Legendary estate agency figure Harry Hill, who bought what became the Countrywide business for £1 and went on to build it into the UK’s biggest estate agency, last night exclusively spoke to EYE.
He told of his heartache at seeing the business he built up into theUK’s most successful agency going into such difficulties, expressed astonishment at the alleged pay-out to departing chief executive Alison Platt, and said it had ‘little prospect’ of being the success it once was.
Referring to the departure of Platt, Countrywide founder Hill – who also founded Rightmove – told EYE he is “very sad” to have seen the developments.
He said that in building the Countrywide business from scratch, he had spent not one penny where one halfpenny would have done. There had been no funding, he said.
Hill spent 23 years in various roles with Countrywide: he bought the former Nationwide estate agency chain for £1 and was Countrywide’s chief executive until 20o6 before becoming chairman for the next three years,
Asked by EYE about his feelings, Hill told us: “I have been gone from Countrywide now for a long time, and almost all my very senior colleagues, with whom I ran the business (of which we were all proud and totally committed) have either retired, or been ‘moved along’ by the recently resigned CEO, who I never had the pleasure of meeting.
“Naturally, having spent over 20 years of my life as CEO of Countrywide, until it was sold, debt free, for over £1bn to American private equity, I feel very sad to see its current demise.
“However, I haven’t been close enough, or sufficiently interested in the business to know quite where the ‘faults’ lie.
“What I do know however is that during my stewardship, supported almost all the time by a chairman – Christopher Sporborg of Hambros Bank very sadly now deceased – we always placed shareholder value as our paramount concern and never to the best of my memory spent one penny when a halfpenny would do.
“Looking from the outside in, it appears that many of those disciplines have been abandoned by the current board and senior executive team, evidenced perhaps by the announcement that the chairman, who has observed the rapid destruction of shareholder value, has been paid £180,000 pa, and is now, temporarily until a new CEO is appointed, going to be paid £360,000 pa! Astonishing!
“No doubt the departing failed CEO will be similarly generously treated.”
Hill went on: “The greatest personal sorrow that I have is for staff at relatively junior levels, many of whom will have been with the business for many years and have observed what was by some margin Europe’s leading agency business, both in terms of scale and profitability, slowly become an ‘also ran’ with a market cap now of buttons, high debt and little prospect of ever becoming the market leading business that it was.”
The entrepreneurial Hill, who has continued to back other agency ventures, said: “Personally, I’ve moved on and having enjoyed my time at Countrywide hugely, now similarly enjoy a portfolio of interests across a range of public and private businesses.”