Profile: Our 2021 honorary doctorate recipient, Susan Freeman
Posted on: 2 December, 2021
We are revealing the latest recipients of a UCEM honorary doctorate all this week as we build up to our autumn graduation ceremonies on Friday and Saturday.
We have profiled our first two recipients, Sadie Morgan and Andrew Baum, and here, we share details of our third and final honorary doctorate recipient, Susan Freeman, and ask her a few questions about her career in real estate and what advice she has for new entrants to the industry…
Susan is a real estate partner at central London law firm, Mishcon de Reya. An experienced real estate lawyer, her in-depth understanding of the property market, the emerging world of tech and her business training as a Sloan MSc (London Business School) graduate, combined with a wide circle of contacts, is an effective combination. She is a member of the Mishcon Technology Group, which has recently launched MDR LAB – an incubator programme for tech start-ups in the legal space. She has also mentored for Pi Labs’s accelerator programme for PropTech start-ups since it launched and is a regular speaker on the PropTech circuit.
She is also a non-executive director of Cambridge-based residential developer, This Land, and is on the board of advisors for real estate investment company, Seaforth Land, and flexible working company, Work.Life.
Susan’s other roles include being a member of the diversity and inclusion advisory board at Property Week and vice chair of the British Property Federation’s (BPF) Technology and Innovation Group. Susan is a member of the new Urban Land Institute (ULI) Europe Technology and Real Estate Product Council and chaired the FUTURE PropTech advisory group which brings together key influencers in real estate and PropTech. She is on the board of the Central District Alliance and the Holborn and surrounding area’s business improvement district (BID), chairing its property group. She writes for Property Week on industry issues and is active on Twitter as @Propertyshe.
Susan hosts a regular Propertyshe podcast interviewing an eclectic mix of high-profile property influencers who define and make a difference to the real estate industry and built environment. The podcast series is recognised on Incube’s list of top commercial property and PropTech podcasts. She also undertakes regular speaking and panel engagements on real estate-related issues.
How does it feel to be awarded an honorary degree from UCEM?
I am very excited about this award, especially as it came totally out of the blue. As a lawyer by training, it is particularly meaningful to me to be recognised by UCEM – the bastion of learning for real estate and the built environment.
How do you reflect on your career so far?
I have been really fortunate to have spent my career to date immersed in real estate – a sector that I am absolutely passionate about. I realised this 20 years ago when, as the only student with a real estate background on the London Business School Sloan MBA programme (and possibly the entire student body), I emerged from the course wanting to build bridges between the business school community and the property industry. I also wanted to do what I could to encourage change and innovation in a sector I now knew was well behind other sectors in embracing such concepts as customer service and brand. Things have moved on but there is still much work to do.
How did you become interested in real estate and PropTech?
I trained at a London law firm which specialised in commercial real estate and acted for many of the leading real estate developers of the time. As a junior lawyer, I was allowed the invaluable opportunity to meet and work with some of the leading lights of the industry who were literally changing the face of London.
PropTech came a little later. My MBA experience taught me to embrace change and innovation which, historically, the real estate industry has not excelled at. So, when PropTech first came onto the agenda, I gravitated towards like-minded people who were also pushing for change. As a result, I am on the ULI Tech Product Council and vice chair of the BPF Technology and Innovation Group, which are both excellent forums for the promotion of technology which can benefit the sector.
I am a partner in London law firm, Mishcon de Reya, which embraced technology early on and, unusually for a law firm, we run our own incubator for technology start-ups which provides a useful reciprocal learning experience and has nurtured some successful new ventures.
What advice would you give to others starting out their career in the real estate industry, and what developments do you foresee new starters in the industry will have to grapple with moving forward?
The pace of change is greater now than it has ever been which presents both opportunities and challenges, particularly for those just starting their real estate careers. The great opportunity is for the real estate industry to be at the forefront of these changes.
The challenge, of course, is huge as, along with the new technology-driven changes which are enabling us to reassess how we live and work, there is also the environmental, social and governance (ESG) agenda, which is causing us to evaluate the way we have historically built and managed real estate.
With real estate and the built environment seen to be responsible for 40% of global carbon emissions, the focus will be firmly on the real estate industry to lead on carbon reduction. The next generation will be key to how we deal with these long-term challenges so it will be more important than ever to keep up with, and embrace, the seismic changes and to take every opportunity to network with, and learn from, others both in real estate and other sectors.
Whilst the real estate industry has so many great stories to tell about creating places and communities, we don’t always manage to communicate those positive messages. We really need the next generation of real estate professionals to be far better at telling those stories.
Thanks for the advice, Susan, and congratulations on the honorary doctorate! To keep up to date with our graduation build-up and coverage, look out for posts on our Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook channels!
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