Sellar, the developer behind London’s tallest skyscraper the Shard, has hired two well-known investment management experts to broaden its sources of capital and strengthen its ESG credentials.
Duncan Owen, the former global head of real estate at Schroders, and Kiran Pital, global CIO and deputy CEO of Savills Investment Management, have been appointed non-executive advisers.
Sellar, which has 3m sqft of developments in the pipeline, said the appointments, effective immediately, reflected its “desire to strengthen its governance and continue to evolve its business as a long-term specialist developer and asset manager alongside existing and new partners”.
Owen and Patel are both highly experienced and well-known figures in real estate investment management. Owen oversaw the real estate business at Schroders between 2012 and 2020, and was CEO of Invista Real Estate Investment Management for six years before that. Prior to Savills IM, Patel spent 12 years in senior roles at the real estate investment management arm of AXA.
Sellar CEO James Sellar said the group went through a careful process to find individuals “actively engaged in the investment business”, adding that Owen and Patel were “attractive both for their connections and their industry knowledge”.
Sellar, who five years ago took over the family business from his father Irvine Sellar, who died in 2017, said it “was time for [him] to focus on the future” and to develop the company’s environmental, social and governance (ESG) sustainability.
It is essential “to put ESG into the heart of our design, delivery and philosophy, to deliver sustainable profits and have a better impact considering the sustainability of the planet”, he said.
The “existing governance procedures are good”, Sellar added, but “projects need to be well documented in a way understood by financial institutions going forwards as the group grows and we take on other projects at scale… It’s about capturing the complex environment around ESG, and the data points around sustainability.”
He added: “Now was the time to find partners who would assist in achieving sustainability and reducing our carbon footprint.”
The company has yet to establish formal net-zero goals or specific carbon-reduction targets, but Sellar said he hoped the new appointments would be in a position to help with such matters.
Sellar is talking to contractors to eliminate waste and the use of plastic, and increasingly engaging with tenants on environmental matters. “Getting buy-in from the occupants is crucial”, Sellar said, especially when considering issues like “when to turn off air-conditioning and the use of smart-building apps”.
Sellar is bringing in external expertise at a time when the commercial real estate industry is dealing with a number of uncertainties, particularly around offices and post-pandemic working patterns.
Sellar said the working-from-home phenomenon has “taught us the importance of being in a room together, and the clear value of access to an office”.
He said: “A lot of the nuance of conversations is lost by online discussions [but] in order to future-proof new offices and ensure the serendipity of office collaboration and human connections we need to make offices more attractive places.”
Bermondsey Yards, the group’s mixed-use development with Aviva Investors, is an example of “embracing the new ways of working that have been forged in the face of the pandemic, and that continue to represent the future of the industry”, Sellar said.
A mixed-use office campus and retail facilities are being created from existing commercial buildings on Bermondsey Street and a former leather warehouse on an adjacent plot. “Shared spaces are more attractive spaces,” Sellar said.
It is an example of a growing trend among developers to create ‘15-minute villages’, where everything is accessible to office workers or residents within a quarter-of-an-hour walk.
“Fifteen-minute villages is a great description of London,” Sellar said. “The Shard is a vertical village.”
Sellar has already focused on the social aspect of ESG – “most of our projects involve an engagement process with the local authorities,” Sellar said – but this area will also be developed further. Owen, who also chairs the Church of England’s real estate committee, sits on its social impact investment committee.
Sellar said he is keen to “ensure all future developments are relevant and accessible to the local community.”