WIC 24: Jennifer Anderson-Mann’s inspiring career in property development

To celebrate International Women’s Day, Showhouse caught up with Jennifer Anderson-Mann, who tells us about her extraordinary career which led her from a lawyer to a nightclub owner, to eventually becoming co-founder and director of Brighton-based property developer, You Are Home.

Tell us a little about yourself and your current role

“I co-own You Are Home with my best friend Damian Frizzell. We went to university together and we have been in business together – in various ways and industries – since 2007. We set up You Are Home in 2014 to really champion sustainability within the building industry. We build design-led, well-thought-out homes that we would want to live in ourselves. We are also proud of having a diverse and inclusive team, which from my personal experience isn’t something I see enough of in the property industry.”

Where did your career path start after university?

“I went to the University of Sussex and studied law. The first job I had was working for Robert Lizar Solicitors based in Moss Side, a socially and economically disadvantaged area of Manchester. The firm served a really diverse section of the community and I found it an incredibly inspiring place to start my legal career. The partners I reported into instilled an incredible work ethic into me which I credit to my success today.”

You’ve taken a fascinating route into working in residential property – what were the major steps along the way?

“The first major step in my career was making partner at Farrington Webb (now Farrington Webb Griffith Smith) at just 28 years old. I was the firm’s youngest partnership at the time.”

“After 10 years in law, Damian and I spontaneously hatched a plan to open a nightclub in Brighton. After initially trying to buy what was then the legendary Zap Club, we found a building we really loved and went to London to pitch to the owner Antony Spencer who later became a partner and a mentor of mine and Damian’s for many years. We were inexperienced at running nightclubs and, to an extent, made it up as we went along, but it ended up being an extremely successful venture. Antony backed us to open two further nightclubs: another in Brighton and one in London.”

Did your own ‘property ladder’ experience spark an interest in working in this industry?

“Restoring and running nightclubs was such a fun time, but also enabled us to gain experience in renovating buildings. You could go quite wild with designing interiors of nightclubs because you weren’t designing a home for somebody to live in, you were creating a space for entertaining – so your imagination was the limit in terms of what you could do and that really enabled us to express our design flair.”

“We eventually sold our nightclub business and left with some capital and followed in Antony’s footsteps which led us into property development – it felt like quite a natural progression.”

Have there been any surprising differences/similarities working in property compared to the other sectors you’ve worked in?

Everything I have done, business-wise, has carried that stress threshold; having to be innovative to solve problems is a transferable skill which you develop and can apply to anything. I used to think my work wasn’t particularly creative apart from the design aspect, but I look at that very differently now – even down to the spreadsheets we use; they require such creativity to do the job intended.”

“Being an entrepreneur in whatever you are doing means the buck stops with you, which is a tremendous amount of pressure. You need to have a very resourceful mindset and the successes are generally short-lived, no matter what you do, there are usually more problems than achievements.”

“There are fewer women in the property industry than I have experienced in any other sector. I have pretty much been the only woman in board meetings at senior level throughout the entire time I have worked in property, 99% of the time presenting to a panel of men. I have always found that interesting, and a bit sad I suppose.”

“Being able to now grow a company which has a core team of 11 with five women feels great to me, and is something I am most proud of.”

What are your favourite parts of your role now?

“I get to work with my best friend whom I have deep respect for, and I feel so privileged that we’re still in business together after all this time. We have core values which are incredibly aligned – both advocating women’s rights, diversity and inclusivity.”

“We’re also huge advocates for sustainability; all homes we build are net zero, and not only are we delivering homes that are exceptional in appearance and luxury in specification, but we’re also committed to vastly reducing carbon emissions, both in planning and construction, and through the lifetime of the home. Our focus on leaving a legacy has influenced our decision-making beyond the demands of the bottom line.”

“I am also grateful for my team – we continually recognise that work isn’t everything and know it is important to have a laugh together too, as well as the problem-solving and hard work that goes into the day-to-day.”

Is there more that the new homes industry should do to attract people, especially women, to work in it, whether as a first job or later in a career?

“More than getting women into property development, I think it’s actually more about creating an environment from an early age that really champions determination and drive in females because that is what you need to succeed.”

“In my mind, I think a better question would be – What more could be done at school age to encourage women to become leaders? I know this is being done more now, but still not as much as it needs to be. I think those traits are historically more championed in men than women, and I think that’s something where a shift is definitely needed. It’s about breaking that stereotype that certain roles are for certain genders.”

Are there roles that you’ve seen in the property/construction industry and thought – I could never do that!”

“No. There are probably roles I have seen that I don’t want to do, but I have never been faced with anything that I thought I couldn’t do.”

What’s your advice for young people on taking their best first career step?

“Don’t overthink it. What you choose to do initially doesn’t need to determine what you do for the rest of your life. I have changed my career path three times from being a lawyer to owning venues to property development, and I think it’s really important at the start that you do something you enjoy and that you find a supportive environment in which you flourish. Then, don’t be scared to move on when the time is right to something new.”

“As long as you have a good start in any industry, you will develop invaluable transferrable skills irrespective of the sector that you have worked in, which then sets you up really well to do whatever you want to do next. Our imagination is our limit.”

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