Peter Pereira Gray is Managing Partner and Chief Executive Officer of the Investment Division of the Wellcome Trust.
Peter is a member of the Investment Committee has joint accountability, with the Chief Investment Officer, for the $30 billion global multi asset investment portfolio and the leadership of the Investment Division.
Peter is the chairman of the UK farming & land management business, FarmCare Ltd, Premier Marinas Ltd, the leading UK marina, boatyard and storage company, and XPG Estates Ltd, the property London residential property developer.
Peter is a Main Board Director of iQ, the UK student housing joint venture with Goldman Sachs; one of the largest purpose built student housing providers in the UK. He is an investor and adviser to HRobotics Ltd the UK technology company making professional aerial robotics platforms for global businesses.
Peter and I met when I started traveling to Europe extensively. It’s possible that we were introduced by a mutual friend, Erwin Stouthamer who founded Composition Capital and, sadly, died of cancer in 2016. Peter and I would see each other, from time to time at industry events. I remember one event in particular where he was the keynote speaker. Peter is extremely cerebral and ever ‘telling it like it is.’ After he finished his speech Peter came up to me and said, “So?” My response, “Good for you. This industry (real estate) needs knowledgeable, experienced people who are willing to talk directly and without flourishes.”
Q. How did you get your start in commercial real estate?
A. I come from a medical family and I didn’t make the grades to get into medical school because I wasn’t smart enough at the time. I really didn’t thrive in the 1970’s UK education system. My father was a third- generation medical doctor and we looked for something that would get me out and about and meeting people, playing to my strengths – clearly not stupid, but certainly not seen as an academic at that time, and happy to get out.
I eventually took a vocation course in real estate which offered a ‘sandwich element’ (two years at university, one year out in the community, one year back in university) so the third year was out in the industry. I liked that because I wanted to get out and see what life was all about.
The very first day of the course I learned that the best company to get my ‘sandwich’ experience with was a company called Jones Lang Wootton (JLW, now Jones Lang LaSalle [JLL]). That’s what I targeted and that’s what I applied for. I was so lucky; I was one of only two fellows who got that sandwich placement at JLW in the City of London office in 1984.
That’s where I got my start in the investment division working for some of the great names of UK brokerage and advisory including Robin Broadhurst, Michael Follett, John Stephen. These are names that were well-known across the industry and I was lucky enough to be in that office for 13 months. I got exposed to some of the highest quality real estate investment transactions and some of the highest quality individuals working in the industry at that time. It was a privilege.
Upon leaving college in 1986 I joined Drivers Jonas, and worked with Chris Armon-Jones and Christopher Jonas and of course, I witnessed a major market crash in 1987. It was an experience to be there and see how people behaved, the impact the market falling 20% overnight had on people’s lives. Again, I have learned that you cannot put a value on working with the very best individuals.
Q. What advice would you give to someone early in their commercial real estate career or a student looking to get his or her start in the industry?
A. In these times there is no alternative but to advise people that they have to work hard. They need to knuckle down. They need to get stuck-in because life these days is so competitive, uncertain, volatile and ambiguous. There are things that have worked for me that I’d like to recommend may work for others.
The first is to understand who you are. Take a Myers Briggs or alternative psychometric test because it will tell you a lot about your own character. You can then put yourself into context with the other people you’re going to deal with. I was lucky enough to do that early in my career. My father was a trainer and so he put this on me and I was able to take this into my business career: to understand the impact that I had on people and the impact that people had on me. And that was one of the best things that my father ever did for me…to teach me those people analysis skills.
It’s also incredibly important to learn the rules of work; look at your boss; look at their behaviors; look at the way the institution operates. If you want to get on you need to start mimicking and copying those ideas.
There is of course a subtle moment in time when you then need to decide what you don’t want to copy – some of those same behaviors and some of those same ideas. You need to step out and be yourself and do the honest, the right, the full integrity thing. Occasionally that’s really difficult but you need to go to bed at night knowing that you did the right thing. So, my advice is: find a mentor or two to help you work out what is right and who you are, then do the right thing, and work incredibly hard.
You asked about advice I have for people primarily focused on the real estate industry. One of the important lessons I learned really early in my career is that real estate only functions in the context of other asset classes. It is not a silo in it’s own sense. I find so many real estate professionals today still only look and think and breath and talk real estate. They don’t understand or appear to want to understand that there’s a very, very big world out there and the world influences real estate.
If I was giving advice to someone I’d say spend some time thinking about the other asset classes, spend some time understanding the parallel universe that the real estate industry created for itself and the language that it uses which is different than the other asset classes. And that this is both a cost and an advantage. The danger here is that one only focuses on property (real estate) and you miss some really big things.
I was lucky enough to have been exposed to that really early in my career and so everything I have ever thought of has been in a broad sense. There are no silos, you have to think holistically, you have to see a big picture and you have to act within that big picture. I guess that is what has helped me get to my current position.
In this context, the global macro perspective is that there are two major asset classes: equities and bonds. Real estate is the third asset class. It’s a growing asset class and yet it’s pricing all hangs off what is happening in the equity and bond markets. To not see that is a risk. Real estate is a real asset so the attraction is the real, long run, cash flows that you can generate from it. The attraction is that you can take a real estate asset and change it’s nature by spending money on it, changing the nature of the cash flows that then come off it. The attraction of it is that it’s very long term, if you have a long-term interest but it can also be very short term; it operates in a significant business cycle and to fail to see that it’s a cyclical asset because you are looking too specifically at your own individual area and at your own individual specialization within real estate, is a real risk.
Q. As you look back on your career is there anything you wish you had done differently? If so, what?
A. I have been the luckiest guy on earth in terms of my career. I have been with fantastic employers and worked for fantastic people. They have opened up opportunities for me. They have given me things to do that I had no right to expect at that level of experience and knowledge. I feel that I have reached as high professionally as I could possibly have hoped to do. I know how privileged I am.
When I look back, I guess it’s been unusual that I’ve had only three employers. The first one; for just two 2 years at Drivers Jonas, the second one for 12 years at Prudential UK, and I’m coming up to my 17th year in my third role with Wellcome. I genuinely can’t look at you and say, “Oh, I wish I had done this or I wish I had done that.” I’ve had so many learning experiences; I’m just incredibly fortunate.
Q. Who have been the biggest influences on your career? Why?
A. I’m going to say my father because he has one of the finest brains that I have ever met. He chose to be a General Practitioner (a medical doctor in the UK), and put all his efforts and time towards that social good. He became one of the most senior members of his profession, influencing policy and improving education for all and leaving a legacy which stands the test of time. At that time it wasn’t a financially well-rewarded environment, but that was not his motivation. That taught me a lot.
He taught his children about integrity, work ethic and effort and the relationship with reward. He taught us how to think, how to behave, and exposed us to very senior people who were coming through our house. These were fantastic foundations for me and provided the ability to then move on successfully in society. He was and still is incredibly important to me and I still seek his counsel and his brainpower, which at the age of 80-something is still very, very sharp.
I would also point to one or two others. I had a tremendously good friend, who sadly is no longer with us, Erwin Stouthamer from Composition Capital. He set up a real estate fund management business and he engaged me in that and I learned from his energy and his passion; the way in which he treated people, and the enthusiasm that always pervaded everything that Erwin did. He always saw the good in people. He always saw the positive. I think that’s an incredibly important lesson for us all – not to get dragged down by the things that are negative and difficult in this world but to see the other side of the coin and the opportunities that are always present.
I was also taken under the wing of a fantastic gentleman, Alastair Ross-Goobey, a leading British investment manager and a past chief executive of Hermes, the UK based global financial institution. He had a very famous father himself, George Ross-Goobey, who was the first individual to see that pension funds should buy equities - “the cult of equity” as it became known.
Alastair literally fulfilled one of the lines of Rudyard Kipling’s poem, ‘IF’ (“If you can walk with kings, and not lose the common touch”). One day he would be involved in high society, the next day he’d be on the board of something and the next day he would take me to the pub around the back of the office and we’d sit and have fish and chips and he would invest his valuable time in me. On the face of it for very little return indeed and I fully, fully appreciated what he did. I learned so much. It lifted me and it gave me a little bit of a head start on so many other people. It is so good to mentor people, and I try to do it today. So I’d say three of the biggest influencers in my life have been my father, Erwin and Alastair.
Note from Steve
I've received emails from several people on the same subject: "What about women in the industry?" A legitimate question since all the interviews thus far have been with men. Rest assured, good friends, that I have interviewed and will continue to interview women and publish those interviews as soon as they are in final form.
I also welcome suggestions about people you know who would be good candidates for this interview series. Thanks!