Five minutes with . . . Simon Pott
PUBLISHED: 17:35 13 June 2017 | UPDATED: 17:35 13 June 2017
Sarah Lucy Brown
Gina Long talks to the Bury St Edmunds based chartered surveyor and land agent about what makes him tick
How has your profession changed in the last 30 years?
The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors is a remarkably broad church with more than 100,000 members and, arguably, land agents like me have changed less than some. But the internationalisation has been extraordinary. I have been fortunate to travel widely, promoting the profession in China, where I presented the first six RICS certificates, Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai, Bahrain, most European countries, and intensively round Great Britain. That still continues to this day.
I was lucky enough to be president when I was 46 years old, so the difficulty for the RICS was what on earth to do with me when I finished. The solution they found was to offer me the chance to be chairman of the judges of the RICS awards, which I undertook for the next 14 years, and that was the finest job in the whole profession. I looked at about 450 of the very best projects in Britain and Europe up until 2011. Now I am convenor of the annual luncheon for the past presidents, which is a vastly taxing job. I choose the food and the wine, which is supplied by our tenants, Roux, in Parliament Square.
What is the best piece of career advice you have been given – and why?
Look the part, work hard and tell the truth even if clients do not want to hear it and are being difficult – and I have experienced a few! Punctuality is a courtesy. As my first boss used to say, “Simon, I will pick you up at twelve and a half minutes past eight.” And he was always on time. I believe in the ten second interview. If you have not looked someone in the face, shaken them warmly by the hand and smiled in that time you are already behind the curve.
And what would your advice be for anyone starting out in your profession today?
Go and talk to as many people as you can about what they do. Most enjoy telling you what they do – take advantage of that to build up a picture in your mind, rather than guess. Success can be deciding that you do not want to follow an example, just as much as thinking that could be exciting.
Your CV is outstanding – you hold chairman, trustee and other roles across various sectors. Why these organisations and how much time does it involve?
What is life if you do not take on board what is on offer? It’s not about doing as little as possible, but taking on as much as you can and stretching yourself to the limit. Do remember you are alive for a short time and then dead forever afterwards. I have loved the rich variety of things I have done – yes it has taken an enormous amount of time, but if you enjoy it, why not?
Highlights include the Royal Agricultural College where I trained to be a land agent and, once involved, stayed in a variety of roles, becoming a governor in 1988 and chairman between 2005-11, then vice president of what is now the Royal Agricultural University. There is a glass ceiling because the president is HRH The Prince of Wales. If you want to stay young you have to surround yourself with young people, but do not try to keep up with them – you could be disappointed.
My involvement with the American Air Force was as joint chairman – with the general – of the British/American Committee at RAF Lakenheath. That was fascinating. The range, value and capability of the equipment is staggering, and my hosts were charming. I was honoured to become their first honorary commander and I have the dog tags to prove it.
As a complete contrast, The Almshouse Association was an oasis of calm, the umbrella organisation for about 1,700 almshouse charities, housing almost 40,000 people. The charities ranged between two and 2,000 properties, from basic to grand, with some astonishing listed houses of real antiquity. We in Bury St Edmunds are Feoffees and Johnny-come-latelies, founded in 1481 and owning, amongst other things, the Guildhall and Moyses Hall (12th century).
Is there any organisation you haven’t yet supported, but would like to?
Once, I was on a list for a seat in Parliament, but as a Norfolk man who slipped down a county more than 40 years ago, I was only prepared to go for an East Anglian seat, while the powers that be wanted me to go to inner city Bradford. I told them where to go, and got on with the rest of my life.
Why is agriculture so important to our county?
Agriculture is central to our county. It provides so much of the whole tapestry of where we live and our leisure time. Times are changing and Brexit will do two things at least – the number of farmers will reduce and farming will become more precise, professional and exacting. When the support mechanism changes it will see some go out of farming, but give big opportunities for others. This will create an agricultural revolution and Suffolk needs to embrace it.
What does the Suffolk Show mean to you?
I enjoy the Suffolk Show hugely – for me it is the great social occasion of the year to meet so many people. Some think I am in the property world. I disagree – I am in the people business. My grandson, Wilf, gave a wonderful answer when asked his favourite day of the year. Was it Christmas or his birthday? ‘No, Grandfather,’ he said, ‘the Suffolk Show!’ I told the show president, now our esteemed Lord Lieutenant, who was tickled pink.
What did you want to be growing up?
I fancied playing professional cricket. I was captain of cricket at my school and I was given some really good advice by our coach, who said, “Simon, you are good, but not that good.” I went into good club sport and greatly enjoyed the camaraderie. I believe it is important for all of us to have an ambition all through our lives. I suggested this to my mother when she was 93 years old. She said she was far too old, but I convinced her that getting up in the morning would count, and she accepted that as both a challenge and an ambition. The ambition should be realistic, but push you to achieve it.
What has been one of the proudest moments in your life?
The proudest moments have been marrying Jenny, and the birth of our four children – all married and we now have seven grandchildren. Everything else is peripheral frippery.
Who do you most admire and why?
The living person I admire the most is the Queen. What an example to all of us.
What trait you most deplore in others?
This is a difficult decision between greed and rudeness – arrogance and pomposity.
Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
The dream dinner party would be my wife, Jenny, Richard Branson, Betty Boothroyd, Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Saunders – acting disgracefully – Barack Obama, Professor Brian Cox, Nelson Mandela and the American general who flew me round Britain in his F15. We would take the private dining room at The Northgate in Bury St Edmunds, where we lived for more than 30 years, when we called it Ounce House.
What’s the most important lesson life has taught you?
Get on and enjoy it all while you can. The opportunities will keep coming along and you either get involved, or you do the other thing. There will be bumps on the road, but never do anything which you would not be prepared to accept if someone did it to you.
What are your favourite Suffolk places?
It has to be Bury St Edmunds. Forget all this nonsense about county town of Suffolk – please just make it a city, Your Majesty.
What keeps you awake at night?
I sleep very well, but I have what I call my ‘waking hour’, when I turn over in my mind what I should do. I get up, create an email, then have breakfast, before reading it again and deciding whether I press send or delete. Someone asked if I worried about anything. My reply was if it would help to worry I could do so, but as no one had proved to me that it would make any difference, I will not worry.
How do you relax?
I go to sleep, even sitting in a chair. As long as I have done many things that day, that is easy.
What is your guilty pleasure?
It would have to be good food, good wine but above all good company – and people who will listen to my stories.