Tim Green speaks to Sandy Gumm, Chief Operating Officer of Prestbury Investments LLP
Sandy Gumm is an Australian-qualified chartered accountant. She is chief operating officer of Prestbury Investments LLP, which is investment adviser to Secure Income REIT Plc, as well as a non-executive director of Secure Income REIT Plc. She trained at KPMG in Sydney and worked for nine years for that company in Sydney and London, before becoming group financial controller of Burford Holdings Plc in 1995. Joining Nick Leslau and Nigel Wray to establish Prestbury in 1997, she was appointed finance director when Prestbury Group Plc was listed that year, later becoming chief operating officer in 2007.
Prestbury has also been an investor in, and adviser to, many substantial real estate businesses, including Max Property Group Plc, which was listed in 2009 and sold to funds managed by Blackstone in 2014.
What was your first job and what is the worst job you’ve ever done?
“My first job was a part-time position in a local record store (in the pre-CD era, which might tell you something about how old I am). I don’t think I can point to any terrible jobs, luckily, so I wouldn’t really describe any job as ‘the worst’ I have done, but perhaps the most eye-opening was working as a receptionist. I have never forgotten how routine it is for the receptionist to be treated really poorly, while the person a caller or visitor wants to speak to is treated like royalty.”
Was finance your first career choice and what were you doing before?
“My whole career has been in finance, though for a long time I thought I would either be a lawyer or a journalist. I had to rule out the former because I lacked the money to get through a law degree, and I realised I was probably short of both the talent and the confidence to really make a go of the latter.”
Why did you choose a career in the commercial real estate sector?
“Dealing with real assets rather than anything esoteric or abstract is a big part of the appeal. It is also a sector where the finance role seems to really have something to add. I’m in a transaction-based role, and piecing together bits of complexity between the commercial, legal, tax and accounting elements of a deal really appeals to me – and can genuinely preserve or add value. It’s always felt like an industry where the finance role allows you to score a few runs, not just count them.”
Why do you enjoy the sector?
“Deal structuring can be quite complex, and pulling together the various strands involves working with some of the smartest people in various fields, from inside and outside of the company and across various disciplines. That’s a real pleasure, and the feeling of delivering a deal together with the wider team is incredibly satisfying. We’ve been in business for long enough that we’ve figured out who we want to work with, and that includes having some fun along the way.”
What’s a typical day like?
“I’ll usually be in our office in Central London between 8 and 8.30am – beyond that it’s very difficult to say what will follow. Around reporting season for the public company, the focus will be on working with the finance and property teams to deliver all of the various reports to lenders, regulators, boards and shareholders. The five members of the finance team here are all experienced and really know their stuff, so my role is all about final reviews and checks, knowing that the hard work is basically all done. Outside of the reporting cycle, my workload tends to be very much dependent on deal flow, meaning that life in the office can range from very relaxed to very full on.”
Who or what has had the biggest impact on your career?
“Without question that would be Nick Leslau. Had he not offered me the opportunity to join him and Nigel to set up Prestbury in 1997, I’m not sure where my career would have gone, and I’m happy not to have had to find out.”
What advice would you give to people at different levels on developing their careers?
“What I’d always suggest is that any individual finds someone to mentor them, either from within or outside their organisation. It can take a bit of bravery to approach someone to ask for help, but remember that the worst thing that can happen is that the person you have asked says no. It’s worth the risk. We all need to be open to coaching at various stages in our careers, and that doesn’t stop at board level.”
Who inspires you and why?
“I’ve been very lucky to work with a lot of people who inspire me – and if I start to name some, I’ll offend others! It is true that we see someone’s true colours when they’re under pressure, and those who can keep both their heads and their sense of humour when the pressure is on are the ones I aspire to be like.”
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
“I think I could say I’ve got a decent amount of stamina and commitment, and that’s served me fairly well on a number of occasions. I think I can manage a moderate amount of multi-tasking but that’s not always a plus – there’s a point where it becomes counter-productive. I might also fall back on a national stereotype and say that, while I consider my Australian directness a positive thing, others might not agree.”