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An Evening with Dame Alison Nimmo and Brian Bickell

27.11.2019

An Evening with Dame Alison Nimmo and Brian Bickell was held on 27 November 2019 at Hogan Lovells in the city.

The latest in the popular 'An Evening with…' series, an 'An Evening with Dame Alison Nimmo and Brian Bickell', was held on Wednesday 27th November in the office of Hogan Lovells at Atlantic House.

Dame Alison Nimmo, former CEO of The Crown Estate, and Brian Bickell, CEO of Shaftesbury, drew upon their extensive experience in an engaging conversation. They covered not only the highlights of their careers but also the challenges they have faced in becoming hugely successful and highly acclaimed individuals within the Real Estate industry.

Alison originally started as a planning officer and her first big break was securing a job at Manchester City Council, where she helped to rebuild and regenerate Manchester town centre after the IRA bombing of 1996. She highlighted that this was one of the most challenging times in her career, but this did not stop her from turning adversity into opportunity.

In 2006, Alison became Director of Design and Regeneration at the Olympic Delivery Authority and played a central role in the successful London 2012 bid. She described the challenge of not only trying to deliver a successful sporting event but also creating a new and vibrant east London that continued beyond the end of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Alison was very humble when the conversation steered to the high profile properties she managed as the first female CEO of The Crown Estate. She led the business to record high revenues as a result of her careful selection of projects and disciplined market positioning.

Brian started his career as a chartered accountant before becoming Finance Director at Shaftesbury in 1987. After the previous Chief Executive of Shaftesbury stepped down, Brian was successful in securing the position as CEO in 2011. Brian has been at Shaftesbury for 34 years and he mentioned his drive towards recognising and embracing differences within the workplace and beyond. He hopes to improve the lives and prospects of those from all kinds of backgrounds, saying "if we are grown up about our differences, there is hope we can come together and address real problems".

In the Q&A, when asked what he would change in the early stages of his career, Brian emphasised the importance of being true to yourself, saying he wished he had just been more confident. He mentioned how he had difficulty coming out in a time where differences and diversity were not appreciated.

When asked about the current gender imbalance in the industry, Alison said that she thought there was momentum for change, but there is a long way to go. She recalled the 50% female board at The Crown Estate and described the diversity across the business in every sense, not just in terms of gender. She said this diversity was essential to the high-performing culture of the business.

Brian and Alison were also asked to share their top tips for those looking to progress in their respective fields. Brian said "education is not the be all and end all" and emphasised the many different routes to becoming successful that don't involve a degree. Alison's three top tips were: (1) find something that gives you a real sense of purpose and personal achievement; (2) be curious and try new things; and (3) when the going gets tough, remember humour, humility and cakes!

Guests enjoyed some delicious canapes and refreshments afterwards. We would like to thank Hogan Lovells for hosting the event and The Crown Estate for the refreshments.

About our speakers

Dame Alison Nimmo DBE has been the Chief Executive of The Crown Estate since 2012. The Estate has a capital value of £14.3Bn and returned over £343M in profits to HM Treasury in 2018/19. Alison worked on the London 2012 Games for over 8 years, originally as part of the bid team and then subsequently as Director of Design and Regeneration at the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA). Previous roles have included: Chief Executive of Sheffield One; and Project Director of Manchester Millennium (the taskforce that spearheaded the rebuilding of the City Centre after the 1996 bomb). She was awarded a CBE for services to urban regeneration in 2004 and a DBE for public service and services to the Exchequer in 2019.

Alison is also: a non-executive director of the Berkeley Group; a trustee of the UK Green Building Council; chair of the CBI’s Economic Growth Board; and a council member of Imperial College and Chair of its White City Syndicate.

Alison is committed to promoting greater diversity and inclusion across The Crown Estate, ensuring equal opportunities on recruitment, pay and career progression. Alison believes this is fundamental to helping The Crown Estate attract and retain talent and support a healthier, more productive workplace.

Brian Bickell qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 1976. He joined Shaftesbury when it was formed in 1986, and was Finance Director from its float on the London Stock Exchange in 1987 until he became Chief Executive in 2011.

Starting with £10 million of private capital in 1986, Shaftesbury now has a market capitalisation of c. £2.75 billion. It has assembled a portfolio of 15 acres of freeholds in the West End, comprising c.600 buildings, valued at £3.9 billion. Its ownership includes 600 shops, restaurants, cafes and pubs across 1.1 million sq. ft. in Carnaby and West Soho, Chinatown, Seven Dials and Fitzrovia.

Brian is a member of the board of Freehold, the London-based LGBT real estate professionals group. He is also a board member of The Westminster Property Association and chairs its Transport and Infrastructure sub-committee. He has recently become a trustee of the Young Westminster Foundation.

Through his board role at Freehold, and personal and corporate support for Real Estate Balance from its early days, Brian is a high-profile advocate for the imperative to improve all aspects of diversity across the real estate sector. Tackling this challenge requires engagement and practical support from industry bodies and corporate leaders as well as encouraging a grass roots change in attitudes, behaviours and aspirations at all levels through leadership by example.