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Big UK Property Companies Are Starting To Look Outside The Old Guard For Chief Execs

New Hammerson CEO Rita-Rose Gagné

In the space of two days, two major listed UK property companies have appointed new chief executives, both of whom come from outside the norm that has been typical in the sectors for decades. 

Shopping centre specialist Hammerson has appointed Rita-Rose Gagné as chief executive, taking over from current CEO David Atkins at the end of the year. 

Gagné was most recently president of Growth Markets at the global real estate company Ivanhoé Cambridge where she had responsibility for $7.6B of real estate assets across Asia Pacific and Latin America.

The number of female CEOs at listed UK property companies can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Grainger, with a market capitalisation of £2B and run by Helen Gordon, is the largest to have a female leader. 

Hammerson has a market capitalisation of £625M, and was once a fixture in the FTSE 100, but the demise of the retail sector has brought the company low, and it had to undertake a rescue rights issue earlier this year. Gagné will have to guide Hammerson through a transition to becoming a mixed-use investor and developer at a time of incredible turmoil.

Elsewhere, St Modwen has appointed Sarwjit Sambhi as chief executive, taking over from interim CEO Rob Hudson in November.

Sambhi breaks the mould in two ways. First, he comes from outside the property industry: he joins from British Gas owner Centrica, where he was CEO of the company’s consumer division. 

Secondly, he is one of the few black, Asian or minority ethnic professionals to be appointed to lead a listed UK property company. 

In 2019 he won a Unilever Leadership and Kindness award, with the company saying of him: “[He] recognises that the most effective leadership skills are resilience, creativity and emotional intelligence.”

St Modwen, which has a market capitalisation of £696M, was previously run by Mark Allan, now of Landsec. Allan sold the company’s retail assets, shifting the focus to residential and logistics.