By Michael Colletti, Economics Major
The historic city of London, Europe’s largest capital city, offers everything from the finest galleries to theatres to museums and libraries in the world. It is perhaps the most influential city among world capitals, and the perfect place and opportunity to begin my international professional career. The general skills I have learned in Eller translated directly into the business world, but I needed to study abroad to fill my cultural and knowledge gaps. When the opportunity to study abroad in London presented itself, I jumped at it to better understand working life in another country. Studying abroad gave me the chance to experience material learned in class firsthand, and exposure to other business environments and cultures and the major functional areas I need to strengthen in order to further my undergraduate career.
I was placed for an internship at a real estate agency and it has truly been an enriching and rewarding experience. It has most assuredly broadened my horizons and will surely help me achieve my future aspirations. I typically assisted in the day to day running of this commercial and residential agency. Mainly serving in an assistant capacity, it gave me a glimpse into the life of an estate agent. I made it a priority to take a lot of initiative and learn as much as I could.
First, the basics: Cowan and Rutter Limited is a property management firm, specializing in high end commercial and residential properties in South West London. They have an influential presence on the board in Chelsea, and provide an array of real estate services. They focus on providing high client satisfaction while making the processing of letting/buying as smooth as possible. The company was started in 1970, by my director Jonathan Cowan. He has kept it small since then because, frankly small is beautiful. The low overhead and personal experience allows for a more manageable company. A lesson well learned, as I would someday I would like to realize my dream of becoming an entrepreneur and start my own business. This internship experience not only provided me with valuable practice in the property market, it also gave me in depth background into the life of a true entrepreneur. Jonathan taught me many lessons that I will carry with me for the foreseeable future. This exposure to different business situations has also sharpened my analytical skills.
Now let me take you through my internship experience, week by week. The first week I started off hitting the ground running, being immersed almost immediately into the daily interworking of the office. My director had great faith in me from the beginning, I can only assume due to Eller’s renowned program. I was directly involved with viewings and client management from the start. I took pictures of a newly acquired flat, valuated and took measurements to draw up a floor plan. I later updated the website with those details. The second week started off with a bang and I completed the first letting (A term for leasing in the U.S.) of my career from the flat I put on the website. After completing a successful viewing to a friendly, unassuming British fellow who drove for Aston Martin, he called me later that day to ask where to sign! Week 3 rolled around and I felt as though I was a regular fixture at this point. I continued with day to day tasks and general administration.
By week 4 Cowan and Rutter took over a company called Officeshare and put me in charge of “cleaning up” the new takeover, as it was poorly managed previously. I updated the website, created a client database and made calls to clients to inform them they were under new management. Throughout these weeks I regularly handled client enquiries, finding properties for clients and showing them. While not always doing everything myself, I was always at least partly involved in numerous lettings and sales. Week 5 was dedicated to a marketing campaign for a flat we needed to sell soon. I created a flyer for the property, working with a colleague to finish it. I gathered the envelopes, addressed them, and sent them to residents in the area. I was constantly updating details on the website and jumping on enquiries about the property. At the end of week 6 we had a client interested and I showed the property with a colleague. Currently in week 7, we showed the property again and they have decided to take it. The process of paperwork and legal procedures is currently underway, but the sale looks promising. Wednesday of this week also took a surprising turn as famous futbol coach Mark Hughes and his wife Jill walked through our door. The previous coach of Manchester City, he recently transferred to coach the club in Fulham and was looking for a flat somewhere in the range of 3-6 million pounds. We only discovered who he was when after the viewing, a nearby construction worker shouted “Good work at [Manchester] City, Mark!” Next week, week 8, will be my last and I plan on making the most of it.
There are cultural differences in the workplace between the U.S. and the U.K., despite having many similarities. It wasn’t as though I was moving to Mongolia, but it didn’t feel like a simple ‘hop across the pond’ either. The language can be different, as well as the culture, climate and time zone- in essence nearly everything vastly changed from what I’m accustomed to. It was an adventure to say the least. First, it was as they say less direct. I’ve learned when my boss wants me to do something, he will say something such as “the client folders are a mess.” And after I ask can if help with it, he informs me what needs to be re-organized. It is also more laid back I would have imagined. Our professor told us the first day in class the saying goes “Americans live to work, and the British work to live” and I have found this to be quite true. Words seemed to be quite tricky and I found myself enjoying deciphering them frequently doing my best to sound comprehensible on the phone.
Finally, I found the cultural gap to be more of a challenge then I would have thought to be. I remember completely failing at a simple task of writing a letter to a past tenet. My boss said it was “far from an English letter, but a good attempt.” I wondered what a bad attempt looked like. It does seem that anything I do, even the simplest tasks such as getting the post or coffee is met with a friendly “Brilliant” or “Wonderful, thanks” while I asked myself what would merit a simple “thanks” as they normally say in the U.S., or even more so a negative remark, which I have seen in the U.S. all too often. The office atmosphere is always light in my experience in London, in contrast to the dim and cloudy ambiance the streets often exude. After 6 pm Londoners’ can be seen at a pub at every corner, unwinding from the stresses of the day. At the end of the day, like the U.S., the British are very outwardly friendly and family-oriented.
As my semester in London draws to an end, my internship has been a valuable one. Looking back, I will remember how many compliments I received for my teeth, the many memories I shared with my coworkers, the challenges we met and the goals we succeeded in achieving together, as a team. I have learned a lot from this experience and I most definitely will bring back some exciting stories to share back home.