Building connections and opening doors in the property industry

Harri John ’16 works for Cushman & Wakefield – advising companies on making the most of their real estate to support their business needs. She had wanted to be an architect since the age of seven but after a term of studying Architecture she changed her mind and switched to Real Estate. This brought her to Oxford Brookes.

Harri says, “Brookes had a good reputation for Real Estate and I already had friends there. When I looked into the course in detail, its varied topics really called out to me.”

And it wasn’t just the content of the course but the people who were teaching it that made an impression on Harri.

“I met David Shires, who was a lecturer on the Real Estate course and had been an architect. He was really the main reason I chose Brookes. I thought it was great that there were people in the faculty willing to take the time to make sure students were making the right decisions for their career.“

A “life changing” award

Although Harri had made the right decision to study Real Estate, it had been a big deal for her to change her lifelong ambition and at first she says she felt “quite lost” and “not really myself”. But she worked hard, getting the highest grades on her course in the first year, and the department put her forward for the Women in Property Student Award.

Harri won a regional round to get through to the national final. The results were announced at a black tie event at Claridges – a prestigious venue to match the prestige of the award which Harri won. And the impact of the award went far beyond a memorable night out.

“It was life changing! It made a real difference to my self-confidence and confirmed that I had made the right decision to change course. The award process also meant I met senior people in the industry.

“One of the judges offered me an internship at Cushman & Wakefield, and off the back of that I was offered a place on the graduate scheme which has led to my current role.”

Bringing people together
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Harri John

As well as the day job Harri is the co-founder of CREation, which she set up with Rosanna Lawn in January 2018. This inclusive property network helps people, who are new to the industry, make connections.

Harri explains, “It’s a very social industry so having contacts is a big deal. For people who don’t already have family in the industry, it can be quite daunting. We wanted to create something that would bring people together and give everyone the opportunity to make connections regardless of their background.”

Their initial idea was just to run one event but their plans quickly expanded. “We were advised to run one event a quarter – so we put that in our business plan. But the demand was so great we ended up doing one a month in 2018 across London and Manchester.”

CREation also run competitions that give the winners places on training courses or at conferences that would otherwise be too expensive for most young people to attend.

“I am particularly proud of these. We got 100 places at MIPIM UK’s conference. It was great having all these young people there. And the organisers were really happy and told me that we’d significantly lowered the age profile of the event!”

Things are changing for the better

The property industry does have a bit of a ‘male, pale and stale’ image problem – and that does reflect a historical lack of diversity in the industry. But Harri is optimistic things are changing for the better.

“It has come very far but there is still a way to go. There are people in the industry who do things in a less inclusive way but I think that will change as more young people come into the industry. There is a real focus on developing young leaders.

“We have a really good apprenticeship scheme at Cushman & Wakefield which is increasing the diversity of socio-economic backgrounds. That is important – just as race and gender diversity are.”

“Take every opportunity”

Harri herself is gaining more prominence within the industry and has been asked to speak on two panels at MIPIM 2019 in Cannes where she’ll be rubbing shoulders with some big names – the conference’s opening speaker is Ban Ki-Moon. But she remains very grounded.

“I try to enjoy what I’m doing and not look too far ahead. I was so determined to become an architect that I missed out on things through being too tunnel-visioned. Now I look around and try to take every opportunity that’s available.”

Words by Sirius Gibson

Find out about OBREMS – the alumni society for Brookes Real Estate graduates

Read about Real Estate alumna, Lily Simpson ’08 – the founder and CEO of Detox Kitchen