Origin Stories: Amanda Clack’s Journey Has Taken Her From Classical Pianist To CBRE Via 10 Downing St.
This series delves into the myriad ways people enter the commercial real estate industry and what contributes to their success.
The concert hall’s loss has been property’s gain in an advisory and businesses transformation specialist who now sits on the agency giant’s UK board, and who during her career has been a key adviser to the office of the UK prime minister and was only the second female global president in the 135-year history of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.
Bisnow: How did you get introduced to CRE?
Clack: On reflection, much began in early childhood through toys and games like Lego, a Hornby train set and Monopoly, plus my parents’ encouragement to follow a professional career. I always knew I wanted a career that wasn’t static, made a difference to the world around us and could evolve.
I did my A-levels and rather than going to do a full-time course at university, I did a day-release course at what is now Anglia Ruskin University in Quantity Surveying, whilst working as a surveyor. In today’s parlance it would effectively be like the apprenticeship model. I loved the built environment right from the start and this way of studying and working at the same time. I guess from that moment I have never looked back.
Enjoying what you do is paramount, and I love it because everything we do is about making a difference to the world and communities we serve through the physical, human and digital. I hope my epitaph would read “she made a difference.”
Bisnow: What were you doing before you got into CRE?
Clack: My career path has been a mix between business, coupled with a blend of construction, infrastructure and property. However, straight from school, and in parallel with everything else, I was also studying a teaching diploma in music, and I trained as a classical pianist. In the end, something had to give, and as I was more of a mathematical pianist than an artistic one, plus would never have been good enough to have a career in music, the music went. I missed it for years, but it’s why now I love being a part of the Development Board supporting the London Symphony Orchestra. I’m also part of the Surveyors Livery Company, where I am on the Court, and we support both the Guildhall School of Music and the London City Ballet. I so appreciate real people with talent in music!
Bisnow: What was your first job in CRE?
Clack: I began my career as a quantity surveyor in a small practice based in Stansted Mountfitchet. It was a great environment in which to develop and grow. The organisation always punched above its weight, so that too gave me headspace to develop, too. My father’s business was in electronic engineering, so from an early age I grew up with technology — so, it is probably no great surprise this has always been a passion of mine. Whilst in my first job, I helped develop what was effectively the early concepts of Building Information Modeling with the University of Marseilles and Elstree Computing. That was quite exciting.
I then moved to do a part-time master's degree at Reading University and worked in capital programme management, but then really developed into wider business transformation, which took me to become a partner at both PwC and latterly EY, where I was head of Infrastructure Advisory. It’s probably only now, at CBRE, that I feel I have my head and my feet firmly in CRE, so it really feels like coming “home” to the sector.
Bisnow: What kind of education, certification or official training do you have in CRE? How critical was it to landing your first big role?
Clack: I probably did all of this in reverse, in that I got my first job before I started my degree. That was quite a big deal as most of the students at my school went on to full-time university, whereas I chose to do a day-release degree that then led on to me doing my master's.
Getting my professional qualification was really important to me. I was so proud when I achieved my MRICS (Member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) status. To me this says you stand for high standards, professionalism and ethics. I then became a Fellow of the RICS in 1997, and since then am now also proudly a Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Institute of Consulting, Association for Project Management, Institute of Management, Chartered Management Institute and the Royal Society of Arts, plus I am a Certified Management Consultant and a Companion of the Institute of Management. So quite a few certifications now really!
I was particularly honoured to be given a Success in Business Award by Anglia Ruskin University and an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Westminster. These awards were so amazing to be recognised for.
I’d like to think all these have helped me “get a job” but really, for me, it’s been about wanting to be the best that I can be, particularly for my clients.
Bisnow: What is one skill you wish you had coming into CRE?
Clack: Probably the knowledge and confidence I have now, but at the start of my career — particularly the breadth and depth of the opportunities this incredible sector can offer. The built environment is like a multifaceted diamond, there are so many aspects to it and angles you can take, but ultimately the harder you work the greater the opportunities.
Bisnow: Can you remember a moment where you felt in over your head or you worried this industry wasn’t for you? Did you ever think about quitting? What changed?
Clack: Funnily enough I never worried that this industry may not be for me, but I do worry now, as we really aren’t changing the culture fast enough to embrace diversity and inclusion to create a place where everyone can feel valued and bring their true selves to work, every day, to be their best.
I’ve done some pretty “heady” things in my time; for example, I was in and out of No. 10 [working as a Mission Critical Programme Engagement Director bringing high-risk programmes back on track] quite a bit and that was certainly pretty significant; running huge teams delivering complex high-risk programmes to critical timescales; or setting the strategy and standing in front of an FTSE 250 Board talking them through what they needed to do. The hardest thing was always where people would be impacted by what I would be doing, and so I always gave myself time to reflect and make sure I was doing the right thing by them and for the organisation.
Quitting — no. Being able to do more — yes, certainly!
Bisnow: What were your early impressions of the industry, good and bad? How has your impression changed?
Clack: I have always been passionate about the industry. My early impressions were incredibly positive, to the point I never gave any consideration to not being able to do something for any reason. I just got stuck in and tried to do the best job I could, to be myself and make a difference.
My impressions have changed, as people have shared their stories with me it is clear that not everyone has been as lucky. We have such an opportunity in the industry in providing inspiring careers for people; my worry is how we tackle the war for that talent. It’s why I have co-authored the book Managing Diversity and Inclusion in Real Estate with Judith Gabler, from RICS. We both wanted to help drive the change at the top of organisations, give middle managers the insight to change and help those coming through to enter a better environment than those that have gone before them.
Bisnow: Have you had a mentor or sponsor? How did that person shape your future in CRE?
Clack: Yes, both. Three years ago, I also asked Justin Carty from CBRE to be my reverse mentor, he’s been super, and has helped me navigate my way at CBRE and kept me grounded in the business.
I believe everyone should have a mentor, and a coach if possible, too. Some of my best mentors probably didn’t even know that’s how I saw them, but independent wise counsel has helped me navigate my career.
Bisnow: What is a key lesson someone taught you, either kindly or the hard way?
Clack: One important lesson was learning how to write properly and to respect different people’s styles of writing. One of my clients at the Department for Education was a former speechwriter for Margaret Thatcher. He would read my business cases and would tweak a few words here and there, but the impact of those tweaks were gamechanging. I found him an inspiration. The reverse is true of a former boss in my earlier career, she would enter my files on the system before I had finished, print them off and red pen reports overnight whilst I was midway drafting them. I promised myself I would never be like her with my team.
I believe I am still learning and have much more still to learn.
Bisnow: What do you warn people about when they join the industry?
Clack: Consult. Consult. Consult. Have confidence, but if you are not sure, ask.
Grab opportunities, even when you are not sure where they will take you. You may be surprised where the journey takes you.
Bisnow: If you could do your career all over again, what would you change?
Clack: Nothing, to be honest. I’ve loved my career and the journey I’m still on with my career. One wish maybe is that I had the confidence then that I have today.