Knight Frank reports strong performance in uncertain markets – Leeds office goes from strength to strength

Henrie Westlake, head of Knight Frank’s Leeds office

Knight Frank’s results for the past financial year show the firm now has than 19,000 people (up 5%) across over 500 owned and associated offices in 60 territories.

Henrie Westlake, head of the Leeds office of Knight Frank, said: “We have had a successful and productive year, despite the challenging economic and political times. “The Leeds office is proud to have made a significant contribution to Knight Frank’s success. The Partnership understands the importance of the UK’s regional cities with a collegiate approach that helps to attract the best possible staff. I’m pleased to say our team in Leeds, across all sectors, is exceptionally strong.

Highlights include advising Legal and General on the Funding of the £211m Government Hub at Wellington Place; the sale of the Project Vantage portfolio for Network Space for £93m: and the funding of a distribution facility at Logic for £60m on behalf of Muse. The refurbishment and letting of 33 Wellington Street to Walker Morris and the regeneration of 34 Boar Lane by Kinrise, to create superb office, retail and co-working space, were other notable successes.

“All are excellent examples of the strength and buoyancy of the Leeds occupational and investment markets right now.”

Mr Westlake added: “The outlook for Leeds has never been so positive, with the city having a real belief in itself; buoyed by unprecedented levels of inward investment. The quality of life in the city is unmatched in the country. Notwithstanding ongoing political uncertainly, there is every reason to be optimistic given the outstanding fundamentals both for the City and the Yorkshire Region.”

Alistair Elliott, senior partner and group chairman commented: “Coming off the back of a record year, we are very encouraged by our performance in 2019. We experienced widespread political and economic uncertainty that resulted in a slowing in transactional activity across many of our principal markets. We are continuing to invest heavily in our future with a focus on developing our digital capabilities, expanding our global platform and improving the environmental and working efficiency of our offices around the world. We are particularly pleased that our margin has remained very strong at 29% whilst absorbing the cost of these investments. We are committed to our independence and remain debt free.

“In the UK, our capital markets, valuations and residential lettings teams excelled and our regional commercial offices continued to perform very strongly. We also saw improvements in London residential sales, despite the difficult market conditions. Knight Frank Investment Management (KFIM) had another record year and its investment performance, as independently measured by MSCI, continues to out-perform the various peer benchmarks. Assets under management grew by nearly 30% to £2.98bn and, in line with a long-term strategic ambition to extend the business into Continental Europe, KFIM is now active in a number of European locations, including France, Spain, Germany and Central Europe.

“Our Continental Europe and MEA regions were generally stable with a record performance from our Berlin office and double-digit growth in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Asia Pacific proved more challenging with the US China trade tensions affecting a number of territories. Nonetheless, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand all delivered record performances, reflecting the increasing breadth of our capability in those countries, which have been built on consultancy and valuation capabilities.

“We continue to pursue a heavily transactional-based model across our group, backed by very strong advisory and consultancy capabilities, making us more sensitive to challenging trading markets around the world. We have great confidence that, as soon as a sense of political clarity and stability returns, we will see a marked improvement in real estate trading volumes, as pent-up investment and private demand returns to the markets. We also see immediate opportunities presented by emerging markets, senior living, healthcare and private rental sectors and are growing our capabilities in these areas.

“We are committed to growing our businesses around the world organically, coupled with the establishment of best-in-class associations enabling us to increase our presence in the cities and territories where our clients need us most and where we believe we can make the most impact. Over the past 12 months, we have added substantial capacity in New Zealand, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Hungary. We now have more than 19,000 people, up 5% year on year, across over 500 owned and associated offices in 60 territories, with a combined annual turnover in excess of £2.6bn.

“Our four global service lines, Capital Markets, Occupier Services & Commercial Agency, Valuation & Advisory and Residential remain central to our growth strategy. It is through the uniquely collaborative nature of our network that we have been involved in some of the landmark real estate transactions around the world. These include securing a 700,000 sq ft pre-let to a captive centre in Manila; being appointed to manage and operate one of India’s busiest railway stations in Bengaluru, and being appointed as exclusive broker for all transactions in Asia Pacific and Europe for NTT Limited (comprising 28 companies in over 70 countries).

“Our investment in technology has never been greater and, as well as implementing new trading systems, we have developed a digital strategy for delivery over the next five years.

“People are, of course, at the heart of everything we do. Key recent appointments include Rod Leaver, our new CEO in Australia, Wendy Tang, new group managing director of Singapore, Matt Tweedie, who has joined us to become group finance director next year, Edel McGrath, our new group head of IT, and a town planning team in the UK led by Stuart Baillie.

“There is no doubt that diverse teams are better for business and we are committed to increasing dramatically the pace of change as we continue to learn and adapt. We are pursuing a wide range of initiatives to address our business balance and have recently implemented a new training programme addressing unconscious bias and are working on a programme to effect radical change in our engagement with early careers candidates. Unfortunately, the current structure of our sector is such that getting to where we want to be is taking longer than we would like but we are determined to make real progress in this area.

“At 55 Baker Street, our headquarters, we are transforming our physical space to support a transition to agile working. We have already renovated our Shanghai, Guangzhou, Beijing, Hong Kong and Manchester offices as part of our wider programme of improvement. By modernising the design of our working environments, we are maximising the value of these spaces and promoting healthier, more dynamic ways of working.”

“In closing, whilst the geopolitical turmoil remains self-evident and the prospects of a slowing world economy increase, it is evident that real estate remains at the forefront of investors’ minds. I believe Knight Frank is exceptionally well placed to engage with this capital when it is released noting that, in the range of options, property returns still appear competitive. Our much broader occupier offering will add further valuable insight. We lead the field in engagement with private wealth, which enhances our residential activity and enables a much-needed conduit into the broader real estate arena.

“It remains remarkable to me that whilst activity is constrained in some areas, our trading year to date is similar year on year. There is enormous scope for growth and we remain committed to building our platform.”