Origin Stories: Rokstone Founder Becky Fatemi On Going From Event Planning For Kanye And Beyoncé To Selling £50M Luxury Homes
This series delves into the myriad ways people enter the commercial real estate industry and what contributes to their success.
There are unconventional routes into the property industry, and then there is Rokstone founder Becky Fatemi.
Today she runs the only all-female brokerage operating in the rarefied air of the prime central London luxury residential market, which has sold homes worth up to £55M and rented properties for £1M a year.
She got her start in the industry after persuading the managing director of leading brokerage Foxtons to give her a job — while selling him advertising space. After beating company sales records, she struck out and started her own business.
Her background is far from typical in real estate. Until 1979, Fatemi lived in Iran, where members of her family worked for the Shah and the Pahlavi Royals. She fled the regime as a little girl with her mother and brother and settled in Putney, west London.
Today, through her business and mentorship program, she is trying to change the face of an industry that remains as white and male as when she started in it 20 years ago.
Bisnow: How did you get introduced to commercial real estate?
Fatemi: In 2000 (when I was 24) I had worked in fashion, retail and was doing a telemarketing job. I was trying to find a career centred around lifestyle that was sales-based, gave me freedom from the mundanity of routine and allowed me to work with clients. Commercial real estate (specifically buying and selling luxury property) was the answer, although it took a chance meeting to open that door.
Bisnow: What was your first job in commercial real estate?
Fatemi: I loved Foxtons (one of the biggest realtor firms/estate agents in London) and had admired the founder John Hunt from afar, following his journey in the press.
During my stint as a telemarketer selling advertising space for a hotel magazine, I spotted a job for a front-of-house receptionist at the Foxtons flagship office on Park Lane.
I applied three times for the job and was refused every time. I continued to work in telesales, but had an idea: High-end real estate firms should advertise in my hotel magazine — the client base is the same.
So I contacted Peter Rollings, who was managing director of Foxtons, and tried to pitch him a six-page spread in the publication. He appreciated my pitch but did not want to buy six pages. He did, however, want to offer me a job as a realtor/estate agent at Foxtons Park Lane — the epicentre of luxury homes in London.
Bisnow: What kind of education, certification or official training do you have in commercial real estate? How critical was it to landing your first big role?
Fatemi: It was my tenacity and energy that impressed upon Peter, he didn’t see my CV before he made the job offer. But I speak four languages — English, Persian, French and Spanish — having attended Putney High School for Girls and studied languages at UCL, and have been through a raft of sales training. My proficiency in languages has been of greater use to me throughout my career in selling trophy homes than any traditional qualification in business or real estate.
Bisnow: What is one skill you wish you had coming into CRE?
Fatemi: I started in property more than 20 years ago and at the time felt well-equipped relying on my instincts and vivacity. I have learnt the importance of preparation, time management and organisation over that time, but it was the natural gifts that really propelled my career.
Bisnow: What were you doing before you got into commercial real estate?
Fatemi: Before telesales I was working for myself, organising events in the music and fashion industries, working with world-famous performers who were on their way up at the time such as Puff Daddy, Beyoncé and Kanye West. There are huge similarities between working in music, fashion and property. All three are just different aspects of lifestyle services. All three are fast-paced and require the drive to work around the clock responding to different time zones. I did, however, have to adapt to a far more professional and corporate environment once in property.
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?
Fatemi: My shock rude awakening was the first [time] I stepped into a corporate boardroom comprising all white men. It is now 22 years on and this has not changed. I have been bullied in the industry and told I would never succeed on my own. For a while that rang in my ears.
But I had the energy and drive to change the narrative. Their comments motivated me and I strove to prove them wrong. One of my greatest successes at Rokstone was selling a property worth more than £55M.
Bisnow: What were your early impressions of the industry, good and bad? How has your impression changed?
Fatemi: My first impressions sadly remain relevant to this day. Property in the UK is predominantly male and white and archaic in its methods. Planning laws need overhauling, technologically the sector is not [as] advanced as others and it is still not legislated properly. There needs to be a magnifying glass held up to my industry.
I am extremely proud of my all-female, diverse team but the fact that we are totally unique in prime central London is alarming.
Bisnow: Have you had a mentor or sponsor? How did that person shape your future in commercial real estate?
Fatemi: Over the years John Hunt, the founder of Foxtons, has been my friend and mentor. He called a year after I struck out on my own to congratulate me and has been my sounding board ever since. Likewise Steven Conway, the founder of Galliard Homes, has been an inspiration to me. He has changed the face of London through his schemes and supported my initiative, Shadow to Shine, which places teens and young adults with little opportunity into work placements.
Bisnow: What is a key lesson someone taught you, either kindly or the hard way?
Fatemi: Don’t judge others by your own standards — you’ll be disappointed. It is key to hire passionate people who will emulate your entrepreneurial spirit while bringing their own talents to your business.
Bisnow: What do you warn people about when they join the industry?
Fatemi: You must be thick-skinned. I have been verbally abused by my peers when a deal has gone my way and not theirs, but I put it aside.
I would also caution that this is an industry based on commission and not longer-term objectives. This creates short-sightedness.
Bisnow: If you could do your career all over again, what would you change?
Fatemi: I should have shouted louder in boardrooms in the early days of my career about the lack of women and people of colour. Maybe I could have made an impact earlier. We now have to work harder and shout much louder to change commercial real estate, and the wider world, for the better.