Every week we will publish the Blocktalk Podcast interviews for those who prefer to read than listen!
In our first episode of the Blocktalk podcast, our MD Brian Welsh speaks to Dr Nigel Glen, CEO of ARMA supported by Jaxx Bruce, Marketing at CPL Software.
Nigel has an extensive International career in Downstream oil, Financial software, Investment Banking. He founded a property management company in of ARMA in he was appointed as ARMA CEO.
Blocktalk Podcast #1: Interview With Dr Nigel Glen CEO ARMA
Brian: So Nigel, thanks very much for joining us today. It’s great to have you on.
Nigel: My pleasure, Brian. Thanks for bringing me on and hi to you Jaxx as well.
Brian: Are you moving on from ARMA?
Nigel: I resigned as CEO but they asked me to stay on his Exec Chair and now it’s a bit more complicated than that because of the merger. So I’m still CEO and will be for a while and depends what happens with the merger. But the idea is, I’ll become Exec Chair if everybody agrees of course.
Brian: Right, okay. Just first thing to talk about I suppose, we’re in Scotland and you’re in, well London, I’m guessing have you found the pandemic has helped or hindered communication for you in your role?
Nigel: It’s a mix of the two, I think. As everybody’s found. Helped in the sense that you now do zooms and teams back to back, so you don’t travel between meeting so you get to see more people, but of course it’s faceless and it’s very difficult, particularly, we do quite a bit of interaction with Government and MPs and so forth. And what you want to do is to establish a personal connection and that’s quite hard when you’re staring at a screen. So, you know, there’s some plus and some, some, some minus, I miss my team, you know, I haven’t seen them face-to-face for I can’t even really remember what the office looks like and as we joke, if there was a dog there it would bark at me if I went in. So there’s the, on the whole, I’d prefer that Corona hadn’t happened to be quite honest.
Brian: Yeah, I must admit I did, the thing I miss and I did a post about this just after we all kind of went into the first lockdown and that is that you just can’t get any energy from Zoom. You can’t, you know, read people’s body language and you know, and yeah, it’s just you I missed the energy in a room that effectively is the best way to describe it, and hopefully now we’re getting back to a wee bit of normal. We’ve been back in the office a couple of days a week in Glasgow, so that’s been really good. So, talk to me about your position as CEO. So you were going to move on, you’re still there. There is a possible IRPM merger going on. What’s that all about?
Nigel: Yeah. Well, I was been CEO for five years and you know, there’s other things I want to do in life as well. So I sort of thought about it hard and decided it was time to move on. I think five is is a good life expectancy for a CEO but the board very kindly said, well, you know, is that really what you want to do? We don’t want to lose you and funny enough up popped the idea of me becoming Executive Chair of ARMA, so I’ve probably done the worst resignation in history. So I’ve resigned with the idea of stepping up to Exec Chair, but then the idea of the merger came along and so we’re working on that. So I have rescinded my resignation. So I’m still CEO of ARMA. But if both sets of the membership agrees, so there are quite a few steps involved. I’ll take over the role as Exec chair of the combined entity and Andrew Bulmer who’s the CEO of IRPM will take over the CEO role of the combined entity. But still, it’s up to the members.
Brian: Yeah, I met Andrew a couple of times. Yeah, interesting, interesting guy. So you obviously have ARMA down in England and Wales and we have Property Managers Association and Scotland. Do those two entities, talk? How did, how does that work?
Nigel: Absolutely. I’ve been up to see, Alison. She comes down. We invite each other to our various conferences and to dinners. So we work as closely as we can given that we’re under different legislative structures. I think an interesting one was when when covid first broke out, and I flew out to Australia, just before it happens for the October before to learn more about Strata and common holders. That’s coming over here and made some contacts. So, when covid came in, I got in touch with Alison, but also with my contacts in Australia and the States and then in Spain and we used to meet up late at night once a week to make sure we’re everybody’s time spans. Do sort of find out how other countries were being affected. So particularly Spain because they were ahead of the curve and whereas Australia was behind us. So we were trying to learn from a gentleman called Pepe about what was hitting them what their government was doing. So we could feed that back into government and to managing agency. So Alison, I worked very closely on, so there’s no competition. It’s just, we’re under different structures, different legislative structure. So we compare notes when we can.
Brian: Yeah, that’s that’s really interesting, actually, because I guess that it’s different challenges, free hold versus leasehold. And these sort of things. Talking about challenges. What’s been the most challenging part during your time at ARMA?
Nigel: I guess, if I look back over my career, I’ve been lucky enough to be sort of be CEO role, etcetera, where you’re in charge of your own destiny. So the biggest challenge has to be in this role, an awful lot of liaising with Government because you’re trying to affect something which is out of your own control. So it’s Government certainly works at a different speed from private. But of course, you know, yeah, in the past I’m used to saying, right I will do this. Whereas now I have to talk to somebody and say have you thought of doing this and they might have a different reason etcetera. So I think that’s the most challenging part trying to influence some a behemoth like government. Yeah, I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve come across.
Brian: Yeah, I can imagine that must be difficult. So in your career, is there a particular project that has interested you most?
Nigel: Yes. It’s an odd one. I very briefly did a stint as a consultant for the World Wide Fund for Nature because my background is as a zoologist, and that, that was fascinating, if horrendously depressing about what’s to the environment. It’s very, very down talking to people. You know, they’re going to kind of say, well, if this thing happens here, then it’s not going to fix this this, this and this, and this, and that will remove all of this. Because nature is very much, like, a very complicated watch. So that, that was absolutely fascinating, but depressing at the same time.
Brian: And how long were you there for?
Nigel: That was only like a three or four month consultancy, so they asked me to write their what’s called the extractive industry strategy. So mining oil. But what it turned out to be was a pre-cursor for climate change. So I was looking at, you know, how much how much fossil fuel have we already found? How much of it is in the ground? How much of it that we found can we, can we burn if you like what would happen if we didn’t burn oil, but did coal or gas Etc. So it was really looking at all those different aspects of it.
Brian: Okay, interesting very interesting.
Jaxx: So are you still very much interested in that? And that side the things, I’m sort of going off on a tangent here but I just wanted to ask whilst you’re here and if your background of zoology, what’s your kind of take on everything that’s going on just now around climate change and inaction. I’m still very interested in it.
Nigel: So I reached out to the WWF, a few months ago to say, look anything I can do to help because you never know. I guess I’m very concerned about it. I mean, to me, it is the greatest challenge facing us facing as you know, that’s my scientific assessment. My background of it because unlike many other things something, which sort of cheered me up a long time ago was. Well, if mankind wipes out all life on Earth, it will come back. But if you read that sort of Ludlocks later versions of Gaia, it’s a bit. It’s a bit miserable because it’s kind of. Well, there are there are ratchet. So if the sea heats up more than you know, I think it’s more than It starts to reflect too much heat and it changes its constituency. So there’s no way back from that. So it is it is a very difficult thing and I’d like to somehow contribute to in my own little way. But it what worries me is if we make it reversible and terminal, that’s a happy subject. But yeah, it is an issue.
Jaxx: We actually did some, some articles on sustainability within the property management industry. Is that something you’ve had experience of in the last few years, do you think the industry’s doing enough or could do more in terms of driving sustainability initiatives?
Nigel: The industry could definitely do more, the disconnect we have in the property manager Industry is it’s somebody else’s money, you’re selling and they might have a very sorry selling, spending so they might have a different version. You know, you might want to go and say if you install solar panels it will save you, you know, you can save the planet and they’ll go. Yeah, but that’s for five. So why would I pay for that? I work with the Home Office on some of their initiatives. So, looking at that, looking at how to get to Net Zero, that’s going to be a huge challenge, just just practical things. Like, if you want, an electric charging point, you kind of think that’s easy. Just put it in the car park, but then you’ve got to worry about what’s the size of the cable coming in, from the outside world, etc. So it is interesting as a lot of things going on. If you think we need to get, was it Replaced per annum by probably cost a few trillion, so who’s going to pay for that? And there’s, there’s a lot to go long to go.
Brian: So I only have really have one last question for you today. And then Jaxx normally moves on to some more quirky questions. But so your you were going to leave ARMA, you’ve decided you’ve decided to stay and stay on as executive chair of this all goes through. I’m guessing that’s not a full-time job. What’s the plans? What’s the plans for the future alongside that at the moment?
Nigel: At the moment it seems to be a full-time job. I originally joined ARMA on only two days a week and that it was like that for a couple of well, frankly until Grenfell. Then it sort of came full time. But no that, there are other things that I’m interested in doing. So as I said, it sounds like, I’m putting my CV out there, but they’ll be some in non-executive roles, there will be some charity work. I prefer example, I volunteered as vaccinators from a qualified vaccinator. So once a fortnight I go, go and stick needles in poor, poor unfortunate, people who probably don’t deserve me to do that. So there’s quite a few things. I’d like to look at the environmental side as well. But I’ll be in property management for quite a while because there’s a lot to do you mentioned the merger, those don’t happen overnight. There’s a lot of legislation coming that needs careful management. So, you know, the idea is to wind back if I can as much as I can, so I can do other things. And also selfishly just, you know, get a better work-life balance. I’m sure you’re finding one of the downsides, two back-to-back zooms is sitting stationary for a day is not very good for you. So I’d like to do a bit more traveling and just just just get a bit of my life back from that point of view.
Brian: Yeah, I do get, I do get that. Yeah, there’s them sitting sedentary for most of the day. But, yeah, try and get out and walk and try and get out and exercise. Try and get out and play golf, but then that is, you got to find the time to do it. So yeah, no, I do, I do understand exactly what you mean.
Nigel: Absolutely. So I’ve been lucky enough. A few people who approached me for more strategic roles rather than operational, which is what I’m looking for. So you can sort of fit them in and yeah, but I haven’t given it that much thought about. So luckily some people have contacted me, but we’ll see, we’ll see. Sounds like there’s a lot of work to do for the next year at least anyway, so that’s good.
Brian: Okay Jaxx. Do you want to to fire in with your questions?
Jaxx: Yeah. Sure. Before I do I just wanted to ask you, you mentioned a lot of legislation that you’re going to have to deal with. Is this to do with Grenfell and the cladding situation?
Nigel: Yes and that’s pretty much all I do nowadays. So, I joined ARMA as a CEO to sort of help a not-for-profit organization, but I’ve turned into a sort of cladding warrior on the behalf of the lease holders. So you have the building safety Bill, the fire safety order. I think I’d still like to put regulation of managing Agents in that. Because if you’re going to put managing agents, wouldn’t it make sense? If ever you’re going to regulate them to do it before you start? Putting that sort of level of money, through organizations, Etc. So there’s there is a tsunami of legislation hitting us. So the last two years. I’ve been filling out and answering consultations and sitting in front of select committees here, in Wales Etc. more and more. You can just see it coming.
Jaxx: Yeah, and is that going to affect, excuse my ignorance, the UK across the board, England and Wales, and Scotland will have to piggyback onto that?
Nigel: It’s interesting that actually, because I, the Welsh government is very progressive, I find. And so, I don’t do what’s gotta convince. I don’t know how you guys are doing. But the Welsh government is perhaps because it has a lesser problem if you like, but they’re much, they’re much more able to say, right? Tell you what we should fund everything and then worry about, who pays for it later. Whereas the the English government or /, UK government is much more circumspect about that about. All those bits, we can pay for a bit so we can’t we go. Well, that’s that’s fine. But then if you don’t pay for it, and if leaseholders cannot or will not, where does that leave us? Because as you know, service charges, there’s no there’s no profit. Margin that you can’t say. I will we’ll just take that out of the profit of a service charge. There, isn’t? There’s it’s a zero-sum game. So they work at different speeds. I mean I could be sitting in a country mansion in the middle of you know, the country with a moat and extensive grounds thinking, “Thank goodness. I didn’t buy a flat with cladding but somewhere in my chain is probably a flat with cladding further down. So it will have a knock-on effect. Because it’s affected the sales it’s affecting rentals, you know, it’s affecting the entire sort of living infrastructure of the country.
Jaxx: Wow, I’m surprised you sleep at night with all that going on! So yeah, Taking it into a little bit of a lighter note, and are three quirky questions that we like to finish with is the first one is, what’s your biggest failure across your entire career and what did you learn from it?
Nigel: My biggest disappointment and when I told a Jacquelyn at our end, she burst out laughing, but I applied to be a UK astronaut and didn’t make it. However, my friends got through to the last group which he loves to run my best friend. He still loves to remind me to this day. So that’s that’s a bit quirky. I you know, just fascinated by Science and Space Etc that then no great failures. Because I’ve actually been very, very lucky. My my first real job was with BP as one of their sort of blue-eyed boys at headquarters and they would send me around the world. Give me terrible responsibility, but also give you help there if you needed it. And as part of that they gave you great bosses with a development plan. So it was a very, very lucky way to learn how to get involved in business. I’ve been very fortunate and since then, you know, I’ve had again a very, very happy and lucky career people who work for me have gone on to do great things, which is always a real bonus. It’s nice to see people develop and move on. So no, massive fail is the only one which might be relevant, is I ran my own property management business for seven years and I use as an example for government because quite often, I’m afraid, I’ll hear people say, oh, yes, what problem, you know, property managers. You got your hands in these holders pocket, you make a fortune and I go, well, I didn’t make anything, I worked for free for each year we doubled and I kind of thought, next year. I’ll make some money next year. I’ll make some money. It’s a terrible business. So I suppose a failure from that would be I didn’t you know, I’m not I don’t own. The largest managing agent in the country because I have to seven years, just didn’t seem to be a way to make money out of it. Yeah, time to quit this, time to grit and time to quit getting that balance isn’t as simple as just there’s only so long you can you can stick it something before you have to say, enough’s enough.
Jaxx: Em so the second quirky question if you ruled the world for a day, Nigel, what would you do?
Nigel: It would be the climate change. So it does frustrate me when I see governments around the world saying, you know, we will be Net Zero by that’s just kicking it down to the next government. Let alone one in So we really do need to wake up to this. It is a current economic cost that is unsustainable. And it’s just terrible what we’re doing now that my magic wand thing. If I could do that, that would be what I’d love to do.
Jaxx: Cool. Nice. When you’re that magic wand that you could do that with. What will you be glad you did or feel proud of if it’s something you’ve already done or something you want to do a still?
Nigel: I mean some something that is quirky that I’m glad I did. I’ve been made redundant three times. And that’s frankly, the best thing that ever happened to me each time. Well because it takes you out of your comfort zone. So, yeah, you know, we talked about the things I’ve done in the past. When Brian was saying, Downstream oil, investment banking. There’s no obvious connection between them, but by being forced to Stop and start. Again. It gives you a very interesting view of life and I suppose that the lucky thing I guess was BP because being sent to live in different countries of lived in four or five. Now is just wonderful and learning different languages. Just just existing so far out of your comfort zone is great.
Brian: Yeah. Brilliant.
That’s really interesting actually should say that because I used to work pre starting CPL. I work for a lot of software business. There was a consolidator, so, They bought lots of other software companies and they were, they were private equity-backed. So, you know, they were there to increase their top line and the bottom line and when you, when you merge together software companies together, you’re going to have, you’re going to have redundancies. It’s just life. It just happens and you used to look at that. And I used to, I did an integration once of one of those businesses. In fact, that the two people who kind of ran that are now business partners of mine, and very good friends but when we went in to do the integration with me as the kind of I guess, the aggressor is the way we were kind of seen and you went in to do the redundancies. And you saw this utter disappointment and fear and everything on the people who are made redundant. And this utter kind of relief on the people who didn’t get made redundant who stayed But, you know, if you look at the people who actually were the ones made redundant, they are the ones that have moved. On quicker, they’re the ones that have because you’re put in a position where you’ve got to do something about it. And, you know, in the people who stay just stay the people who don’t the people get made redundant, actually have to go off and do something else and you, and you often find their careers flourish more than the people who actually stayed. No, it is, fascinating how that happens, but certainly I’ve never have done what I would. I didn’t unless somebody pushed me, it would have been just, just to safer thing to do, but, you know, It’s human nature.
Nigel: My first redundancy was voluntary from BP and the personal circumstances involved but I remember feeling very sorry for myself until I sort of shook myself and thought, why am I feeling Sorry for myself. I engineered this. I’m getting paid to walk away from a job and I was living in Turkey at the time and I was driving past and people who had living in tents by the side of the road. I thought I’ve been given more money than these people are ever going to have in their lives and boohoo. I’m feeling sorry for myself. Grow up, man up. But once it’s happened, once I actually find it strange. Now, if I see somebody with the CV that there’s no redundancy. I find it rather peculiar.
Brian: Yeah. Yeah. That must very fair point yeah yes because it is quite common. Okay. Thanks Nigel. That was brilliant. Thank you very much for giving us your insight into those questions and kind of your where you are on all these sort of things at the moment. That’s great. Thank you very much.
Nigel: No my pleasure hope it helps.
About the Blocktalk Podcast
The Blocktalk podcast started because of Brian’s drive and passion for adding value to the property management industry. He wanted to start a conversation within the industry, with a diverse range of people and professionals who can add something extra. As we start out, the aim is that the podcast offers some useful insight into the variety of views, opinions, thoughts, and foresights from our guests who include business leaders, industry experts. If you enjoy the podcast and would like to know more about how Brian can help your business, head over to brianwelsh.co.uk