New London Architecture

Five minutes with... Will Kirkpatrick

Tuesday 14 March 2023

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

Will Kirkpatrick

Partner
Gerald Eve

David Taylor meets Will Kirkpatrick of Gerald Eve – a dyslexic himself – to learn about the important work he is leading on neurodiversity and inclusion issues through AbilityRE


David Taylor  
Hi, Will! how are you doing?
 
Will Kirkpatrick  
Very well, thank you. And yourself?
 
David Taylor  
I'm very good! I wanted to talk to you about AbilityRE, which was sort of unknown to me, the work that it does, but I know you're heavily involved there. Could you explain to me and our readers what it is, and what its chief aims are, please?
 
Will Kirkpatrick  
Certainly, I mean, it was unknown to me up to very recently as well! I was speaking last year on International Women's Day at the RICS.  I mentioned there that I was dyslexic. Following that, I asked the RICS to speak at the Neurodiversity Week, last year. And what happened was, I spoke to my colleague to say, look, would you like to come and join me, so we could have not just a boring old person like myself (laughs) and bring in somebody from different ages. And what surprised me was, that when I spoke to three or four colleagues, none of them wanted to admit to being dyslexic. That really surprised me. So that's point number one. I went on to do a piece for the RICS and then from that, I met up with Vanessa and Jennifer at AbilityRE. The charity is very, very new; it just established last year legally. Gerald Eve was the first company sponsor of AbilityRE, and we're very proud of that. The charity is for people from all different backgrounds, who are neurodiverse, have disabilities or hold special requirements. 
And at the minute, we just believe that the property industry is so far behind other sectors. I think my comment to you earlier that, when I have younger staff who are too scared to come out and admit they are dyslexic, in this day and age, that, in my viewpoint, is crazy. When I started my career, it was very, very challenging. And I think in my day (laughs) – I started my career in the year 2000, people just saw people with dyslexia as being a bit thick. I can understand that. But nowadays, I thought that the world had moved on. And it's only thanks to the RICS that I realized that the world hasn't moved on as much as I thought. And that's reason why I got behind the AbilityRE and join as an executive committee member to try and make a real change.
 
David Taylor  
Those people that you asked about their dyslexia, why do you think they were so reluctant to admit that? Is that because of prejudice about that from other people?
 
Will Kirkpatrick  
Very much so. And also, one of the gentlemen said to me, 'look, Will, I'm changing jobs probably in the next year or two and I don't want people out there knowing that I've got dyslexia when I apply for a new job, which just absolutely blew my mind away. Because, you know, the property industry, I love it dearly, and I specialize in hotels, as you know. I love it dearly, but you know, it is woefully behind on sectors and we do need to move forward. If you look at how many females are top directors or management of various companies, it's appalling. If you also look at how many gay CEOs and CFOs and so on, we have: again, appalling. And Neurodiversity and disability as well is another area where we really need to see real change.
 
David Taylor  
You mentioned real estate is lagging behind other industries and sectors. Which sectors are better performing, then? And how is it actually measured? If that's not too brash?
 
Will Kirkpatrick  
(laughs) You've asked the question! I sit on the RICS diversity and inclusion committee, and we've been trying to grapple with that question you've asked. People have said to me it's solicitors, and then when I speak to friends who are solicitors, you find that that's not the case. I do think it's probably more the tech companies, so Apple, Google, and so on, that probably have got a better [record]. But I just think, as I said to you, the stats are absolutely appalling, in terms of neurodiversity and disabilities. And also, there's not enough females in high in terms of management, and so on.
 
David Taylor  
And why do you think that is? I mean, is there a theory about why real estate is performing this badly?
 
Will Kirkpatrick  
I think part of the culture is...historically it was a macho thing. When I first joined, it was jobs for the boys. And also, depending on which school you went to. The sector has moved on massively from there…
 
David Taylor  
…Do you think?
 
Will Kirkpatrick  
It has, but it's still a long way to go. 
 
David Taylor  
I noticed from looking at the website of AbilityRE, that one of the ways of moving things on is through events, and there's an upcoming event later this year at Gerald Eve about how to be an Ability Ally. Again, I'm going to profess my ignorance – what is an Ability Ally, please?  I mean, I can guess, but can you outline it?
 
Will Kirkpatrick  
Ability ally - if you are working with somebody who is neurodiverse, or has disability, is actually coming along to an event like this, you can understand some of the issues that they face, some of the challenges that they face, and if you want to support them, in terms of their personal and social development. I head up the hotels team at Gerald Eve, so I want my team to be the best. And it's important for me to understand if they need any additional support, or there is any way that I can enable them to be the best. And I think that's what this is all about. It is basically either as a friend, as a colleague, or as a manager, coming to these events just to understand, taking time out to understand the challenges they face, and also, there's now computer software that's out there to help people, depending on their level of dyslexia and other neurodiversities that they can secure to make their life easier. I think it's all about really educating that people from diverse backgrounds have different skill sets. I can give an example: if one of my colleagues had to work late at night, I could work to two o'clock in the morning doing numbers: I love numbers and spreadsheets, being the sad geek that I am! (laughs). If I asked my colleague, Laura, she couldn't do that. But if you asked me to write a report to two o'clock in the morning, I couldn't do that, whereas Laura could do. So it's all about being the best team as you bring people around you. And so, Laura will write the report, and I'll do the numbers. And then we'll work together as a team. So it's all about that. You bring the best of somebody who can actually write reports incredibly well. And then somebody who can do numbers, incredibly well, so it's bringing their talents together. Because it's very, very rare, you can get somebody who can do both to exceptional levels.
 
David Taylor  
Just switching back to your own dyslexia, it's often been called a superpower in many ways. And I can think of some dyslexic figures like the late Richard Rogers, who were amazing people who got to the top of their own disciplines. Is it something that you can pinpoint the advantages of having, as well as the disadvantages?
 
Will Kirkpatrick  
Yeah, I think, for me, personally, it was frustration. And it meant I had to work harder than the person sitting next to me. When I first started my career, reading was quite complex; it was difficult. Whereas, now, when I go on holidays, I actually love reading a book. So if you told me that 20 years ago, I wouldn't have believed you. You learned that if somebody helped me when I was younger, I could have been much more advanced than I am today. But in terms of numbers, I can see things much quicker than some other people can; but then I can't write reports like other people can. 
It's all about this point of equality and diversity and inclusion; we've all got different skillsets, and we should just celebrate those. For hotels, we value by profits methods. So when I sit down and look at various spreadsheets, you know, I will spot things. As I said to you, I have got a very strong skillset there. But is that balanced? I think most people from a neurodiverse background, do have to work harder, and because of that they're more determined to proceed. But also, in some ways we probably, are less patient because you have to fight harder. And certainly, through my career, I've had to work harder than the person sitting next to me to get to where I got to.
 
David Taylor  
Well, congratulations on getting to where you have got to and also on this work, which sounds absolutely brilliant, and we will fully support it. Just one last thing before we end, it would be remiss of me, given the news of Gerald Eve's ownership changes to ask you about that. Any changes, you foresee from that?
 
Will Kirkpatrick  
Look, I started at Gerald Eve 22 years ago as a graduate and one of the problems with Gerald Eve is we've got too many staff that stay with us, I joke (laughs) Yes, we have been acquired by Newmark, which is the fourth largest global real estate company in the world. But our management structure and so on still remain the same. People like me, who have worked very, very long hours to grow our business from when I started 20 years ago from being a 30-million-pound business to a 90-million-pound business today are obviously very, very keen to grow that and to move that forward. And we're very proud of the DNA that Gerald Eve has put into it and we've got an amazing team around us. That won't change and if anything, it will help us to grow and to flourish more.
 
David Taylor  
Brilliant. Well, thanks again for your time and good luck with your work with AbilityRE.
 
Will Kirkpatrick  
You're very welcome. Nice speaking to you. 
 
David Taylor  
Thanks, Will 
 


David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

Will Kirkpatrick

Partner
Gerald Eve



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