Shaper: Neil Sinclair

Show aired on 25th March 2017

Transcript

Elliot Moss
That was Cannonball Adderley and Nancy Wilson with their take on Happy Talk and a good one it was too. Good morning this is Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss here on Jazz FM. Thank you very much for joining me. It’s your 9.00am appointment with business in the form of a Business Shaper, someone who is shaping the world of business who I place right alongside the people who are shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul. My Business Shaper I am very pleased to say is Neil Sinclair. He is the Chief Executive of Palace Capital they are a property investment company but he is also, he has been in the business for many, many years and he is also very, very involved in the charity world. You will be hearing from Neil very shortly. In addition to hearing from Neil you will be hearing from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya some words of advice I hope for your business and then we have got some fantastic music from the shapers of jazz, blues and soul; Zara McFarlane’s in there, Ibrahim Maalouf is in there and so is this one from Billy Taylor.

Billy Taylor with I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free, always takes me back to a certain programme in the 90s called Film Whatever It Was in the Year with Barry Norman. More importantly though away from Barry Norman and onto business and jazz and jazz shapers and Neil Sinclair is my Business Shaper today and he is the Chief Executive as I said earlier of Palace Capital and they are an A listed business, they are in the business of making very natty acquisitions in the world of property and making sure that they make a good return on investment for their shareholders and as I said they are a Public Listed Company which all sounds very very grown up and here I am with my very young Mr Neil Sinclair thank you very much for joining me.

Neil Sinclair
Delighted.

Elliot Moss
Tell me Neil you’ve been in the property game for all of your life.

Neil Sinclair
Yes I have.

Elliot Moss
How did you get into it? How did the journey begin for you?

Neil Sinclair
The journey began when I left school, well before I left school I used to work on a Saturday. My late father said to me I want you to go to work, I was sixteen, I worked in a shop. He said I want you to work in a shop because I want you to learn the value of money and I want you to learn how to talk to people and I did it for two years and I’ve never ever regretted that. I have always had regard to other people and I can talk to people and any shyness I had went right out the window and it was great experience but I had to leave that after two years because I was studying and getting my qualifications and all that sort of thing. I actually wanted to be a pharmacist. I loved pharmacy, I wanted to do it but I realised that biology was not one of my strong subjects so I decided against it and then I thought well maybe I can go into the property industry and in those days you had to qualify and so I studied to be what was then called a chartered auctioneer, you could be a chartered auctioneer or a chartered surveyor. I became a chartered auctioneer and of course within not that long they merged so I became a chartered surveyor.

Elliot Moss
And the world of property, you said ‘I fancied the world of property’ why? I mean you know people make great money in property, some, the people at the top but it’s, what particularly appealed about that?

Neil Sinclair
Well firstly it’s a fascinating business because you look up at it and also my late mother used to talk about this entrepreneur that used to have dinner in, when she was a young girl in the 30s, in north west London and there was this entrepreneur guy called Charles Claw who used to have dinner with my grandmother every night because he had no money but he said you know I’m going to make money but in the meantime thank you for having me for dinner and he used to walk in to my grandmother in his navy suit and his brown boots and didn’t have two ha’pennies to scratch together but he went on to meet a guy, a well-known lawyer called Leonard Sainer which was the beginning of a most fantastic business career and he became an absolute icon in the property world. You know he created City Centre Properties which eventually merged with Jack Cotton’s company which eventually got taken over by Land Securities and Charles Claw besides having a property business he took over Sears which was a big public company at the time, a shoe business, owned Selfridges, he had Selfridges and he used his property expertise to build the Selfridge hotel so it was a fascinating, it all looked pretty fascinating to me. I thought let’s give it a go.

Elliot Moss
I think if I’d have been there I would have done the same thing. Stay with me for much more from my Business Shaper there that’s Neil Sinclair, Chief Exec of Palace Capital and he is right ensconced in the world of property. Time for some more music right now this is Sarah Vaughan with One Mint Julep.

Sarah Vaughan with the lovely upbeat One Mint Julep. Neil Sinclair is my Business Shaper today and you have already been hearing about why he was seduced into the wonderful world of property, as you said, I like your little phrase there you know you said you look up at it and see it and often people do say to me look up in London don’t just keep you know your eyes on the road. Obviously not when you’re driving, when you’re walking just to add quickly.

Neil Sinclair
And don’t be on your phone.

Elliot Moss
Don’t be on your phone either. So you became an auctioneer which became a surveyor obviously as you said the two things merged.

Neil Sinclair
Yes.

Elliot Moss
You saw that it was for you. You obviously enjoyed it very early on. You progressed pretty quickly I mean this is the thing sometimes I meet people and I go well that happened really fast why do you think you were immediately pretty good at this thing they called the property business?

Neil Sinclair
I think besides being if you think you’re pretty good you’ve also got to work like a dog and its hard work and my mum, my dad died when I was twenty so we were left in a very difficult position not financially but it was quite difficult my mum was young really and so we had to all work and to get there that’s what you’ve got to do and I did and I became a partner of a firm at twenty one. You know I was probably the youngest partner they ever had and I stayed there for five years and then for various reasons we were talking at home and my mother said to me you know you should think about going on your own, you know you can do it and she, I never forget what she said to me. She said ‘you know that phrase better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all’, she said ‘this is the same thing. If you think you can go on your own and make it, do it because later in life if you haven’t done it you’ll regret it’.

Elliot Moss
Why did she think that you would be good at that? What was it about her instincts?

Neil Sinclair
It’s like mothers you know they think their sons are wonderful and all this sort of thing and I had a brother and sister at the time she did the same with them and I thought right maybe this is a good idea.

Elliot Moss
And what year was that that you eventually did your own thing?

Neil Sinclair
1970 and I remember it, I was going on my own and for various reasons which financially it became quite difficult because I was twenty six years old, I was not married. Yes, no mortgage but you go on your own where are you going to get the money from? But I had this really friendly Bank Manager in Oxford Circus and I needed to borrow £1,000 and he said to me ‘fine where’s the security?’ I said, ‘You’re looking at it’ and he burst out laughing and he said ‘okay’ but of course then you had Managers who had discretion, it is a bit more difficult now but then he said, ‘okay you’ve got your £1,000’.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me because I am looking at the security, its Neil Sinclair and he is my Business Shaper today, Chief Executive at Palace Capital and we are going to get onto unsurprisingly how he has gone on to fantastic things. Latest travel in a couple of minutes and before that some words of wisdom from our programme partners at Mischon de Reya for that business idea that you are going to go and do.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss, every Saturday I am very lucky because I get to meet someone who is shaping the world of business and I also am very lucky because I hear people who are shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul. If you have missed any of the previous many hundreds of shows iTunes is your destination. If you happen to be flying somewhere soon British Airways High Life is another place where you can catch up with some of the great guests I have had or CityAM.com is the final place I am going to give you where you can go and have a look and have a listen. Neil Sinclair is my Business Shaper today, Chief Executive of Palace Capital, they are a property investment company and we have been talking about mums and advice and going alone and also talking to Bank Managers and earlier on Neil you were saying, you said to him you’re the security. This humour thing and obviously you didn’t, you kind of were being serious because you didn’t have as you said a property.

Neil Sinclair
No.

Elliot Moss
It has stood you in good stead. Have there been moments when it really has got you something you never could have envisaged getting because people don’t often talk about humour actually in business but, or would it have been that you’re a talented guy and that you have got that grit and all that or is a bit more than that?

Neil Sinclair
I think you need the humour and the reason I think you need the humour is our business, doing business is relationships and I think it is very important early on that you build a relationship with the people you are hoping to do business with and there’s no better way to do it than with humour.

Elliot Moss
Now obviously there was humour with the Bank Manager. He gave you £1,000 you turned a profit I am imagining relatively quickly and that money was paid back.

Neil Sinclair
Do you know I never used the £1,000. I actually never used it right because as soon as, what happened I took, I never forget it I took two rooms on the second floor in Oxford Circus.

Elliot Moss
Which is not far from where Jazz FM is, round the corner.

Neil Sinclair
Round the corner, round the corner in Margaret Street. I took two rooms, second floor, no lift, it was you know not very good but it was cheap and the fact of the matter is right from my point of view right I had to keep my costs low but literally the day, the day I started, or second day I got a letter delivered to my office by hand from a very very well-known property guy who said ‘Dear Neil, You don’t know me and I don’t know you. I need deals and you need commissions so let’s have a coffee’ and I didn’t know the guy from Adam, I knew of him but I didn’t know him. I met him and this was in late May of 1970. In July of 1970 I bought a building for him in Holloway Road. We bought a building for £1,000,000 which I’ve got to tell you was a lot of money then, right and we work on a percentage, normally its 1% so we bought a building for £1,000,000 and I got a fee of £10,000 right so I never needed the £1,000 overdraft, it didn’t arise it was a standby thing. So we did that deal and he went on to make a lot of money out of that building but we were agents and surveyors and things we want our clients to make money, that’s what you want them to do because then they’re doing more business and you earn more fees so that’s really what, and that’s how we started.

Elliot Moss
It’s funny I mean we’re now forty seven years on I think, almost forty seven in the summer, it was 1970, it was the year I was born, Neil, the year I was born.

Neil Sinclair
Well three days after I started there was a postal strike.

Elliot Moss
But I love the fact, I was going to say you remember, you remember as if it was yesterday and in between you have been involved in publicly listing companies.

Neil Sinclair
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
You’ve been involved in buying companies, you’ve been involved in probably thousands and thousands and thousands of deals and yet you remember this so well, why?

Neil Sinclair
You have to, that’s the business. You have to remember. It is your knowledge of buildings, of people and of property. You have to remember. You must have a memory like an elephant. I mean that is a fact and I have found it in very good stead. It is like a Fund Manager, a Fund Manager is exactly the same. He looks at companies and he has to know what happened twenty years ago right, he has to know right and we are the same. So I need to know what’s happening in buildings, people, everything.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for more from Neil Sinclair my Business Shaper, he has got an excellent memory so I had better be careful what I say as well. Time for some more music this is Essentielles from Ibrahim Maalouf.

That was Essentielles from Ibrahim Maalouf and he is one of my favourites as you probably already know. Neil Sinclair is my Business Shaper, Chief Executive of Palace Capital. We haven’t really talked about Palace Capital yet but there is just the bit between the memory, the elephant that you are…

Neil Sinclair
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
…and all the things that happened in between and you have obviously, you became pretty adept at going from these one off deals to much bigger deals, to becoming part of a corporate structure to becoming a publicly listed company and so on. How have you kept your feet on the ground Neil? Because the deals get bigger, the stakes get higher, there are more people who are involved and invested isn’t that pressure?

Neil Sinclair
Yes.

Elliot Moss
And you like it?

Neil Sinclair
No but you’ve got to be able to withstand it.

Elliot Moss
And how do you withstand it?

Neil Sinclair
Just carry on you know that’s the way it is. You know you’ve got to accept things as they are and some of the things we have done certainly recently have been huge pressures, huge pressures and when we were going public for the first time you know a partner joined me not long after I started on my own and we were called Sinclair Goldsmith and in the 80s right we wanted to go public. One of the problems at that time was our professional institution, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors would not allow outside shareholders in your business. The minute you had outside shareholders you were struck off and we couldn’t afford to be struck off so we couldn’t float but that restriction was lifted in the 80s and then we saw the opportunity of floating.

Elliot Moss
And in that time from the 80s all the way through til now and Palace Capital who I think you bought into it with a couple of other people in July 2010. Have there been massive bumps where you have looked at yourself and gone I have had enough?

Neil Sinclair
No.

Elliot Moss
Before Palace Capital?

Neil Sinclair
No. No. Everything is a challenge.

Elliot Moss
And when it goes wrong? And when you have to bounce back where do you find the…

Neil Sinclair
So what you do when it goes wrong and things can go wrong, right. I still look back very, very, I’ll tell you very quickly. I look back when my old partner and we were involved in a company in the early 70s and we had a vacant building in Soho and the market crashed. So what happened, we got a letter from the bank where because the value of the property was less than your loan and we were thirty years old and we went to see the bank and he said ‘what are you going to do about paying this money back?’ and we said ‘well we’ve got an idea what we can do’ and he said ‘well it had better be good’ so I said ‘well we’ve got a plan’. He said ‘what is it?’ I said ‘we would like to borrow more money’ and he absolutely burst out laughing and he said ‘what are you talking about? You want more money?’ I said ‘if you lend us more money you will get all your money back and we will probably get our money back. We’ve got something for you to read, read it, if you don’t want to do it forget it, if it has got any legs we’ll come in and see you’. He said ‘you haven’t got a chance but I will read it’. I can tell you it was the Bank of Nova Scotia they put up the money to re-develop this building which is what we suggested, we got planning permission, we re-developed it, we let it, we sold it, they got all their money back and we got 90% of our money back and the interesting thing is that the bank at the end thanked us because they had three properties in Toronto with exactly the same situation and they did exactly the same thing. They built them, during the recession.

Elliot Moss
There you go, be creative, hang tight and you are going to be alright. Final chat coming up with my fantastic Business Shaper then its Neil Sinclair plus we will be playing a track from Zara McFarlane and that is all coming up after the latest traffic and travel.

That was Zara McFarlane with Night and Day. Neil Sinclair has been my Business Shaper and will be just for a few more minutes and we have been talking about brilliant stories and you are just basically confirming why you are where you are. Your latest business and its now seven, almost seven years in. Are you happy with where it’s going?

Neil Sinclair
Very Happy.

Elliot Moss
What’s been different this time for you? Do you feel that all the years of experience have, as they grow do they make it easier for you to do what you do?

Neil Sinclair
They do say there’s no substitute for experience.

Elliot Moss
Is it true?

Neil Sinclair
Yes and people say how do you define experience? It’s the word man gives to his mistakes. Right, that is what experience is, right and all my working life I had predominantly been dealing in London but when we took control of Palace Capital six and a half years ago we decided that the growth was in the regions, nobody was really bothering with the regions and you had these great cities Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham all these cities, Exeter and Bristol which had been dead for about five or six years, nothing had happened and we thought London was already growing and therefore we thought it is a matter of time before the regions will start growing, maybe two years and we thought that’s where we should focus and so we did.

Elliot Moss
And it’s working?

Neil Sinclair
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
And post Brexit different feeling in the regions?

Neil Sinclair
Now you go to the regions, you talk about Brexit they all say the same. You know what are you London people worried about you know Brexit is going to be great for the UK and they talk with more sense sometimes than some of the Politicians you hear down here. They say to me what is everybody worried about? UK has 65,000,000 people we are one of the strongest economies in the world, we promise you Europe wants to sell to us. They are not stupid right so we are not bothered in the slightest and we have noticed in the last few weeks the letting market in Leeds, in Manchester is getting stronger, not getting weaker. It is getting stronger. We have had more inspections of our buildings in the north than we have had for months so if Brexit is happening I have got to tell you it looks like it could be beneficial.

Elliot Moss
Now that’s, I mean and I hope that’s true as well by the way.

Neil Sinclair
Very true.

Elliot Moss
We all hope that’s true, we all hope it happens.

Neil Sinclair
Very true.

Elliot Moss
Just changing gear slightly I want to touch on this before I let you disappear the charity work that you’ve done.

Neil Sinclair
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
Just tell me a little bit about when you got involved and why you got involved and why you’ are still involved.

Neil Sinclair
So I am a Trustee of Variety the children’s charity. Helping disadvantaged and disabled children. I joined it in 1972. I joined it for totally the wrong reason, I was invited to a lunch which was a tribute to the Miss World contestants and I sat next to Miss Brazil and I was young and I was unmarried and I was sitting next to this stunning woman who was a Doctor and after the lunch my host said do you want to join this charity? Where do I sign? So I signed and I have been involved in it ever since, it’s been great fun, we elect somebody every year called a Chief Barker who leads the charity which I did in 1991, my wife Pamela did it last year. We raised millions of pounds but in my year I wanted to get my industry involved in the charity so I formed an event called The Props and since we started it we have distributed nearly 2000 powered wheelchairs and we have raised nearly £10,000,000.

Elliot Moss
That’s brilliant and listen carry on doing that, carrying on having fun in the property world with your sense of humour and your tenacity by the looks of things as well. Neil it has been a real privilege chatting to you today. Just before I let you go what is your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Neil Sinclair
I chose Creole Love Call by Duke Ellington. My late father who died many, many years ago whenever he had the opportunity he played it and it is my favourite as well and that’s why I like it.

Elliot Moss
Here it is just for you, thank you so much.

That was Creole Love Call from Duke Ellington the song choice of my Business Shaper today Neil Sinclair. A funny man who also understood that the power of humour is a big one in business. Someone also who understands fundamentally that relationships are at the heart of what makes a business and an individual work and finally right the way through his career up to date and beyond he is looking for unconventional solutions to predicaments that he might find himself in and predicaments that become opportunities, really, really brilliant stuff. Do join me again same time, same place next Saturday, 9.00am sharp here on Jazz FM. Meantime stay with us coming up next its Nigel Williams.

Neil Sinclair

Neil has over 50 years’ experience in the property sector. He was a founder of Sinclair Goldsmith Chartered Surveyors which was admitted to the Official List in 1987 and subsequently merged with Conrad Ritblat in 1993, when he became Executive Deputy Chairman. Neil was appointed Non-Executive Chairman of Baker Lorenz surveyors in 1999, which was sold to Hercules Property Services plc in 2001. He was appointed a Non-Executive Director of Tops Estates plc, a fully listed company, in 2003 and remained so until it was sold to Land Securities plc in 2005. Neil was one of the founders of Mission Capital plc, now Watchstone Group plc, which was admitted to AIM in 2005, and was Executive Chairman until February 2008. He was also featured in ‘Top 100 Property People in Property Week’ in 2003.

Neil was elected Chief Barker (Chairman) in 1991 for children’s charity Variety, which he is still a Trustee for. He co-founded ‘the PROPS’, one of the industry’s leading events which has raised nearly £9 million for Variety’s Wheelchair Program. He is also a member of the Nominations Committee.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

My late father said, I want you to go to work in a shop because I want you to learn the value of money and how to talk to people. I’ve never ever regretted it.

The world of property looked pretty fascinating to me. I thought let’s give it a go.

My dad died when I was twenty and so we had to all work and I became a partner of a firm at twenty one.  You know I was probably the youngest partner they ever had.

My mother said, it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all: if you think you can go on your own and make it, do it.

I had this really friendly Bank Manager in Oxford Circus. I needed to borrow £1,000 and he asked, where’s the security?  I said, you’re looking at it.  He burst out laughing and said, okay.

There’s no better way to build a relationship with the people you’re hoping to do business with than humour.

The day I started, I got a letter hand delivered to my office from a very well-known property guy which said: Dear Neil, you don’t know me and I don’t know you. I need deals and you need commissions so let’s have a coffee.

That’s the business. You have to remember. It is your knowledge of buildings, of people and of property. You must have a memory like an elephant.

Experience is the word man gives to his mistakes. They say there’s no substitute for it.

I joined children’s charity Variety in 1972 for totally the wrong reason. I sat next to Miss Brazil at lunch when I was young and unmarried. After lunch my host said, do you want to join this charity?  I said, where do I sign?  I’ve been involved ever since.