It was a cold and early December morning in London without the slightest trace of sun visible anywhere. Yet I was in a particularly jovial mood. Briskly walking through Primrose Hill, I was on a mission to attend an early morning session of Fierce Grace Yoga. To top it off, I was listening to a song I’d just downloaded on the back of a recommendation from a friend backpacking across Cambodia: Porto – Worakls.
I arrived at the studio, undressed, put on a pair of shorts and, just as I was about to put my phone on silent and step into class, I received a call. It was Martin, the CEO of a real estate company I advise. Hmm. Shall I answer, I wondered. Class was minutes away from starting and I always liked to step in a little early to get a good spot and take a few minutes to settle in. I’ll make it quick.
“Hello ibanker. You well?
“Not too bad and you?”
“Fine. I can’t chat long…”
“Can you meet for lunch at 1pm today?”
“One sec,” I responded, before inspecting my calendar. The existing appointment was with a friend and of a personal nature. He won’t mind if I reschedule. “Sure. Where shall we meet?”
“Grosvenor Square. We can walk over to a restaurant nearby.”
“Done.” Wait, what’s this even about? “What are we discussing exactly?”
“Real estate…and birdshit.”
“That’s right. Birdshit. See you later.”
Duke of Westminster’s Square
Grosvenor Square is quite the landmark in Mayfair. Home to the US Embassy (until it moves to its new location in Nine Elms), hedge funds, family offices, stupefying real estate (e.g. 20 Grosvenor Square) and more. Belonging to the Duke of Westminster, there are worse places to meet.
I arrived on the scene to find Martin sitting on a bench, reading a copy of Property Week.
“There’s an Italian on North Audley Street. That okay with you?”
“Perfect,” I said.
We walked over and entered the establishment. No more than three seconds passed before a young Italian man appeared out of thin air with a charming smile. He showed us to our seat and we were handed menus. I’m starved. We took a minute to review the menu and called the Italian over again.
“What will you gentlemen have?”
Martin motioned me to proceed.
“I’ll have the Tagliatelle Alla Catalana,” I said.
“And I’ll have the Risotto Allo Scoglio,” said Martin.
“No thank you, ” Martin and I replied in unison.
“And to drink?” said the waiter.
“Water?” Martin suggested to me.
“A bottle of still and a bottle of sparkling, please.”
“Any wine?” asked the waiter.
I shook my head no.
“No thanks,” responded Martin.
“Fine,” said the waiter. “I’ll have a glass of red then,” he smiled.
Getting to business
It took some time before we managed to move the conversation to what resulted in this very gathering. Martin had just purchased an old British sports car the past weekend and he was so delighted about his new acquisition that he spent nearly 20 minutes describing the engine to me and the remarkable ways the car still handled despite its age. What he was most excited about, however, was that he managed to buy it for about a tenth the market price. When I asked Martin how on earth that came to be he was overjoyed to recount the story.
“I’m in my country home three weekends ago and about to have breakfast when I start flipping through the local gazette. I get to the classifieds and there it is. A photo of the car in black and white. A beauty. And cheap. Rare combination. So I pick up the phone, speak to the owner and it happens he lives fifteen minutes away. I go over to his place that afternoon and that’s when I meet the man. A mad scientist type with the attention span of a fly. A bald, septuagenarian guy with sideburns that practically reach his shoulders. Something out of a movie. So I’m there with the understanding that the car is worth around a hundred thousand pounds. He tells me, ‘You can have it for 10,000.’ My eyes nearly popped out of their socket. I asked him why so cheap. He says it’s because he doesn’t want the car anymore. I say fine. Who am I to complain, right?” he laughed. “But then he tells me there’s one condition. I sit back in my chair. What is it, I ask him. He says, ‘The car is pink.’ Bloody pink.”
“Yeah,” he laughed out loud. “And the condition is that the next owner can never change the colour.”
“You’re being serious?” I asked, incredulously.
“Dead serious. He made me sign an agreement.”
“You bought a pink car?”
“Look. It was embarrassing driving it around at first. Half the people laugh at you. But the other half absolutely love it. I’m a mini-celebrity in the countryside.”
Before I knew it, we’d finished our main course. We hadn’t discussed any business. Time to get back on track. “So, what are you looking to buy?” I asked Martin. Whenever he reached out and asked to meet right away it was usually because they’d found a property they liked and needed to put in a bid fast. And they’d need a co-investor. That’s where I came in – to bring additional investors to the table. [READ MORE…]