHA architects, and she is absolutely fantastic at standing up for women and calling out bias, but she does it in such a great way, always with a smile on face no one could ever take offence, but she is always absolutely on it. And I always use her as an example when I talk to people internally about how you can go about dealing with issues that you may have in meetings or in difficult situations, but doing it in a way that has impact, but again, always with a smile on your face and so, I look to Deborah a lot when it comes to how she reacts in those situations. I think the other thing I really want to say as well is that the next generation of women, I think, are really inspiring. I mean, if I look at the women coming through the ranks at Gerald Eve now they're really taking it on, and I think, where my generation and above sort of tried to break down barriers and prove what women can do, you know, they're really tearing up the rule book and demanding change and you know for certain that's going to accelerate it. I think it's really inspiring. I think it's really exciting for the future.
Rebecca Ashton: It's a really exciting time to be in the property industry I have to say. Before we go, do you have a top tip or key piece of advice for that next gen of women coming through the property ranks?
Lisa Webb: Yes, I would say, believe in yourself. I mean going back to our discussion earlier I think remember you are really good at what you do and have confidence in that and also you don't need to do it alone; reach out, make your network and tap into all these great initiatives that we've just been talking about that now exist you know and you'll go a long way.
Rebecca Ashton: That's a fantastic point to end on. I think it's so important for people to back themselves and also to back other women and to let them back you. That's been a really interesting discussion and thank you so much once again for taking time out of your very busy schedule to come and talk.
Lisa Webb: Thank you Rebecca.