U.K. Operations

Sarah Cook, Avison Young

Sarah Cook

Editors’ Note

Sarah Cook is a qualified Chartered Secretary, bringing together legal and financial skills. Her expertise lies in business management, statutory and legal compliance, and audits for U.K. and overseas entities. She began her career with an international perspective as Policy Director of the U.K. office of the International Chamber of Commerce.

Company Brief

Avison Young (avisonyoung.com) is a leading commercial real estate services firm, headquartered in Toronto, Canada, that provides investment sales, leasing, advisory, management, financing and mortgage placement services to owners and occupiers of office, retail, industrial, multi-family and hospitality properties.

Would you provide an overview of your role at Avison Young in the U.K. and your key areas of focus?

My job is to keep the business legal and dynamic. My role in managing the U.K. operations encompasses HR and personnel administration, employee benefits, client and supplier contracts, commercial insurances, financial oversight, IT systems and keeping up to date with U.K. legislation as well as regulations from the U.K. governing institution, Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.

My team’s objective is to support the professional staff so that they can fulfill their client-facing roles, ensuring that the business runs smoothly, backed by robust financial systems.

What have been the keys to Avison Young’s leadership in the London market and how is the firm positioned in London?

Avison Young is still building its profile in London and the U.K. The approach to leadership is consistent regardless of location. We focus on adding top talent and then delivering empowerment and autonomy. This, coupled with operational excellence, ensures that everyone can perform to their optimum ability within a zero-silo structure.

What is the state of the U.K. real estate market today?

Significant weight of capital from funds, institutions, sovereign wealth, etc., coupled with greater alignment on pricing, will hopefully see increasing investment activity in 2018 with a flow through to other service lines. Structural demand drivers, i.e. logistics, warehousing, PRS and student accommodation, should also provide activity. Outside those sectors, capital values and rents may retreat further from recent peaks. In the retail sector, there are signs of renewed occupier confidence.

Avison Young places a major focus on training and talent. Would you discuss the firm’s commitment to its workforce and attracting and retaining talent?

I tell our recruits that their experiences and opinions are the most valuable resource we have, that we grow with each other, and that they should never stop enquiring and always seek to share their learning. We will continue running knowledge updates, led by our own personnel as well as those from other business sectors. In 2016 and 2017, we provided business development workshops, which will be repeated annually for new hires. Most importantly, we will further expand our junior talent, putting more structure into our RICS professional development program. We ensure that our U.K. Young Guns actively participate in this global initiative. To retain talent, we need to keep talking to our people about what matters to them in their careers and ensure that we meet those aspirations.

What are your key priorities for the business?

We almost doubled in size in Q4 2017 when we added a Manchester office, so we will focus on ensuring that our new colleagues understand the Avison Young culture and have all the tools they need to work and to enhance the brand. It is critical that the new offices have all that they need to carry on doing great work for clients and that they feel strongly that they are key components of Avison Young and have a voice.

Our 2018 growth plans are to focus on those service lines mentioned earlier where we expect the greatest activity, to expand the consulting lines in our existing locations and to spread our reach into two or more key regions.