Keith Steventon
Steventon Consulting

CVs usually work backwards, from the most recent employment to the earliest. I can comply with that in summary by saying that I retired from BNP Paribas Real Estate UK in February 2012 and started employment with Coventry City Planning Department in 1967, after three years at Manchester University. I prefer here to trace that path chronologically from past to present.

At Manchester University I took a degree in economics. Then, with their usual astuteness, the university careers office pointed me towards town planning and I joined Coventry City Planning Department as a planning assistant. I worked with the policy team where new approaches to planning were being introduced. I wrote an internal paper on gravity models and a second on road pricing. Neither made any impression. But then the local part-time course for the RTPI (as it was to become) made little impression on me. So I left to take a Masters in Urban and Regional Planning Studies at the LSE. Here I met the ‘New Geography’ imported from theUnited Stateswith its commitment to modelling and statistics. This provided an intellectual foundation for later work.

I moved to the Town Planning Department of Oxford Polytechnic in 1971, as a temporary lecturer in economics which expanded to include teaching quantitative techniques. This was a multi-discipline team where we argued over the nature of social sciences, included economics, from Marxist and non-Marxists positions.  Needing to gain practical experience, I took the post of head of research in the Planning Department at Buckinghamshire CC.

Buckinghamshire was a stimulating authority. Not only did I need to learn how to work with other departments but also with the new district councils, jealous of their new won powers. As if this was not enough, there was also the Milton Keynes Development Corporation, with special powers of its own. Now I had to develop an expertise in population and household forecasting as we plotted how much and where housing development was to be allowed, I was involved in two inquiries: on the structure plan and on the Third London Airport, where Wing was one suggestion. In the former I learnt how to clarify with objectors where we agreed and where we differed and from the latter how useful is the phrase ‘I hear what you say’. Used repeatedly by QCs when the witness introduced matters not worth pursuing, I have found that wives react badly when used to them.

After a decade, I sought new challenges. I applied for and obtained the post of head of research with Weatherall Green & Smith (WGS or Weatheralls) in 1988. Models and the market statistics needed to feed them were in short supply. But those we did have plus common sense was enough to show that the market was not merely going to turn but collapse. An instance course in diplomacy was necessary to put this bad news across to partners and clients. WGS was one of the original sponsors of IPD, I am pleased to say, and later one of the original sponsors of the IPD forecasting model. As a medium sized firm I was never going to have a large team and co-operation with and through IPD was clearly beneficial. At this point in its evolution WGS had an international network and there were jobs in Germany and France. Unfortunately we lost the network as financial pressures intensified. On the other hand focusing on the UK had its rewards as I began a regular tour of the regional offices speaking at client seminars. Each regional office has its own character. There is no confusing them. The public face of Research is the set of market reports we produced and despatched to thousands of clients. More stimulating are the individual client presentations where a ‘free and frank exchange of views’ is possible. The retreat from Europe reversed when WGS was absorbed by Atisreal, with branches inBelgium,France,Germany and Spain. Now I worked with the heads of the national and international teams to support clients. I suspect that the research teams found it easier to adapt to the new model than the fee-earning departments, for obvious reasons. Atisreal was only ever a temporary arrangement as the venture capital owners sought an exit. It was therefore a relief when BNP Paribas bought the company, guaranteeing a longer horizon to encourage clients and staff and greater resources to expand our work. In 2007 I was simply one among all property researchers, or Casandras, forecasting the property market collapse of that year, leading into the financial market bust of 2008. It gives one no pleasure since once again staff numbers have had to be sacrificed. In this sense I handed a poisoned chalice to my successor as head of research.

The Society of Property Researchers was still finding its feet, when I joined. Since then it has become an essential part of the property industry. The high level of technical seminars and conferences it holds can introduce the newest research methods and results to members. I have even heard SPR members about to speak to IPF meetings asked to reduce the technical content so as not to confuse the audience. I was able to serve as chair of the Society twice. It is a high complement to be asked to take on that role. But is also an opportunity to work with gifted and dedicated people, who also know how to relax, in and out of meetings. Becoming an Honorary Fellow of the Society enables me to reflect back on my career from a very high point.