Career View

30th May 2022

Career in property development

Show House magazine caught up with our Development Director, Neil Fanning, about the journey to his current senior position at Fruition Properties.

How did you start your career in property development?

In my youth I contemplated three career options – pilot, architect or artist. At the time, pilots were two a penny and I thought architecture was a proper career that might earn a salary. An architect friend of my father invited me to visit his office and from that point on I was hooked. I was spurred on further by a visit to Croydon and in the arrogance of my youth I thought “good god, I must be able to do better than that”.

Having qualified as an architect I progressed to being a director of a well-established practice, but I was becoming more dissatisfied as architecture wasn’t as creative and fulfilling as I’d imagined. I wanted to be in control and have greater responsibility than architecture could offer. I turned to development via a brief period as a project manager. Despite some ups and downs, I have never regretted the move.

Tell us about your current day-to-day role?

My role at Fruition Properties encompasses both development of the company and overseeing projects from pre-acquisition to resolution of defects on completed schemes. So there’s no such thing as a typical day. One day might be analysis of the risks and opportunities of a potential site; the next reviewing the latest in software solutions and assessing how we work more innovatively. Other days could be contract negotiations, interviewing prospective consultants or meeting with contractors and suppliers who might help Fruition Properties achieve its airspace ambitions.

Training is also a key part of my role. Much of the time it’s in the form of working alongside members of the Fruition team when they’re in new territory. The experience I have is of little use if it’s not considered in the context of current day-to-day challenges and opportunities. More structured workshops give the opportunity for a broader discussion and exchange of knowledge amongst the whole team.

What challenges have you overcome?

I find development to be intellectually far tougher but more satisfying and creative than design. Einstein is quoted as saying “A clever person solves a problem. A wise person avoids it”. The risk management needed in development requires the wisdom to take on the problems you believe your development team are clever enough to resolve and avoid the others. There’s a fine line between the two. The design process is a challenge that’s there to be overcome every day. As a client I don’t think it’s fit for purpose. Development is full of risks and yet the design process recommended by many professional institutions doesn’t always identify and manage those risks. We are always delighted to find and work with consultants that do, but the needs of the client are often at loggerheads with those of the designers from the second they’re appointed. The design process constantly “kicks the can down the road”, designs are slowly refined over many iterations and issues are rarely resolved until it’s too late and the project is on site. The client on the other hand, is looking for risks to be identified, managed, and closed out as early as possible so their risk is mitigated and there is financial stability in the project.

What do you love about working in property?

The smell of wet concrete on a building site still thrills me. It’s when all the ideas, calculations, finance and contracts are going to be realised. Commitment has been made to the project and there’s no going back.

Where are you today?

Joining Fruition Properties 15 years ago offered a unique opportunity to not only develop property but also help build a company with people and values that I respected and believed in. I’m proud of the company we’ve created. Our team is diverse in every way and we’re now offering them the opportunity to be shareholders. I think it’s the way companies should be structured and we want to work with companies who are similarly minded.

What would your advice be to young people considering joining the industry?

While working on the consultancy side may be tempting, I’d implore people to ‘get their hands dirty’ working with a developer first. The most creative people are those who take ownership of the problems, make it happen and put their financial necks on the line to do so.  Too many people see developers as the ‘Dark Side’. They’re not… well, not most of them anyway. Property development contributes to the welfare and sustainability of every local authority and their communities through community infrastructure levies and other development agreements.

So quite simply my message would be: join the ‘Dark Side’.

This article first appeared in ShowHouse.