Amanda Clack - Head of Strategic Advisory at CBRE

Posted on 28 February 2019 by Susan Freeman

Susan Freeman
Hi, I’m Susan Freeman, welcome back to our Propertyshe Podcast Series where I get to interview some of the key influencers in the extraordinary world of real estate.  Today I’m delighted to welcome one of our key influencers, Amanda Clack.  Amanda is Head of Strategic Consulting at global real estate services giant CBRE, her 30 year career has already included partnerships at two of the big four accounting firms and Presidency of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.  Amanda has the distinction of being only the second woman to hold this office in its 150 year history.  Amanda is listed in Who’s Who and unusually has 44 letters and 1 word after her name on her business card.  Amanda is also the co-author of a recently released book, Managing Diversity and Inclusion in Real Estate which outlines key strategies to promote diversity in real estate and construction businesses.  Unsurprisingly Amanda has won many awards and accolades most recently she was shortlisted for Mentor of the Year at the Woman of the Future Awards 2018.  Now we are going to hear from Amanda on her career to date and her thoughts on the key issues facing the real estate and construction sectors today.

Amanda, welcome.  

Amanda Clack
Hi Susan, it’s great to be here, really exciting week.

Susan Freeman
Yes I know it’s been, it’s going to be a very busy week because you are launching the new book which we will get to in a minute so, I just wanted to start off saying it’s probably an understatement to say that you’ve had a pretty varied career to date, it’s included partnerships of two of the big four accountancy firms, Presidency of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, only the second woman in 150 years of history and you are now Head of Strategic Consulting at CBRE so the common theme seems to be property and construction but what is it that attracted you to the sector and what has kept you in the sector for so long?

Amanda Clack
Yeah I think probably I can summarise that as making a difference and what I love about the built environment is that you are making a difference to people’s lives every single day through effectively the environment that you are creating around them and that making a difference as really been sort of a theme through my career so whether it’s been doing business transformation for FTSE 250 companies or whether it’s actually making an impact at Board level within real estate and construction that’s what really motivates me.

Susan Freeman
And you’ve been described as a superb, strategic thinker which must stand in you in pretty good stead in all these roles but if you were asked to describe yourself, how would you?  How would you describe yourself?

Amanda Clack
I am quite dynamic, I am quite high energy, probably a bit of a nightmare in that regard if I am honest but I really enjoy people and I think it’s the impact on people that really kind of motivates me both in terms of my team and also the clients that I work with and I guess you know, that’s again one of the reason why I am passionate about the whole war for talent, particularly within real estate and construction because for me I love what I do, I feel incredibly privileged to be able to do the job that I have at the moment and that I’ve done in the past and through that actually trying to encourage more people to come and do the same thing.

Susan Freeman
And I am intrigued by this expression ‘war for talent’ because I sort of wonder who is fighting who and actually whose winning at the moment?

Amanda Clack
Well I think Susan it came out really from some work that we did with RICS in 2014 and that was looking at RICS futures and we had done some research with the Director of Strategy at the time looking around the world at where the world’s going to be in 2030 and through that effectively what employers were saying that they were most concerned about was actually the war for talent and really how do we get the best top talent into real estate and construction and that’s really where the tension lies and actually its things like you know, the likes of the more media technology type environments that are more likely to attract that top talent than perhaps real estate and construction because I think real estate and construction has perhaps unfairly had this pretty poor image particularly for people from minority groupings and for women to actually come into this world and I want to sort of myth bust that and that is sort of some of what we have been talking about within the book about how do you really start to drive that change so that people, whether its attraction through schools programmes, attraction into apprentice or graduate programmes and/or then retention in the workplace.  How do we keep that top talent and how do we get it in in the first place.

Susan Freeman
This is great timing because you are literally launching the new book now; Managing Diversity and Inclusion in the Real Estate Sector.  I mean it is something I know you know, over the period I’ve been in real estate has been talked about and the top real estate services firms for quite a long time have actually been recruiting you know, men and women almost 50/50 but the women seem to, they seem to melt away and I don’t know whether that’s something that you are addressing and how you keep, once you’ve actually got them to come into the sector, how you keep them there?

Amanda Clack
Well I think one of the things with the book is that this is about action not words which is kind of quite ironic given that we are talking about a book today.  What you are saying there is absolutely key because it came out through some research again that we did which was on the back of the Inclusive Employer Quality Mark and it is the first time that we got data from across the sector at the time from fifty firms, now there is about a hundred and seventy firms covering around three hundred thousand employees that signed up to the Inclusive Employer Quality Mark and what that base line started to tell us was that the senior level really get it now, I think they you know, they get the agenda, they understand the reasons why diversity and inclusion matters.  If you like the entrant level they look for firms for organisations that have a good social responsibility and they are diverse and inclusive in the way that you actually create the workplace but where it goes wrong is in that middle layer and it is particularly for people that are at their mid-career and a lot of that is actually about how do you support the leaders in that middle management layer to retain and keep that talent within the workplace once it’s actually in there and we are seeing that in all sorts of manifestations and I think it is why the gender pay gap statistics for this sector are particularly poor and you know, it’s a demographic issue that we have to kind of really keep pushing and nurturing that change through the pyramid.
 
Susan Freeman
It is interesting you say it’s action not words because you often do see a lot of words and people pay lip service but then things don’t actually change that much.  So would you say that over your career in real estate, so it’s been 30 years or so, that you’ve seen change in the attitude to women in the profession?

Amanda Clack
I think so. I think it’s starting to change and again it’s you know, one of the things I think why I love the front cover actually because its these two big cogs with two construction workers turning those cogs and you know two leaders kind of doing fist pumps underneath it and I really believe that together we can really start to make a difference by turning that dial on diversity and inclusion and I think I’ve seen it in my own career – I can remember you know, I went straight from school into doing a day release Degree and was working four days a week and literally you’d walk into a room you know, a networking event for example, and you’d be the only female in the room and I kind of, you either decide that you blend in or that you decide that you are going to make a difference and stand out and I think actually as I have got more confident through my career I’ve kind of really wanted to have that impact in terms of standing out.  I don’t know if you’ve seen Pearl, the lovely little Pixar cartoon that’s just come out…

Susan Freeman
I haven’t no.

Amanda Clack
…but she’s lovely, she’s a pink ball of wool that goes into a very male dominated environment and she kind of has to re-knit herself to actually blend in to wear a suit but then a yellow ball of wall turns up and actually she embraces the yellow ball of wool to come with her and then gradually you see the whole workplace change and I think that’s the sort of change that I’ve seen over my 33 years now in real estate and construction. But we still have such a long way to go, you know the statistics are awful.

Susan Freeman
I love the, I love the idea of re-knitting yourself actually.  I think that’s brilliant.  I know one of the things that you’ve talked about is that you know, women need to be more visible and more prepared to be out there and to be role models and there does seem to be a reluctance to do that so I went to a women’s property networking event recently and there were a lot of you know, young women there sort of really keen and enthusiastic but you look round the room for you know, the more senior role models and they just, they weren’t there so I think we could probably improve on that?

Amanda Clack
Yeah I think and it’s really, really important, again funny enough the last time I was in this studio we were doing some radio interviews, Sean Tomkins, the CEO of RICS and I and it was on the back of a YouGov survey that we had and it was looking at 13 to 20 year olds and basically what they look for and what their thinking was around construction and real estate and it was in 2016 and at the time Theresa May had just taken power and Hilary Clinton was running for President within the United States and what these young girls were saying was how important they felt it was to see the opportunity for women to take on those top roles clearly in that case in Government and in the public sector but also how, for them, having these role models within real estate and construction was just so critical for, for people to actually really sort of aspire to and I guess you know I feel that very much with the Women of the Future Network, so I have been involved with that since RICS sponsored the real estate construction and infrastructure category and you know that network we’ve got a lovely little WhatsApp group – hello to all the ladies on there – they are just fantastic but the support network that they have for themselves and that I am a part of, I hadn’t appreciated the difference that that can make and I guess it’s you know, one of the asks would be and again it’s in the book, you know, to form these networks whether they are informal, cross organisational or within your own organisation that these support networks whether its multi-cultural networks, whether its women returners, whether it’s a female network, whether it’s a BAME network, its actually getting people to come together where they can feel supported in the workplace and that’s really, really important.

Susan Freeman
And you’ve talked about the importance of mentoring and also reverse mentoring so how, how important do you think reverse mentoring is?

Amanda Clack
Yeah I think it’s, it’s incredibly important and it was Justin Carty whose actually he’s again written in the book, he… I knew him before I joined CBRE and he came up and we were chatting literally it was sort of one of the first events that I’d attended and he asked me if I would mentor him so I said ‘not exactly I wondered actually if you would reverse mentor me’ and for the first time in my career I have a reverse mentee and I think you know, we both felt a bit awkward about it for the first couple of sessions but we’ve kind of got into a really nice groove and I find that hugely invaluable to really kind of understand and be able to talk about things to him in a very different way so I’d really say to anybody you know, one get a mentor, in fact have several because you get different things from different people.  I think I’ve had people that have known they’ve been my mentors and other people I’ve just ended up having really great conversations with and also recognised that you are going to need those different people at different times in your career or your life and that’s okay to change those mentors around but also to think about you know, particularly if you are senior within your organisation or if you are senior in the profession, to look whether getting a reverse mentor is going to help you and also it helps obviously your reverse mentee.

Susan Freeman
Yes and I just wondered whether you have come across tormentors which is something that Pippa Malmgren referred to in an article she wrote recently for the Sunday Times and it’s not, it’s not a term that I have come across before but she was talking about how tormentors are as important to your career as the mentors because they are the people that stand in your way, try and block your progress, don’t like change and actually thinking about it that’s you know, you probably had your share of tormentors along the way.

Amanda Clack
I think that’s probably true and you know you can learn a lot from those as well because there was one individual, actually it was a lady and I think probably I learnt how not to be a manager from her.  She used to print off things that I hadn’t finished and she would mark them all up with red pen and then put them back on my desk for the next morning and I used to get really cross because I hadn’t even handed it over and I just, I hated that because you know it was kind of so obvious, at the time I was taking off quantities as a quantity surveyor and you know I was only about 20 and it was like, you know, just give me a chance I know what I am doing here, I just haven’t had a chance to get to that yet so… and giving people time I think is incredibly important. I had the huge privilege to work with one of the speech writers for Margaret Thatcher in Government and funnily enough he taught me how to recognise that everybody writes in a very different style but what he really brought was he would change maybe four or five words in something that I had prepared as a business case and the impact and the difference that that would make but he would always talk it through with me.  Now the difference, the stark difference between those two I think is you know, really important about how you manage your teams and it certainly sort of put me in very good stead I hope in terms of the teams that I’ve managed.

Susan Freeman
It is interesting talking about your, your woman manager because I don’t know whether you have come across Queen Bee Syndrome but the assumption seems to be made that if you you know, have one woman in a senior position she is going to really help all the other women in the organisation to progress but it doesn’t always happen sometimes you actually get the reverse and a senior woman actually doesn’t want, you know, she wants to be the only female and she doesn’t want to help you know, other colleagues get up the career ladder.  I have no time for that.

Amanda Clack
Personally I mean I find that just so irritating so I have this really strong belief that you climb the ladder and you bring someone with you and that’s men and women actually so I don’t think it’s either/or but particularly I think women need that help and that encouragement to come forward and to step forwards so I’ve, I will just bust through things like that and if I see it, try and call it out as well because I think you know, that’s just, it’s not really where you want to be and I don’t think that sort of sets a great example for anybody actually, for men or women and you know why wouldn’t you want to bring other people around because actually you know, particularly in this sector the diversity and the richness of the people that we can bring in is all about making it more diverse and more representative in the communities we serve and that’s hugely important.
  
Susan Freeman
You are absolutely right and it would be nice if everybody saw it that way but sometimes I think people feel a little bit threatened if they see younger people coming up who they think are brighter and have got better ideas but we need more people like you.  Just moving slightly, we have sat on a group together for Future PropTech which has brought together senior property people and bright tech people which I found very interesting and you know again highlighted the fact that there is still a bit of a chasm between the world of real estate and the world of tech and I know you are very much in that space as well.  Do you think that things are beginning to come together, that real estate is really understanding and embracing what tech can do or do you think we need to be doing more?

Amanda Clack
I think there’s a lot in that question actually.  I think the short version is we’ve got to be doing more, I don’t think we are anywhere near understanding the potential that tech can bring or the impact it’s going to have on our sector you know within the next three to five years let alone the next ten to twenty years and again you know, talking over my career I’ve seen the changes just really impact on a day-to-day basis and I think I can remember one of the events at MIPIM where it was probably about five years ago we started talking about PropTech and  you know maybe ten people rocked up and you know last year when we were talking about PropTech you had like a hundred and ten people so you know the difference that it makes and I think you know, future PropTech is another great example of that.  I think people are genuinely interested in it and genuinely interested in the impacts that it’s going to have and I think interestingly going back to that RICS Futures report that I spoke about earlier, one of the things that came out, so yes for employers it was the war for talent but interestingly for young professionals the one thing they were concerned about is how do I remain relevant in a changing world that’s you know, changing so fast and rapidly around me and when you think surveyors are probably one of the largest users of drone technology for example, so how we use and how we embrace that technology I think is going to (1) make our role more interesting and take out some of the more labour intensive elements of it and therefore that really allows you to bring sort of knowledge and experience in a very different way to your clients so if you can kind of get over the hurdles of effectively what tech can bring you and use it to the best advantage it’s got to be you know, really good for the future.

Susan Freeman
No it’s all, it’s all really exciting and I agree with you about the PropTech agenda just you know, looking at the numbers. I mean at MIPIM I think there is going to be a whole separate PropTech programme, I don’t know how we are going to divide ourselves up between that and everything else that’s going on but it’s really good to see.  You have said that one of the biggest lessons you took from your Presidential term is that a career in property and construction comes with responsibility and it is something I think that people are focussing on more and more now, the responsibility to give back and I just wondered if you, if you thought that the property sector has really grasped that now and that people are really beginning to see their responsibility to the communities that they are changing?

Amanda Clack
I think yes and no again is probably the answer to that in some ways yes, I think you are seeing a lot of people give I mean, yeah people give back a huge amount to communities and to doing things differently.  I think you know one of the reasons why again kind of just coming back to the book for a second, you know, why it was originally aimed at just at CEO level is because there’s still so much more that really we are asking of the CEO’s and senior leaders within organisations that they can do to really start to make a difference on this agenda and it has to start from the top so you know, I think whilst people give an awful lot and they are really looking to make those changes, I think one of the asks we would say with the book would be it would be great if you know all of the real estate and construction firms gave a copy of the book to their senior leaders and actually got the conversation going because that’s what it’s about.  Just to say all of the royalties from the book go to Land Aid and we felt that was really important so Judith Garbler and I who co-authored it with me, we really wanted to make sure that this was about changing the dial and it was about giving back and that’s really important I think.

Susan Freeman
Yes that sounds like a really, really good idea to get as many as people as possible reading, reading the book.  We haven’t really talked about your role at CBRE which is I understand it, the role was newly created for you which is an interesting concept so can you tell us a little bit about what the role involves?

Amanda Clack
I have a fabulous role.  It is really exciting.  It’s a great place to work and you know effectively we have some incredible clients that I get to work with as well and its very much at that senior level so really at Board level trying to work with Boards in terms of what their agenda is around real estate so whether that’s corporate real estate, transformation so what do they need to be doing, so occupiers and investors, bringing in technology through touched on technology earlier so how can you sort of bring in technology and use that for the advantage within the client and looking at aspects such as agility in work place and creating sort of an effective work place for occupants is kind of one of the areas and then also looking at things like place making so it’s kind of big strategic issues and within that effectively joining the dots within CBRE to make sure that we are bringing the best of the firm to our clients in every instance.

Susan Freeman
It sounds like a perfect role for you. 

Amanda Clack
It’s good fun.

Susan Freeman
It sounds, it sounds brilliant and I have to say that I am, yeah I think I probably told you this, I am a great CBRE fan having done my MBA thesis with CBRE and I was lucky enough to spend three months sitting in the office interviewing everybody from sort of Boardroom all the way down so I know what a fantastic organisation it is.  And yes so I suppose you probably quite a lot of your role would be encouraging your colleagues to embrace change and diversity and everything, everything that goes with it?

Amanda Clack
Absolutely and you know one of the things we’ve done is we’ve bought 200 copies of the book and they are going, some of the team are out in Dubai, the Leadership Team from Amir, they are all getting a copy and then all of our Executive Directors are getting a copy and it’s about having that conversation around the values and the behaviours that are really important and I think you know, for that reason if nothing else, if people just dip in to it and take something away, we’ve got some great illustrations in there as well from Farley Cats from the New Yorker and I just love it because you know, every time I am talking about the book I can see these images.  He’s got a great one which is walking the talk and the person’s got a pair of false teeth on a lead and the other couple’s got a dog on a lead and I can’t ever sort of think about walking the talk without sort of seeing that image or tackling the agenda is this lady kind of wrestling somebody with agenda written on them in a wrestling ring and that for me is tackling the agenda so there are some just great images in there and it just lifts the whole thing I think and that’s really important.

Susan Freeman
Well I think some of these illustrations are going to have to go on to the website along with the Podcast.

Amanda Clack
Definitely.

Susan Freeman
They are brilliant.  So we talked about the importance of mentoring and helping you know, people you know, coming up through the industry.  Did you have anybody?  I mean you mentioned a couple, a couple of people but was there anybody who was you know, a particular inspiration to you when you started out?

Amanda Clack
I think I’ve been… it’s funny because I was thinking about this, I was talking actually to one of my mentees and she said to me ‘did you have a mentor when you started out?’ and I am not sure that I did because I am not sure that mentoring was really that well recognised at that point in time and I guess I was quite lucky to work with some pretty inspirational people and therefore you kind of, you get something from them which of course is mentoring but it just didn’t have the label then.  Since sort of, particularly in the last maybe 15 years I’ve had a number of people that have helped and supported me through my career that have been that sort of safe go to person that you can kind of bounce the ideas off of and you can have, you know a really good conversation that’s in a trusted environment and what I really love about mentoring is that whether you are actually you are  a mentor or you are a mentee, you build up this huge trust and through that, a huge friendship with somebody that no matter what that stays with you really for the rest of your life effectively and I’d like to think that the people that I mentor I will have that relationship with you know, throughout their careers although you might not have a formal mentoring relationship and certainly the people that I’ve had as mentors I am still in touch with all of them so you know, that’s hugely powerful and that’s about building a network as well of course.

Susan Freeman
Yes I think maybe you know, it is easier now because as you say, it wasn’t something that was you know, was recognised and I know going through my career the things that I did because I thought well I am not being taken terribly seriously I’ll wear trouser suits and smoke cigars and see…

Amanda Clack
That’s probably taking it to the extreme.

Susan Freeman
… yeah.  You know it was interesting you know, you try things I think as you go along but there certainly wasn’t, I mean you know my partners were all men and there certainly, there just wasn’t anybody to talk to to say you know, I felt as if I was a bit of a trail blazer.  So people always ask you know what’s the best advice you’ve been given as you’ve gone through your career.  Any thoughts of what was the worst advice you were given?

Amanda Clack
The worst advice… I suppose it’s probably almost in the early career where people were, particularly at school funnily enough, where everybody just went to University and they forced me to apply to University to do a full-time course even though I said that I really wanted to do this part-time day release basis which again going back in the day was kind of quite unusual to be doing study that way and certainly for the school it wasn’t really where they wanted me to go so they forced me to apply for University to do courses that I didn’t want to do when I knew that I wanted to go into surveying so I think that’s probably the worst career advice that I’ve had and the worst advice but notwithstanding all of that, I actually stuck to my guns and you know, I am really pleased to say that you know they’ve invited me back to go and talk to the girls at the school and I actually ended up where I was an Assistant Governor with the school for a number of years of course as well which was you know, hugely satisfying to sort of think that you are giving something back and hopefully encouraging that next generation to come into real estate and construction and help shape the world around us.

Susan Freeman
So it all worked out okay.

Amanda Clack
It all worked out okay in the end yes.

Susan Freeman
Absolutely.  So what would you say is the key take away for the book if somebody is just going to dip into it and really wants to get to the essence of it?

Amanda Clack
I think we are using the hashtag be the change for a real reason and if I say read only kind of one thing it would be chapter 7.  It’s so exciting because I called in a number of favours from people who are representative of a spectrum of different aspects of diversity and inclusion within the sector and I have to say as the stories were coming through, so we asked them to tell their story and then give a message to the CEO within an organisation and every single one of them, I had my Bruce Forsyth moment every time they came through because it was like ‘that’s my new favourite’ so you are now my favourite and then the next one would come in and I’d think ‘that’s now my favourite’ so they are really powerful stories covering everything from you know somebody whose come from Africa as a refugee and worked his way up to be one of the leading planning Barristers to single mum to you know, somebody whose deaf and what kind of changes can we make within the work place to accommodate that so I’d say if you read only chapter 7, that would be brilliant and chapter 8 is a summary of all of the rest of the book so for busy people, that’s where I’d focus.

Susan Freeman
You mentioned that you are dynamic and obviously high energy and you clearly put an awful lot into your professional life.  You are also a keen musician I think and that’s another career path you could have gone along had you wanted to. I mean do you find time for music and for other things or is it, or is it work the whole time?

Amanda Clack
No you’ve got to have your breaks, I think otherwise you know, you’ve got to get balance right so I think you know whatever that is for you, whether its family, whether its hobbies, sports, general interests outside, I mean I love travelling so you know, it’s fantastic to go to some really exciting and different places.  I love photography, big into sailing and skiing and as you say, music as well so I am lucky enough to have a house in France and that for me is my escape pod so I love to go out there and you know, just kind of kick the shoes off and you know really enjoy the Joie de vivre, so the whole French life and things out there.  At the moment I don’t get out there often enough but maybe one day when everything else kind of comes to a stop that will be a great escape pad but I think you’ve got to have that balance in life and for me music is a fantastic outlet and you know it’s great, at the moment I am working with the London Symphony Orchestra on their Development Board and you know that’s great fun to get involved in something and it’s so different from the day job and you know, I find that really refreshing.

Susan Freeman
Well I really enjoyed that, it’s so brilliant to hear from a powerful female real estate leader who is leading the way and walking the talk on so many issues facing real estate and she’s also going out of her way to inspire and empower women coming into the real estate and construction sector.  I am certainly going to be supporting Amanda with the Be The Change Agenda so can you please all go out and buy the new book, its insightful, it’s a great practical guide plus of course all royalties are going to Land Aid, the property industry charity.  So that’s it for now.  I really hope you enjoyed today’s conversation as much as I did.  Please join us for the next Propertyshe podcast interview in a couple of weeks’ time.  In the meantime make sure you check out our Propertyshe website at mischon.com/propertyshe for all our interviews and programme notes.  The podcasts are also available to download on your Apple podcast app, the purple button on your iPhone and on Spotify, Downcast and whatever podcast app you use and do continue to let us have your feedback and importantly any suggestions for future guests and of course please follow me on Twitter @Propertyshe for a very regular commentary on real estate, PropTech and the built environment.  

Amanda Clack MSc BSc PPRICS FRICS FICE FAPM FRSA CCMI FIC CMC

Amanda is Head of Strategic Advisory at CBRE and is Managing Director for Advisory services, supporting clients on their strategic real estate agenda. She is a Member of the UK Board. 

She is also the Immediate Past President for the RICS becoming the longest serving in 123 years.

Amanda is on the Development Board for the London Symphony Orchestra.

Previously she was a Partner in EY LLP and PwC LLP. Amanda is a Fellow of RICS, APM, Institute of Consulting and the RSA. She is a Certified Management Consultant and Companion of the Institute of Management. She is listed in Who’s Who and has won various awards. 

Amanda is a published author and speaker on areas such as strategy, digital, cities, placemaking, real estate and the war of talent.  She is a strong voice on diversity and inclusion in the sector and has just published her second book on the subject “Managing Diversity and Inclusion in Real Estate”. 

Amanda was appointed to the UCEM Board of Trustees in December 2018 for an initial three-year term.

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