Gillian Earley, Divisional Director, BidX1 Ireland
Tell us a little bit about you.
I’m Gillian Earley, a Divisional Director at BidX1 Ireland. I head up the commercial property team and assist with the day-to-day running of the Irish property team.
I live in Kildare with my husband Alan and our baby son Ollie, who has just turned one.
Did you always want to work in property?
Yes. I studied Property Economics at DIT, graduated in 2004, and then immediately hopped on a plane to backpack around Australia and New Zealand for 12 months. A year of sightseeing, days on the beach...and random temping jobs whenever I ran out of money! After five years studying property valuation, asset management and everything in between, it was a nice break.
When I came home, I got a job as a Graduate Commercial Surveyor at a good firm in Kildare. My first real job – and straight into commercial property, which is exactly what I had wanted, so I was very pleased. Career on track, or so I thought.
That was 2006, so anyone reading this knows what 25-year-old Gillian did not know; that dark clouds were gathering on the economic horizon.
I was in that role for three and a half years. I learned a lot about property, but I also learned a lot about hard graft – not an easy time to be in the industry. In 2008, many of my colleagues were let go and the following year, I was made redundant too.
That must have been a difficult time.
It was tough, really tough. I had spent five years studying property, and three more years trying to hold on in an industry that was on shaky ground following the crash.
But I was also lucky. I didn’t have any dependents; I could make quick decisions and be flexible. My sister’s friend was opening a bookshop, of all things, and I agreed to run the place for him. I lasted about two months, during which I evaluated my options – and confirmed that retail was not the sector for me!
At the time, I knew that my property degree limited my employability, so I needed to expand my skillset. I decided to invest my redundancy payment in further education, and applied for a Masters in Financial Services at the University of Ulster.
At this point, it was nearing the end of summer, so I had a very small window of time – I received my acceptance letter just two weeks before the course started. All I knew about Coleraine was that it was near the Giant’s Causeway! I drove up there on a Sunday to find somewhere to live, took the first place I viewed, moved in the following weekend, started lectures that Monday.
I am so glad that I took that chance, and that I put the redundancy money into upskilling. It was an incredible year, and I learned so much - the economics of business, portfolio management, investment strategy. I honestly turned into a complete nerd.
What did you do next?
The Masters included a work placement programme, so I spent six months at Citibank in Belfast, working in fund administration. Then I moved to Dublin, where I got a job at UBS, again in fund administration, working with large American funds. I had to start right back as a Graduate again, but it was a good company to work for and I was learning a lot.
After three years, I had the opportunity to apply for a promotion, and it felt like I had to make a decision at that point; I’d been out of the property industry for 5 years but I wanted to get back.
At the same time, joining a traditional agency didn’t seem like the perfect fit anymore. I felt that I could put my financial skills to good use in the right role so I applied for a job with a receiver who had just set up an asset management department, and started managing their property portfolio.
I started selling assets through BidX1, who were holding large-scale auctions in Dublin at the time. So I was actually a BidX1 client first – on the other side of the fence!
Why did you want to join BidX1?
I enjoyed working with BidX1 and I was incredibly impressed by their process. It was very clear that this was a dynamic firm, with a growth mindset.
When I heard that they were hiring for the commercial auction team, I was absolutely certain that I wanted that role.
BidX1 also make bold hiring decisions, recruiting fast-movers with diverse skillsets. My range of experience meant I was a good candidate for the job and I joined the commercial team in 2015.
You were working on the commercial team when the digital platform was being developed. How did you feel about the move online?
I was wary about it...
It’s true! Commercial property is quite specialised, and I wasn’t sure that investors would be willing to transact online. I suppose I thought that online sales were all very well for a two-bedroom house, but not for my commercial assets.
By the end of our second online auction, I was completely on board; that's how quickly the benefits become clear.
How did clients find the move?
I wouldn't say there was no scepticism but remember, my clients are commercial sellers, so it’s generally not an emotional process for them. They want results – and the results were there, consistently, auction after auction. That meant they were happy to move with us to a digital model.
They weren’t losing anything on the advisory side either; our methods had changed, but the team itself had not.
Could you see yourself going back to a traditional or hybrid model?
Never. I wouldn’t have the patience, not when I know there is a better model for clients and investors.
What are your main priorities and goals in your role?
Ultimately, I’m always working towards stock generation, ensuring a strong range of commercial assets for the Irish platform.
Managing the Irish property team, along with our Head of Property, is another important aspect of my role.
What’s a typical day for you?
It has definitely changed in the last year, since my son Ollie was born! I aim to get into Dublin for about 7am, and I will generally go for a run in one of the parks there if the weather allows, before getting into the office at about 8.30.
That means about an hour of quiet before the day really kicks off: meetings with clients, working through pricing decisions with the surveyors, meeting with the marketing team etc.
How do you keep your team motivated?
Meeting with them regularly is really important; you need to know where your team is at – in terms of their workload, in terms of their deadlines, whether they’re enjoying the work, whether they’re facing challenges.
It’s important to provide opportunities for growth too – new projects, new clients, new properties. It’s my job to develop each individual’s career in the property industry, so I always have an eye on their progression.
What are some of the highlights of your career to date?
Definitely the day of my first auction. I honestly remember getting home that evening and thinking ‘this is absolutely deadly*, this is what I want to do.’
You know that feeling you get, when you know that you’re exactly where you’re meant to be?
Being promoted quickly after first joining BidX1, and then making Divisional Director within three years – those are also moments that stand out. I feel extremely grateful to be in a company that recognises and rewards hard work.
And of course, when an important asset gets over the line, that’s still an incredible buzz!
*For non-Irish readers: in this context, ‘deadly’ means brilliant!
What advice would you give to someone starting out in the property industry?
Don’t be too obsessive about having a fixed plan – things change, and flexibility is important, so don’t pigeon-hole yourself.
I didn’t plan to be made redundant in 2009, I didn’t plan to work in commercial auctions, I definitely didn’t imagine myself heading up a team of surveyors who specialise in digital property sales in an international real estate company!
Would I still be as enthusiastic about my job if I’d stayed in a traditional commercial agency?
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