Navigating New Horizons: From Online Retail to Commercial Real Estate

James Board | 28 February 2024

Embarking on a career change in your late twenties can be a terrifying and overwhelming thought. Filled with excitement, challenges, self-doubt, but with the ultimate aim of personal and professional growth and the satisfaction that you have achieved what you have set out to achieve.

In 2020, during the first Covid-19 lockdown, I started my journey, seeking new experiences and professional development, making the leap from the world of online retail at THG to commercial real estate at OBI.

Change (although scary), they say, is the only constant. As I said goodbye to the familiar world of e-commerce and started a transition into commercial real estate, I found myself embracing the opportunities and complexities of the real estate landscape, drawing on the lessons I had learnt whilst at THG.

With no real plan in place, but a goal to pursue a career in real estate, I resigned from my role at THG and set about figuring out the steps I needed to take to become a commercial surveyor.

My first stop, Sheffield Hallam University, a 1-year full-time MSc in Real Estate. My advice, be a sponge. From delving into property valuation methodologies, to honing my skills in market analysis and investment strategies, I constantly found myself relating back to lessons and skills learnt whilst working in my previous roles.

I was surprised how transferrable the skills I had developed at THG were, and how I was able to connect my general business experiences to the commercial real estate market, so much so that I wrote my dissertation on the “Economic impact of the Built Environment: Airport City Manchester”, where THG laterally moved their Head Quarters. Walking from the airport car park to the office each morning, watching firsthand the developments, including Hotels, car parks and the Terminal 2 expansion at the Airport, is one of the moments that truly influenced me in making the decision to pursue a career in real estate.

Armed with additional knowledge and a growing intrigue in the industry (which at one time had only been a pipe dream) and a freshly completed real estate degree, it was time to move onto the next chapter and find my first job in commercial real estate.

Vita Group, my second stop in the pursing a real estate career and my “second” first job! An independent commercial/residential real estate developer at the pinnacle of their sector, creating luxurious student accommodation across the UK and Europe. Vita Group allowed me to build foundational knowledge of real estate economics working within the Data and Insights team as a Research Analyst.

Working in a small team I was thrown in at the deep end, with no professional experience, I quickly had to learn about the sector, new cities and new countries. With the support of Head of Research @Rob Parker I found myself being given the opportunity to present my options on prospective sites, locations and opportunities to the groups COO and CCO, developing not only industry knowledge but also understanding the best way to present key information to different types of stakeholders. Reflecting back, this set me up with the foundations to confidently interact with some of the leading influencers in Manchester’s real estate industry.

Through my network, the opportunity for my third stop arose and in 2022 I joined OBI, a privately owned commercial real estate consultancy based in the Manchester.

My role sits within the Transactions and Asset Management team, where I have used all the skills, knowledge and experiences from both my educational and professional careers to carve out a hybrid role across leasing, investment, and research. Over the course of the next two years, I will be studying towards completing my APC and aiming to become a Chartered Commercial Surveyor at OBI.

My journey at OBI so far has been defined by invaluable opportunities to engage with and learn from some of the leading industry professionals who are redefining Manchester’s built environment. The workplace environment has not merely been a setting for daily tasks but a dynamic arena for meaningful connections and personal growth.

I have been fortunate to meet and interact with influential professionals, who have shared their wealth of experience and insights. These interactions have taught me that succeeding in commercial real estate is not just about the transaction, but also about the relationships built along the way.

My top tips for changing career:

Take the leap, go for it! What is the worst that can happen? You go back to your previous career, with new learnings, knowledge and development.

Education and training – familiarise yourself with the basics, whether that’s reading news articles, textbooks or going back to university.

Networking – don’t burn bridges. When one door closes another opens, but the key to the door that closed maybe the key that opens your next door.

Transferrable skills – don’t underestimate the skills you have already learnt. Without the analytical, numerical and strategic skills I developed THG and Vita Group I would not have been able to carve out the niche I have at OBI.

Patience and persistence – remember you have started a new career, you can’t compare where you are now to where you could have been, but know that being fulfilled in your role, in the right industry for you, will reap far greater rewards.

Adaptability – embrace opportunities for growth and continuously seek ways to expand your skill set. Your first role may not be your dream role, but it will give you the foundations to succeed in your chosen industry.

Build a strong work ethic – hard work and willingness to learn and develop, will always out achieve someone with a natural ability but a poor work ethic. No job or task is too small.

Ultimately what I have learnt from changing careers in my late twenties is that it is a process, and each step I take, contributes to the growth and success in my new career. With each transaction, interaction and day provides potential for both personal and professional growth in something that you love doing. Embracing learning opportunities and challenges is both fulfilling and rewarding, allowing me to progress to my end goals.


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