Photograph: David Vintiner
Rupert Parker MRICS was an associate in GVA's office agency team in the City of London, prior to its merger with Avison Young. He now runs the firm's proptech incubator, and is also the co-founder of PropSki, a sporting networking club for property professionals.
"Head of futureproofing" is not a typical job title. How did that role come about?
During my time in the office agency team, I started to realise that the products that landlords were developing were no longer meeting the evolving nature of tenants' demands. So I said to my CEO "Look, someone needs to start advising on this". And he said "OK, what do you want to call it?" "Well, it's kind of futureproofing in a way..." "Great, order your business cards," he replied." A few weeks after that, I became head of futureproofing."
So what exactly does a head of futureproofing do?
I started off advising landlords, developers and investors on the adoption of technology to enhance their real estate offer. But it quickly became clear that I was spending only about 5% of my time with these groups. The other 95% I was spending meeting new technology startups, understanding their product and holding their hands into meetings with the landlords. So now I help these companies find a fit for their technologies, gain traction in the industry, and introduce Avison Young to the technology so it can consider how that influences the service we provide to clients.
"Like any business, real estate has to be inclusive and open to a diverse range of people and thoughts"
From your experience would you say the real estate industry is good at practising what it preaches?
The industry has a hell of a lot to do. Our clients aren't necessarily aware of the advances in technology being made, and it's up to us to give them the best possible service, and I think there's only a handful of agencies really doing that at the moment. There's been a big leap of faith with Avison Young trusting what I'm doing and that's been scary. But the responsibility involved in that has really driven me. It's about bringing people along with you, not convincing them, but showing them what's possible.
Do you think we are moving to a new era of the surveyor – of generalists rather than specialists?
We definitely need both. You'll still need specialists, for example, if you need a restructuring team to sort out distressed assets, that is a very specialist area of real estate. And generalists will typically try to join all the dots together and help the whole business move forward. But you're also going to need data scientists and analytical people, as well as the holistic kind of "visionaries" of space, who can see what's coming down the pipeline and say, right, we need to act.
How much does futureproofing refer to the people in the offices as much as the space itself?
So, so much. It's the people who create the culture around the business and therefore entice clients. It's like any business, you've got to be inclusive and open to a diverse range of people and range of thoughts. It's so important to get everyone to work together and appreciate other people's strengths. That is the key to a successful agency, or any firm in real estate.
Presumably that's where you see the function of PropSki and its related events such as PropKart and PropSail?
I always feel like the strongest relationships I make are in experiential environments. So what we're trying to do with PropSki is create experiences for people to bond over. More than that, we want people coming not just to PropSki, but into the property industry, saying: "I want to be part of this."