10 Questions: Gary Forrest

September 3, 2020

Gary Forrest is the founder and chairman of The High Street Group. North East born and bred, Gary has more than 30 years’ experience in financial services and property investment and development. Founded in 2006, The High Street Group is active in the residential, property development, construction and hospitality sectors, with several bars and hotels in the North East. Currently valued at £1.5 billion, the group employs around 350 people and is involved in several UK large-scale property schemes, including Newcastle’s tallest building, Hadrian’s Tower. It has more than £1 billion of developments in its pipeline

What was your first break in business?

After leaving Spennymoor Comprehensive, I took part in a Margaret Thatcher community scheme, cleaning parks and painting buildings. But it was with Allied Dunbar Financial Services where I had my first opportunity in business aged 19. I specialised in mortgages, which taught me about property and funding. It encouraged me to set up my own mortgage brokers, which I subsequently sold in 2003, building it into a £1 billion a year firm with 72 staff.

What did you want to be growing up?

I dreamed of being a footballer. I got to play at a local non-league level, but it was my ambition to play for Everton, who I’ve supported since I was young. I’m still involved in the game, managing West Auckland FC in the Northern League, which  is a real passion of mine. It is my freedom and how I take my mind off work when I can.

What made you set up your own business?

The mortgage business, High Street Loans, gave me the taste of being in business and also, after I sold, I had the chance to work at board level with the new owners GMAC, and subsequently Cerberus, both international organisations where I gained invaluable experience that set me in good stead for when I moved into property investment. I realised there needed to be an end- to-end solution from land acquisition to project completion, which led to the formation of The High Street Group.

What is your company’s mission?

Through our presence in the build-to-rent market, combined with our knowledge and experience of hospitality and retail, we want to develop property schemes that create long-term, sustainable communities. The rental market is broken with tenants usually on short-term leases, which means cohesive neighbourhoods fail to mature and properties are not always kept to the highest quality. Private rental sector developments, owned by the institutions we work with, overcome these challenges and also help to meet the Government’s new homes targets.

How do you get the best out of your team/staff?

There has to be a lot of engagement with your people. They must want to be on the same journey as you to make the business a success. By getting them engaged with what they do it becomes more than just a job and creates a passion to achieve. This is supported by passing on responsibility and it encourages people to take ownership of what they are doing, which, in my experience, delivers results and a supportive, collaborative workforce.

What has been your career highlight?

Without doubt, selling my first company. Having started it from scratch at a relatively young age, with market knowledge, but hardly any business experience, I was incredibly proud that it attracted the interest of an organisation of the size and scale of GMAC. I’d worked extremely hard to establish and scale the business and was honoured that it could become an integral part of a global business.

What has been your biggest challenge?

Entrepreneurs are switched on to their businesses almost 100 per cent of the time, which makes having time for other things very difficult. The recent months of the pandemic have been even more extreme because the situation changed so rapidly and so often. As a business, we had to remain exceptionally agile and aware of potential impacts across our portfolio of property and hospitality operations, which dominated my time. I am pleased to say it was worth the effort as we continue to ramp up our activity across the country.

Who or what inspires you?

In a word, achievement. Setting a target and achieving it is really inspirational. When I joined Allied Dunbar, becoming the country’s youngest financial advisor, they gave me a psychometric test and it literally went off the charts. They asked if I had ambition to own a Porsche and I said if I had a Porsche, I’d want a Ferrari and if I had a Ferrari, I’d want a Lamborghini. There’s never been a limit to my ambition; there still isn’t and it drives me.

What are your company/organisation’s short and long-term goals?

In the short-term, we are focusing on delivering high-quality developments that we have in our pipeline. We currently have around £1 billion worth of projects in the pipeline across the UK, mainly in key cities such as Newcastle, Birmingham and Manchester. For the long-term, I want The High Street Group to become the UK’s largest private rental sector development company.

How do you achieve a good work/life balance?

As I said earlier, this is the greatest challenge and any entrepreneur who tells you they have found the holy grail of work/life balance won’t be telling you the whole truth. My family have been very understanding and supportive and I have the football, but my thoughts are never very far away from the business.

Gary Forrest
www.linkedin.com/in/gary- forrest-10449110/

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