Advice To My Younger Self: ‘No matter what you’re faced with, be positive...’

Mark Oliver at Savills

Mark Oliver at Savills - Credit: Archant

Residential director with East Anglian property company Savills, Mark Oliver, offers advice drawn from his years in business.

Staff at Savills' Ipswich office

Staff at Savills' Ipswich office - Credit: Archant

How would you describe yourself at 18?

Like most teenagers I was more interested in having fun – I didn’t think too much about a career and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I was studying for an ecology degree in Edinburgh but I eventually gave that up and decided to go to South Africa. I was only visiting for the summer holidays but ended up staying for four years and studying animal behaviour. I then went to work for Zurich University for two years and also had a spell working in Rio de Janeiro for National Geographic before moving back to Edinburgh and joining the world of property.

What three tips would you give your younger self?

I think firstly, don’t take things too seriously. Don’t worry necessarily about getting on a career ladder and working solely in one profession. You can always switch to another.

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Secondly, keep working. It doesn’t matter what you do, but keep yourself in employment. That way you are always in a strong position when it comes to looking for other opportunities.

Thirdly – and I know it sounds like a cliché – but work hard, play hard, make both fun.

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Is there anything you would do differently?

I joined Savills and moved to East Anglia in 1982, so I’ve been working in property and residential sales for 37 years. I’ve enjoyed my time immensely. As an estate agent you’re in an incredibly privileged and unrivalled position. You meet lots of different people and you never quite know what challenges will lay ahead. It’s a huge responsibility because you are usually dealing with a client’s, often much loved, main asset. However, I think I would have liked to have tried my hand at a few other things before starting my career. I’d like to have spoken another language fluently and played a musical instrument to a very high standard. It’s never too late!

Are there any projects that you are particularly proud of?

When I joined Savills there was no Suffolk office, the county was served by Norwich and Chelmsford. But in 1987 I was tasked with setting up a premises in Ipswich. We had just six members of staff when we started – three in residential and three in rural. We now employ over 30 staff and have added new homes and commercial to our disciplines. It’s been very rewarding to see us grow and become one of the leading agents in the area. The success paved the way for more East Anglian offices in Cambridge, Bishop’s Stortford and Loughton.

What’s also very pleasing is the incredible loyalty of staff. We have a very low turnover – three of us have been in Ipswich since the office opened. We really are one big happy family and have a lot of experience to share with other members of the team. Most of those who have left have tended to stay within the Savills group elsewhere in the country.

Can you point to a turning point – a landmark – which told you that your business would be a success?

Starting the office in Suffolk was quite a challenge and I think the turning point was surviving the 1988 collapse of the market. That was when I first realised we could make a success of it. Around the same time I sold the first £1m house east of Ipswich and I knew we could more than compete with the other agents.

Why is Suffolk a good place to do business?

I love Suffolk. It’s a great place to work and an even better place to live.

It’s slightly ironic – as I sell houses to people looking to move here – but I enjoy the fact the county is relatively unknown. You don’t just pass through, you come here for a reason, so it’s still very much a hidden gem. Yet, the links to London are very good. The people here are also very modest and unpretentious. There’s no ‘keeping up with the Joneses’.

If you could relive one day, what would it be?

There’s a few that I could choose from, but if I had to pick one from the last few years it would be when someone close to me overcame a very serious illness. They survived against very considerable odds. It was a huge relief.

If you were to choose one motto what would it be?

My family motto is nil desperandum – never despair, so I’d have to choose that. No matter what you’re faced with – either in business or in life – it’s important to be positive.

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