In this very special series of exclusive articles for The Property Chronicle, Australian property legend Norman Harker reflects on his extraordinary 50-year life in real estate. He will pull no punches partly because, as he freely admits, Norman has a limited life expectancy of five years from December 2018 due to a diagnosed terminal blood cancer, which he has cheerfully accepted in preference to (in his words) “kicking the bucket without notice”. We are honoured he has chosen us to publish these brilliant, funny and incisive reflections of a lifetime in property.
Editor’s note: We interrupt this series with the finding of top-secret Norman Harker notes retrieved from the West End of London rubbish tip. JHR is John Ritblat. REB is Bob Bowden – Norman’s original mentor, who had been moved to head up the investment department. Mothercare retailed to mothers-to-be and toddlers. Dorothy Perkins (ladies underwear) we’ve met before.
It was bluebell time in Kent*. All quiet on the West End front. Office hours are 9:30 to 5:30. I arrived at 10:30 on Monday, having spent Sunday on a major development project – constructing a greenhouse in my back garden.
* Editor’s note: ‘It was bluebell time in Kent’ is a famous UK opening phrase of a landmark decision of Lord Denning. Norman once told me he was Master of the Toilet Rolls in the Court of Appeal – apparently a high judicial position and a promotion from his part-time job as a Lord of Appeal in the House of Fords.
REB “You should have been here at 9:30!”
Me “Why? What happened?”
REB “We’ve got a rush job! JHR has discovered that the freehold in XXX Oxford Street will be advertised in next Saturday’s Estates Gazette. The freeholders will give us until early Saturday morning to make an acceptable unconditional offer.”
Me “What’s special about it?”
REB “It involves three clients: Mothercare Pension Fund, Mothercare and Dorothy Perkins. The initial deal is around £2 mill and the follow-through ones a lot more. Longer term, the tower block above is interesting. It’s on a long lease to London University for students’ accommodation. JHR’s British Land will be acquiring the freehold.”
Me “It’s the best position in one of the world’s best retail locations. It’s got the highest values per square foot in the world. But can you get the principals to talk turkey or even cranberry sauce?”