Tim Green speaks to Caroline
Caroline Rouse has more than 25 years experience as a finance director within the commercial and residential property sectors and is CFO at the Noé Group, a technology-led investment and asset management group. Prior to this she spent four years helping establish two start-ups: one a design-led residential development company and the other a student accommodation platform in the UK and Europe.
Rouse was European finance director for London & Cambridge Properties for seven years, where she managed a number of overseas teams, leading on debt funding and appraising potential investment and development opportunities in retail malls and industrial warehousing. Before that she spent two years at a large London law firm as finance director and three years at Tishman Speyer Properties as director of European finance and accounting, managing the finance of the overseas offices for the execution of large-scale office developments. Following qualification as an accountant with Price Waterhouse, and two years at Grand Metropolitan’s food manufacturing division, Rouse was finance director at Stockley Park, one of the first business parks in Europe.
What was your first job, and what is the worst job you’ve ever done?
My very first job was a paper round at our local hospital (the Royal Free, London), which involved pushing a trolley of newspapers for sale around all the wards. Being young at the time, I couldn’t quite understand why people seemed a little furtive and guilty, emphatically saying they didn’t ‘usually’ buy the News of the World! My worst job was undertaking a stocktake as an audit trainee, counting huge bales of wastepaper products at Lowestoft docks. The place was infested with rats and I recall having to scale bales piled at least six high – not something health and safety would permit these days, I am sure.
Was finance your first career choice and what were you doing before?
It was my first choice, as I saw it as a good platform for starting a career in business (and I still do). But I did enjoy building design when I was a child (my father was an architect), and I toyed with both architecture – for the creativity – and engineering, as I enjoyed physics and chemistry. Had I been more aware at school of the possibilities in real estate I may well have chosen a different degree subject (I did mathematics) with a view to a property-related career.
Why did you choose a career in the commercial real estate sector?
I have always been interested in property, so when the opportunity at Stockley Park came along I was really keen to grab it. At that time the development of the golf course and the remaining office buildings was in full swing, and I very much enjoyed being part of that. The most attractive element was working with the professional teams and the construction guys, so it wasn’t all just finance.
Why do you enjoy the sector?
For two reasons, really. Firstly, as CFO you really get stuck into what the business does, such as transacting deals, putting debt structures in place, etc. You are front office rather than back office. This means there is very little routine – no month is the same – and getting a deal over the line gives everyone involved a great sense of achievement. Secondly, property is tangible: in particular I have really enjoyed the development side of things where there is an opportunity to be involved in the creation of something that may deliver lasting benefits.
Who or what has had the biggest impact on your career?
I think my tenure at Stockley Park had the biggest impact on my personal development. The role brought huge variety and experience at just the right time in my career (three years post-qualification): acquisitions, construction and development, sales, business start-ups, debt funding and managing leisure facilities. We were quite a small, autonomous team, which brought with it a lot of responsibility.
What advice would you give to people at different levels on developing their careers?
Think things through from first principles and make sure you pay attention to detail. Don’t just follow by rote and assume that because something has always been done that way it should persist. Businesses often welcome fresh insight into something, so if you have an idea that is well thought through, say so. Innovate and help advance the business: just doing what those before you have done will not bring results.
Who inspires you and why?
Maybe more admiration perhaps than inspiration, but Sir Joseph Bazalgette: his major achievement was the creation of the sewer system for London, and we still benefit hugely from it today. What I admire was his vision, his attention to detail and his sheer hard work. He over-engineered the project, which means the system is still functioning (albeit with modifications) over 150 years on, and he checked every detail himself. The impact he has had cannot be overestimated.
What are your strengths and weaknesses?