Christmas is a good time to reflect and ask ourselves where we get our inspiration. NVP’s investor, the Dutch businessman John Fentner Van Vlissingen (known respectfully at NVP as JVV), visits our offices in Montpelier Street periodically throughout the year, as well as keeping in touch by phone. He has been a part of the business from the outset, providing seed capital, and assisting us with strategy and further funding as we grow our company. As one of his niche investments, we are privy to a wide range of advice, and the vast experience he brings, in all matters surrounding NVP. John is the most successful, and one of the nicest people we know, and we are indebted to him for the support he has shown us. We wanted to share the key things we have learned from him, to remind ourselves of the great value of this partnership, share inspiration with friends in our network, and say thank you to John, as we approach the end of the year.
1. Be autonomous
We are always inspired by JVV’s story, in which he had the opportunity to join a successful family business, but chose instead to go it alone. In doing so he was able to build a wide portfolio of investments, and grow them into market-leaders through his own approach and using his own voice. We met John when we were working inside the corporate machine, and his advice to follow our own path was some of the best we have been given, providing us with the self-belief and confidence to both take the initial leap, and weather several storms since we launched our business and became entrepreneurs. We experienced first hand John’s mantra of ‘freedom within the boundaries of responsibility’, in which he affords the people who run his businesses unusual levels of autonomy to make decisions and steer the ship. One of the first things he said to us when we shared our idea was ‘You’ll have to be brave, but wait a few years and you’ll reap the rewards’. John also taught us that in business you need to work hard and have some luck, and that the harder you work, the luckier you get. These insights soon became guiding principles for the way we run our business.
2. Fly economy
We are guided by the fact that John, whose companies turn over tens of billions, still resists extravagance and exudes humility in everything he does. During the recession, John’s travel company decided that all staff would fly economy to save costs. John followed suit, including himself in this principle, and switching to economy during these tough times. This story inspires us to keep a close eye on our costs and keep our feet on the ground. Working in central London property, especially around Knightsbridge, can be mesmerizing. The people and sums of money involved are often a heady mix, and it helps enormously to see the principles that still govern John’s approach to business, even when leading thousands of employees. He remembers people’s names, invests authority in those around him, puts his faith in people, and walks his talk. These approaches help us to stay centered in what can be a volatile and deal-centric industry.
Thinking against the grain is one of the main lessons we have picked up while working with John. When he invested in NVP, the trend was towards industry-wide consolidation, as businesses like Foxtons and Marsh & Parsons opened multiple offices across multiple territories, standardizing the levels of service being offered and driving a sales culture throughout their businesses. Conversely to this approach, John agreed with us that a gap existed for a boutique agency to specialize in the golden postcodes, delivering a very high level of service to premium investors. We wanted to play a smaller game, at higher prices, and thus maintain a strong margin through alternative tactics. JVV agreed with us, and has since supported our views that technology will never replace the highest levels of customer service (see our blogs this summer predicting the collapse of Emoov etc). As we clearly state on our homepage, handshakes are more valuable than clicks, and maintaining this perspective amidst the hubris of the online brands, has been the result of the counter-intuitive and counter-cyclical thinking we learned from John.
4. Feed the baby
Family values are important to everyone at NVP, and John has always encouraged us to treat our business like our baby, and to see that it is nourished and protected accordingly. This means doing things at the right time, not taking on too much for the business to handle, and trusting that if we nurture in the right ways, nature will take care of the rest. Bit by bit the business has been ready to take more on, and after a period of successful integration following our first acquisition at the end of last year, and moving into our new premises in spring, we are preparing for further activity of this kind in 2019. Aside from growth through acquisitions, John has always impressed upon us that the trick to success is having a successful team around you. The right people are key to growing your business in the right way, just as the right parents, godparents, teachers and guides are key to raising your child.
5. Play the long game
‘Always be prepared to walk away’ is a mantra of ours we do well to live by, and which we learned from John. Whether buying or selling houses, or buying or selling businesses, you make a fair offer based on your own reality, don’t try and undercut or price others out, and trust that if this isn’t the deal for us, the right one is just around the corner. Staying connected to the bigger picture enables us to play a long game, and remember that we love what we do so much that it doesn’t feel like coming to work. John told us that he invested in us because we are emotionally connected to what we do, which to him means we have the energy needed to navigate challenging times. We believe this is true, and as such we both see NVP as a 25-year project – so two decades to go! We are grateful to John for being such a huge part of that journey, and for all the support, trust and wisdom he has shown us from the outset.
Happy Christmas from us all at NVP!