Real estate, alternative real assets and other diversions

An interview with Damian Wisniewski Tim Green interviews finance director of Derwent London, Damian Wisniewski

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Damian Wisniewski received a Mechanical Engineering degree at Imperial College (1983) followed by ACA (1986) at Arthur Young (now EY) in London. He then spent two years post qualification in audit and then joined Stockley Park Consortium as FC and Co Sec. The shareholders were Stanhope Properties PLC, Chelsfield plc, Prudential and Kajima. Damian was then asked by Nigel Wilson (then CFO at Stanhope and now CEO at L&G) to join Stanhope and worked there from 1990-2 before being approached to join Chelsfield in 1992 as FC and later CFO. Chelsfield floated on the LSE in December 1993 and the business grew significantly up to 2004/5 when it was taken private and sold to Westfield, Multiplex and the Reuben brothers. Damian then spent almost three years at Wood Wharf (50% British Waterways, 25% Canary Wharf Group and 25% Ballymore) as COO running the JV, helping secure a 7 million sq ft mixed use planning approval in 2008. After that, Damian was approached to work for Treveria plc in the West End, a highly leveraged AIM listed vehicle set up by Dawnay Day owning €3bn of retail assets in Germany. Damian joined Derwent London plc as FD in January 2010.

Q-What was your first job and what is the worst job you’ve ever done?

My very first job was as a summer student at Thames Water where I had to investigate premises in central London (mainly Soho) which were declared by their owners as empty (and therefore not paying water rates!) – to check that they really were empty.  That was probably also the ‘worst’ though there were some interesting moments even then.

Q-Was finance your first career choice and what were you doing before?

I was keen on music initially (awarded a piano diploma at the Royal Academy of Music when I was 17) but realised that it could be a struggle to break through.  After that, I initially thought about an engineering career but, after a few months working at Lucas in Acton, decided that I needed to broaden my skills and wanted something more finance-based.

Q-Why did you choose a career in the commercial real estate sector?

Initially, it rather chose me as I was seconded by Arthur Young to a property development company based near Heathrow called Stockley Park Consortium (SPC).  This was in the late ‘80’s when there was a major development boom and it was very exciting.  I really liked the people I worked with and the product was leading its field – it was probably considered the pre-eminent business park in Europe at the time.  I later joined them as an employee.  From there, I moved to Stanhope who were project manager and shareholder at SPC and were involved in some of the biggest developments in London like Broadgate, Chiswick Park, King’s Cross, Ludgate Circus and Docklands.  From then on, the combination of product, people, big financial projects and capital markets activity had me hooked.

Q-Why do you enjoy the sector?

I have worked for some of London’s top developers and investors over a period of amazing growth in London while it went from a rather quiet capital city to a global hub which attracts talent from all over the world.  I also enjoy working with our professional advisers of all sorts, the bankers and finance teams we borrow from and our investor base.  It is a fairly close-knit sector where people all generally get on and respect each other – not something that applies universally outside of this sector!

Q-What’s a typical day like?

I’m based in our office at Savile Row in Mayfair but get out and about a fair deal seeing properties and meeting people. My job focuses mainly on running a team of about 25 in finance and IT, working closely with CEO, John Burns and other directors to keep the business running smoothly, leading the raising of finance, meeting investors and funders and ensuring reporting and governance are all properly dealt with.  We try to do everything well and have a fantastic team of people at Derwent London.

Q-Who or what has had the biggest impact on your career?

Definitely the people.  Early career – Stuart Lipton and Nigel Wilson gave me a great start in the property world, then Elliott Bernerd and Nigel Hugill were fantastic mentors at Chelsfield.  Ian Henderson was a strong and supportive Chairman at Treveria and finally, working with John Burns and other colleagues at Derwent London continues to be a high point.  My advice to people is to follow great people and learn from them as much as possible.  It has certainly worked for me.  I probably also learned a lot too from the demanding moments when things were tough in the early 1990’s and post Lehman’s.

Q-What advice would you give to people at different levels on developing their careers?

You must first try to find something you enjoy and find interesting. Then, I would really advocate looking for people you respect and work well with.  Good relationships tend to lead to more opportunities and it is then important to really get under the skin of a business and see it through a few years.  I am usually a bit suspicious of people who move jobs too frequently as it often takes a year or two to properly settle into a role.  If you have a longer tenure, you cannot then get away with creating problems before moving on to let others sort them out.  Then, believe in yourself, stick to your principles and try to treat people as well as possible – it will pay dividends in the long run.

Q-Who inspires you and why?

I am constantly inspired by the creative talent, commercial awareness and relationship-driven approach of all my colleagues here at Derwent London.  It really is a pleasure to come to work! I am also a governor at the Royal Academy of Music (where I studied as a junior exhibitioner) where the governing body, staff, students and alumni all make me realise the importance of hard work, dedication, love of music and the emotional responses that it brings.  There is so much good work going on around us, much of it unpaid, which often gets rather overlooked by our media!

Q-What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Hard work, dedication, humour and a strong sense of fairness hopefully make up for my lack of patience!  I try to build strong teams and treat people well and I find that they almost always repay me in kind many times over.

Q-What do you think are the common qualities that the best leaders have?

The Headhunter

About Tim Green

Tim Green

Tim has been helping real estate businesses with their senior recruitment needs for over twenty years. He has worked with a wide variety of businesses both in the UK and overseas. Curious by nature, Tim has developed an exceptional network, and numerous people have benefitted from his positive contribution to their careers. Businesses have benefitted from his ability to source exceptional talent. He also runs a quarterly Real Estate CFO Breakfast Forum with BDO Real Estate.

Articles by Tim Green

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