Name: Vicky Cotton
Current role and team: ESG Director, managing clients and Workman LLP’s own ESG agenda, and driving effective performance for both. Chair of the Managing Agents Partnership (MAP) with the Better Buildings Partnership (BBP).
Joined Workman: 1996, as a Graduate
In what ways did your early years at Workman prepare you for your career in property and your role as a Director?
I’ve undertaken variety of roles at Workman and at all stages I have (literally and figuratively) rolled my sleeves up and got stuck in. In the early days that included managing our own and our clients’ office moves. From moving furniture and building desks, to managing the refurbishment of flats in Knightsbridge where we sourced light fittings, wallpaper or sofas for Lord and Lady Hanson. In all cases, the objective has been to deliver – on time and to the best of my ability – whether to clients or to Workman itself.
That same tangible delivery is becoming increasingly important in ESG, at a time when action must replace talk.
What did your Workman grounding teach you in terms of technical knowledge and softer skills?
While always being supported, the Workman way is to give everyone, at every level, a large degree of responsibility. It’s the best way to learn. Accepting that you will occasionally make mistakes but learn from them and move on, is how we all develop. That’s particularly useful now in ESG, as the goalposts change constantly, targets and aspirations evolve quickly, and we are all – to some extent – learning on the job. In terms of softer skills, I believe in being polite to anyone and everyone – no matter what their role or who they are. I learnt very early that property is a small world, in which it is important to get along with as many people as you can.
Were there any memorable projects you worked on that you now look back on as invaluable experience? If so, why?
There have been so many different projects, some memorable for the wrong reasons, but they have all helped me learn. One that stands out is when a huge storm caused considerable damage to a beautifully refurbished top-floor flat in Kensington during a roofing project we were managing. It was the Friday night of a bank holiday weekend and the couple who lived there called me – one in tears and one fuming. My bank holiday weekend didn’t turn out quite as planned; it was all hands on deck to sort out the problem.
The experience taught me that when things don’t go to plan, there are times when the only answer is to turn up, face the music, and sort things out in person.
What single thing did your closest Workman mentor teach you that’s been most valuable in your career so far?
I have had a few mentors over the years and probably worked directly with all the Workman senior leadership on various projects along the way. I’d like to think I have taken away different skills and approaches from all, particularly around how to organise myself and get things done. One that has stayed with me is to make sure I am not a “busy fool”. While I am far from perfect at it, I do try to work out what must be achieved in a day and then try and get the hardest (or my least favourite) job done first and out of the way. It gets harder and harder to get through long “to-do” lists with emails and calls constantly coming at us, but the skill of managing time and knowing when to shut out everything else to really focus (resisting the urge to multi task which, as a working mum, I like to think I’m an expert in!) becomes increasingly important.
In your journey to becoming a Director at Workman, what have been the most pivotal moments?
The first was definitely when my first boss left Workman and despite only having been there a few years, I was given direct responsibility for a number of his clients. I welcomed the challenge. Since then, the most pivotal point was coming back from maternity leave and being asked to manage what was then the very new concept of environmental reporting. Over the past 15 years, this responsibility has grown unrecognisably to become the Workman ESG team, and we have not looked back.
Thinking about your role as Head of ESG, what has been your most important achievement so far, and what would you like to see in the next five years?
Workman now offers a suite of services that Hedley Jones (Partner, Refurbishment and Development) and I have developed in the past few years, which we are really proud of. Our plan is to evolve the ESG service and embed it even more deeply across the entire business.
In the next five years, there will be big changes as we shift from easier wins to the bigger issues like data and smart technology, the removal of reliance on gas, and the wide-scale roll out of onsite renewables. By then, we will be even closer to 2030, which some clients have set as their Net Zero target, and also to MEES “B” deadlines. I hope we will be seeing a sharp focus on meaningful change.
At Workman ESG, we are very aware that everything we do has to be practical and drive asset-level performance. We are the nuts and bolts of ESG and we can’t afford to just talk about it – our service is dependent on action and accountability against these various targets.
Thinking about your new (additional) role as Chair of the Managing Agents Partnership (MAP) with the Better Buildings Partnership (BBP), what do you hope to achieve?
I am so excited to have been elected and am very much looking forward to the challenge. The BBP MAP Forum has come a long way in the past seven years particularly with last year’s launch of the practical (and open source) Property Management Toolkit. I want to build on that and am keen to see Property Manager training championed, along with the development of a Management for Performance Framework to follow on from its Design for Performance Framework. There is also ongoing work by the BBP to find ways to ensure that occupiers and owners are more aligned in data-sharing, which Property Managers play a central role in, and I am keen to assist as far as I can in pushing that agenda.
What do you think are the most important aspects of coaching and developing younger staff in your team?
Our team offers a comprehensive combination of skills across Property Management, Building Consultancy and sustainability. It’s vital that I bring those together so we can all learn from each other. I have also been where they are at Workman, and know how important it is that we all do a bit of everything, so the younger team members get exposure to all aspects of the job.
It is also important that the ESG team understands Property Management and Building Consultancy, being the two core parts of the business. This is how we will continue to ensure what we deliver remains aligned to our core ethos of practicality and value.
What advice would you give to our graduates just starting now, in today’s unique (post-Covid) circumstances?
Be willing to turn your hand to anything and everything. Grasp every opportunity, especially now that it’s possible to get back out there and see buildings routinely. For me, managing a property was always about knowing it and understanding it – asking questions of the onsite teams to understand how it works and how we can improve it.
In terms of ESG, it has never been more important for our Property Managers to understand how and why a building is running, before finding ways to improve it and make it more efficient. While it may seem like someone else’s job, they have the ability to make a big difference.
What attributes do you look for when recruiting graduates and junior staff?
When I first began to interview prospective new employees, I was told that I would recognise a Workman “type” of person. To start with I was unsure what that meant. Now I know that person is enthusiastic and brings a keenness to learn. This is more important than existing knowledge for me. I also look for signs they will fit in to both my own team, and the wider business.
Above all, it’s about a willingness to roll up their sleeves and get stuck in.