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Landsec Chairman Cressida Hogg On How To Get To The Top In Business

Getting to the top of the tree in business, be it real estate or any other sector, takes planning, fortitude and a dash of personal PR and pizzazz.

That was the message from Landsec chairman Cressida Hogg, and she should know. As well as chairing the UK’s second largest REIT, including leading the search for a successor to Rob Noel, she led the infrastructure businesses of private equity giant 3i and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board

Landsec's Cressida Hogg and Real Estate Balance's Kaela Fenn-Smith

Hogg gave a rare interview, her first as Landsec chair, on stage at Bisnow’s Women Leading Real Estate event, in conversation with Real Estate Balance Managing Director (and former Landsec Director) Kaela Fenn-Smith. In a wide-ranging talk in front of an audience of more than 600, she shared her advice on topics including the hard skills needed to make it in business, how to shine when presenting to a board and how to build a personal brand.

She touched on the lack of diversity in real estate, and business more generally, but the advice she gave is pertinent to those looking to make it to the top, whatever their gender. Here are her answers to the key questions she faced.  

Fenn-Smith: If you had one key piece of career advice, what would it be? 

Hogg: Plan your career, especially if you have other things in your life, not just kids but other responsibilities in your personal life. Do something you love, because the pull of being intellectually stimulated and working with interesting and exciting people will be what keeps you going through the tough times. But don’t leave all this to chance. Plan the companies that you want to work for, spot the bosses that will help you and promote you. Keep striving for the next job, but also appreciate that there will be times when just carrying on as you are is the right thing to do, and keeping your career going is the right decision, not aspiring to be better.

Fenn-Smith: When you and I have spoken in the past, you've talked about thinking of oneself as a brand. Can you share your thoughts on this?

Hogg: Hilary Clinton, Angela Merkel, Christine Lagarde, they all have a brand they put forward. They dress the same way, talk the same way, and have the same persona in most situations. Perhaps that is because they are living in a media spotlight, but I would encourage you all to think about what the impression you want to put across is. 

How do you want to dress, how do you want to talk, what do you want your clients and colleagues to say about you? Where do you need to improve, because all of those women have worked hard at different elements of their brand. How do you communicate, both verbally and non-verbally? Build a consistent persona, be smart, attentive and a good representative of the organisation.

Networking at Bisnow's Women Leading Real Estate event.

Fenn-Smith: What are the hard skills you think are most important in making it to the top of an organisation?

Hogg: Work really hard at being on top of the technical stuff. Work really hard on knowing you are confident about the comment you’re going to make in a meeting, because you’re on top of the technical stuff. Then you’re in a position to ask the obvious questions, which is powerful because people know you are coming at things from a position of strength. 

Also, know when to shut up and listen — know when your contribution would rank as the dumbest thing of the morning, or the most intelligent. Always calibrate, make sure you are saying something that changes people’s perception of you.

Fenn-Smith: Once you’ve got those hard skills, how do you get yourself noticed in an environment where everyone is highly skilled and competent?

Hogg: Start to think about how you can advance your PR in a gentle way. Be clear about your achievements, make sure you position yourself so people can see you at your best intellectually, rather than just as an image. They get to know you personally and what you can offer.

Fenn-Smith: When people present to you at either a board meeting or investment committee meeting, what does good look like and what stands out for you?

Hogg: The first piece of advice is you have to presume that the people around the table have read the written materials that they have been given, so they are as on top of the brief as they want to be. Too often I see people come in to our board who want to prove that they really know what they are talking about, they really know the detail. They talk too fast and they say too much. I would rewind and step back and say, what are the key points, the elevator pitch, that I want to get across, and rehearse those. Get the order right, get the phrasing right, be very succinct. Then what you do is give board members or investment committee members the chance to do is dive into the one area that concerns them, or raise another issue. 

Because what happens if you rush in and talk too much and give too much detail, is you won’t get to the end of your pitch, and you will feel unhappy and like you didn’t put your best foot forward. And the people on the committee will feel that you added no value to the opportunity you were presenting to them. If you give people the space to ask questions, then that is your time to shine, not in the pitch you give. Less is more, rehearsal is key. Take a breath, stand up tall and be confident. If you read anything about how people make decisions, we all know 80% of it is body language and initial impression. Too often people who are inexperienced in presentation situations find that hard to do.

More than 600 people attended Bisnow's Women Leading Real Estate event.

Fenn-Smith: Have mentors played a big part in your career?

Hogg: I have had a lot of people who have been incredibly supportive on my journey, so yes, that is important. A few have been official mentors, many I picked up as relationships, or bosses I have had a good relationship with. 

I am not necessarily a fan of formal mentorship, because the chemistry is so important. And if it is just a blind date often it doesn’t work. I get a lot of approaches from both women and men asking to mentor them, and to be blunt I turn most of them down, because it has to go both ways and you both have to be committed to a goal that is greater than where you are now. But if you have people who are supportive or that you like, then ask them for advice, go for a cup of coffee, be respectful, don’t take up too much of their time. You can get a lot out of 10 shorter conversations than one longer formal mentor relationship that doesn’t work.

Fenn-Smith: You have recently appointed Mark Allan as the new CEO of Landsec replacing Rob Noel. As Chair, were you disappointed that you did not appoint a female CEO?

Hogg: Some of you here may disagree, but I think in every situation you appoint the best person for the job. I’m delighted that Mark Allen has agreed to leave St. Modwen and I know he’ll do a wonderful job. He was the best person that came through a very rigorous process, and there was a lot of diversity of many types in our shortlist. Perhaps not as much as some of us would have wanted, but there was diversity. But for the company I chair he is the best chief executive.

I know that will disappoint a lot of you. A lot of people have said to me, you are a female chair, you should have taken the opportunity to try and find a female chief executive. But I think whoever you appoint to a role as tough as CEO of a FTSE 100 company, you have to set them up for success.

Fenn-Smith: Based on the women candidates that you met with, what is the calibre of the sector's female leadership pipeline?

Hogg: I think we have enormous talent in the property market, and it has been a real privilege to meet both men and women in the process who are outstanding. There is talent. As a woman I wish there was more females at the top of large property companies. We have great examples like Lucinda Bell and Helen Gordon who have shown that you can make it to the top and succeed in very large property companies, but we perhaps don’t have enough women at executive committee level and the level below that, and senior people in the industry need to own that. We need to make sure we encourage, coach, promote and mentor women so that in five to 10 years’ time the picture might be very different.

Landsec's Cressida Hogg

Fenn-Smith: We've talked about managing children and a demanding career and you've spoken about “the decade where you never sat down when you were at home”. What do you recommend for those women thinking about having children or those who have young children?

Hogg: If you have young children, it will get better. Find a buddy who has older children, and see how much better your life will be. Children are life-affirming, and the best thing I have ever done, but the balance is tough. Pick the right partner and get them to stick around, because it is a partnership. Without someone who 100% supported my career decisions, and was prepared to put up with the many rough moments those decisions created, we would not be where we are today as a family. 

Secondly, don’t worry about the judgements. People have made judgements about me all through my journey: at the school gate, my mother-in-law, other women in business. You are never going to lead a life that other people think is perfect. But as long as your children seem to be vaguely on the straight and narrow, you’re doing OK. I now have three very opinionated daughters who say: “Mum, it was great you worked, now we look at those women who are in their late 40s and 50s, whose children are off at university who don’t have anything to do, and we understand why you missed the school play or the swimming gala.” They are the most affirming things about why you keep going.” 

Fenn-Smith: How do you go about establishing yourself as a non-executive director? 

Hogg: Think about it in your 30s. It will be easier to present yourself as the non-exec people want, and you have to remember, the company needs to want you. You need to give yourself the skills, so make sure you have been a school governor, sat on a charity board, been a non-exec in some other form, relatively young. It will help you see what it is like, to be a commentator on a board, rather than having your hands on a steering wheel, which is something people don’t know. Make sure you know what your sell is, which you need, because there are a lot of people out there who want a plural career.