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Published in Commercial Property on 24/06/2020

Lunch with Claire Solon Greystar Ireland

#GreystarIreland #lunchwithCNI

CNI Editor reports

Claire Solon is Managing Director of Greystar Ireland, where she oversees Quayside Quarter at Dublin Landings development on North Wall Quay, and an ambitious development pipeline to grow a vertically integrated residential platform within Ireland through development and investment.  

Claire previously held the role as Head of Property in Aviva, formerly Friends First.  Some of her previous projects include Blackrock Shopping Centre, Enterprise House offices and Royal Hibernian Way growing the fund from €200m to over €500m.  Prior to that she worked at ESB where she was Head of Estates Management with responsibility for the ESB property portfolio and the ESB Headquarter office development on Fitzwilliam St.

A Fellow and Past President of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, she is also a Fellow of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors and has served as an external adviser on the government’s Urban Regeneration and Development Fund.  She is also a non-executive Board member of Home Building Finance Ireland (HBFI).

While she may be one of the most respected figures in the industry, the property industry’s gain has been veterinary’s loss. While she originally wanted to study veterinary, she says that she wouldn’t trade working in property for anything else now.

Happiest on horseback with the prospect of a glass of wine at the end, family is her driving passion both in and out of the workplace.

How do you start your day?

Usually it is up before 7, a quick breakfast before everyone is up, and then a walk to the office which I thoroughly enjoy as it gets me prepped for the day ahead. I drop the children to school one or two days a week but these days it’s a lot more relaxed in the mornings and I’m thoroughly enjoying breakfasts at home before starting in the ‘office’ upstairs.

Are you from a large or small family?

I am the eldest of three children.  My brother and sister both live in England and we are all looking forward to catching up when travel restrictions are eased as we get along really well, and it’s been months since we’ve seen each other.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a vet but thank goodness I didn’t get the points!  My mum worked in Bolton St DIT and Tom Dunne recommended the Property Economics course, so I ended up doing that although I really didn’t know what it entailed.  At the time I was really disappointed, but it has ended up being a real blessing as I love working in property and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

Where were you educated?

I started in a convent school in Mullingar and then went to boarding school in Alexandra College in Dublin.  I didn’t really enjoy secondary school all that much.

College was great though!  I did Property Economics which provided a good base in terms of overall investment and property-specific learning.  I made some great friends and often come across class mates in the industry – it’s lovely to see them progress in their careers and catch up on old times.

Have you ever had a mentor?

When I started out in the industry my first job was with Bennett Construction.  It was a great company to work for and Christopher Bennett was incredibly supportive.  If I had a query, he would not necessarily tell me the answer but would guide me towards it by asking questions until I got the solution myself.  He is fair in how he deals with people and I am so glad that was the ethos of the company in terms of my first work experience.   I also got the opportunity and responsibility to lead projects very early on – within my first week I was project managing a mixed-use scheme in Edenderry so it was a fantastic start.

At this point I have a good mix of people that I trust if I need advice.  It can be a stressful working environment, so I think a good support network is important.  I am conscious of that and try to support others in the same way.  Quite often people don’t realise the massive impact they can make on the mindset of someone beginning their career, or indeed working their way up.

How physically fit are you?

I would consider myself reasonably fit. I run a few times a week and do a bit of HIIT since I was introduced to Joe Wicks during lockdown.  When I took on my new role, I promised myself that I would get a proper hobby (I don’t class running/HIIT as a hobby as it is more something I sweat and suffer through!) 

I recently made the commitment to start horse riding again.  It is something completely different to do every week.  I also like snowboarding and have also tried sea kayaking recently which is such a wonderful experience.   For me, getting out in the fresh air and getting active is important both physically and mentally.

What is more important – ambition or talent?

I am going to have to give a politician’s answer and say both.  You can be supremely intelligent and talented, but you also need the drive and enthusiasm.   A good work ethic is incredibly important.

Where in the world are you happiest?

On the back of a horse galloping through countryside.  Ideally in the knowledge that there is a hot bath and a nice glass of something red and fruity waiting for me at home. Bliss!

What would you like to own that you currently do not?

I’m struggling with this one as I am really lucky in having everything I need.  If pushed, I would love a horse though the practicalities make it impossible. 

What drives you?

I have always been motivated but having a family has certainly increased my drive further.  I want my children to be proud of what I have achieved and show my daughter that you can be what and who you want to be.  I also really enjoy seeing people I work with, or have lectured, succeed and grow in their careers.  Life can be challenging and to see people work through the tough times and help them along the way is extremely rewarding.

What would you like to be remembered for?

I’d like to be remembered for being fair and contributing positively to the built environment in terms of the projects I have managed, changes I have helped introduce, and people with whom I have worked.   I also hope I have promoted and empowered women in the industry and removed barriers for people to grow and reach their full potential.  I’m proud of the projects I have managed and look forward in the future to rolling past them in my hover chair whilst boring the grandchildren on all the fascinating technical details of each.

What trait do you find most irritating in people?

Sneakiness.  Either making a career out of managing ‘up’ and taking credit for the hard work and achievements of others rather than actual professional achievements or providing false information to get a certain outcome.

What would 18-year-old Claire think of who you are now?

I think she would be shocked I’m not traipsing around farms for a living.  

What is the biggest challenges facing the industry now?

In the short term, the biggest challenge is working through the impacts of Covid-19.  There are going to be a lot of issues in terms of H&S and management on site, supply chain, costs, resourcing, programme, contractual disputes, and more. 

In a time when we desperately need housing, another impact will be a reduced residential supply this year and into 2021 at a minimum.  Funding is going to be important in terms of getting projects commenced and allowing them to continue and complete.

Affordability is also a challenge which will become even more contentious with the employment impacts felt by many people, particularly in certain sectors of the market.

Collaboration between parties is especially important and we need to work together constructively to solve problems and ensure that the negative impacts are minimised. 

The buildings we construct will be around longer than we will, and it is important that they add positively to the environment and are designed to consider future requirements.  They also need to be in the right areas to drive the use of public transport or walking/cycling.

Build costs can make the feasibility of schemes incredibly challenging in some locations but using our city centre lands makes sense from a sustainable development and proper planning viewpoint.  It is disheartening to see so many upper floors of older buildings derelict or unused as they are in locations that people want to live and work and would enhance the vibrancy of our towns and cities further.

There are opportunities as we deal with the impacts of covid-19 and we can revisit our conceptions of how we live and work and introduce better ways of doing things.  Flexible working environments will have impacts on living requirements, changes in commuting habits can benefit cycling and walking routes, the way we shop and socialise can become more sustainable. 

There are changes we can make now to our habits to enrich the quality of the lives of future generations.