‘‘Disruption’’ may have become a tired and hackneyed millennial phrase – but as a young CEO from an unconventional background working in a world of old, established money, for Thomas Balashev, it only seemed natural to be doing things a little differently. The Luxury Channel discovered his story….
How did you come to set up your company, Montague Property?
The story really starts when I left school at 16, with no real traditional academic achievements. I subsequently worked as a children’s football coach – which little did I know at the time would hold me in great stead in later life – and in a fashion store until my early 20s. Realising I wanted more from life, and to earn money, I bought an IKEA desk and a computer for my bedroom and started teaching myself about property markets and the global economy. Montague Property (or at least, an early incarnation of it) was subsequently born. Fast forwards a decade, and we are proud to have completed, from our Mayfair headquarters in London, luxury real estate projects in the value of tens of millions of pounds all over the world.
What challenges have you faced along the way?
Getting to where I am hasn’t been easy, but not being born into the traditional circles of the London real estate market (my father is Bulgarian, my mother Scottish) has its advantages; notably, a broader international perspective on the industry and how we can do business. For me, the US real estate industry has always been a source of inspiration. With our British propensity for pleasantries, I’ve heard many in Mayfair brand our US counterparts as unrefined and brash. It is true that our friends across the pond don’t beat around the bush; they aren’t scared to cut to the chase – but I’ve always seen this is a badge of pride rather than a source of shame. Why? Because this positive mentality sees the US place a far greater emphasis on sales skills than in the UK, empowering those within the industry with the confidence to overcome self-doubt and limitation – in turn making them, I would argue, far more effective salespeople. This is something we in the UK could really learn from. As result of this bolder mentality, the individual real estate agents in the US have a far greater presence, personal brand and entrepreneurial spirit than their counterparts in the UK. The reality in the US is that people do business with people; I would argue the US model enables far closer personal relationships and customer interaction – an approach that we in the UK could again learn from to help drive sales.
What other differences are there between the UK and the US?
The US sees every state require estate agents to hold a licence. Yet with no barrier to entry in the UK, the level of professionalism and knowledge is reduced – leading to those well-known negative perceptions of real estate agents within wider society. This damages the reputation of our industry and those working within it on an international scale. It should also be considered that it remains possible in the UK to undertake a multi-million pound real estate deal (or any property deal, for that matter) with a broker or agent who started the job the day before. A deal of this magnitude would never be allowed in the financial services world, so why do we allow it in the real estate market?
What advice would you give to someone starting out in the property industry?
As a real estate CEO from a non-traditional background, I feel passionately about providing greater opportunity for those from a similar background to mine. Young people from non-HNW backgrounds can and will succeed in the luxury sector as long as they are provided with the relevant skills and confidence to do so. In my case, much of Montague Property’s success has been down to people, and much of my approach to man-managing and instilling belief in those around me has been born out of the lessons I learnt during my football coaching days.
What are your plans for your business in the future?
Our dedication to both tradition and modernisation means Montague Property looks forward to three key goals in 2020: firstly, engaging ambitious projects in new target markets – including Miami and Los Angeles, Paris and the Middle East. Secondly, continuing to provide our international HNW clients with the highest level of service available, whilst sourcing and financing some of the world’s finest properties. Thirdly, affording opportunity and development to young people fighting to break into the luxury real estate industry. Achieving all three would be a very good year both for us, and the wider industry.
For more information, go to www.montagueproperty.co.uk.