Member Spotlight:
Riah Patel, Associate Director 
RICS Registered Valuer 
Student Accommodation Valuation & Advisory

January 28, 2022
Written by: Alissa Poloumieva
AP:  Hi Riah, it was so nice to meet you at CREW UK’s recent event. You are the second member to be featured in our monthly Member Spotlight Series, so thank you for joining and let’s kick off. Can you provide us with a brief overview of your career to date, and how you got to your current position?
RP:  It was great to meet you as well Alissa, and I’m excited to be featured here with CREW. I completed a real estate degree at the University of Westminster and graduated with a first-class honours before joining the commercial graduate scheme at JLL. At JLL, I completed rotations in different departments over two years, including Corporate Solutions (occupier services), South East Valuation and Debt Advisory. Upon completing my Assessment of Professional Competence and becoming a member of the RICS, I started a permanent role at JLL in the Alternatives Valuation Team. Here, I specialized in Self Storage, working on many pan-EU instructions in Germany, Spain, and the Nordics. I also briefly looked at data centre valuations in the UK and Ireland. After over a year in JLL’s Alternative Valuation team, I was approached to join a debt fund called CR Investment Management (now Rivercrown). It was a new, smaller company, and I felt the experience would be a good learning platform. I worked on UK mid-market origination for various capital partners, and on debt advisory projects, particularly in the Irish and Portuguese student accommodation markets. I eventually decided that I wanted to go back to my valuation roots and a larger firm, so when an opportunity came up in CBRE’s student accommodation valuation team, I felt this would be a good next move. I’ve now been in the team at CBRE for almost three years, during which time I’ve worked on valuations in both the student and co-living sectors, across the UK and Europe.

AP:  It’s interesting that you’ve now had the experience of working both in a larger firm as well as a smaller firm. What do you enjoy most about your current role and company, and what drove you to come back to a larger firm?
RP:  Overall, I think it comes down to personal preference. What I really like about working in larger firms is that they provide you with structure and process, so you are really focused on your day-to-day function, and what I like most about CBRE is the fantastic company culture that we have. I think it comes down to what environment suits your working style and your goals.
AP:  What drove you to join CREW, and what can you tell us about your experience so far?
RP:  I joined CREW UK when they first launched their UK Pilot programme back in 2018, as it felt like a fantastic opportunity to network with members across the real estate industry as well as have a global network to tap into. I was keen to be involved as much as possible, so I joined the events committee, where I assisted in organising networking events and encouraging others to join. It is important to me to participate in a community that facilitates the growth of women. I took a break for a couple of years, and re-joined CREW UK last year after learning about their mentorship programme launch, which I wanted to try out and can now say has been a fantastic way of growing my network and receiving some brilliant advice!

AP:  What have you learned or how have you been directly impacted from being a mentee?
RP:  Being a mentee on the scheme has given me the opportunity to meet various clients and advisors across the industry in a more casual setting. A couple of key things that I wanted to discuss and work on with my mentors have been business development skills and discussing ways of maintaining a healthy work-life balance (which I have always found particularly challenging), as well as general professional development.

AP:  Could you share with the audience some of the advice from your mentor discussions that you found particularly useful?
RP:  From a work-life balance perspective, one thing I found really helpful was carving out time to myself during the day and actually scheduling it into my diary a couple of times a week. It was hard at first, however, this approach kept me accountable to myself and gave me time to reflect, have a proper lunch break, go for a walk or do some exercise.  

AP:  I love this idea, and I think the accountability aspect of it is key, so actually putting a time in your diary creates a healthy boundary.
RP:  Exactly. On the business development front, I specifically wanted to improve my client focus and approach to new opportunities. One of my mentors made a great point about always leaving people with a USP that is memorable and “hooks” people, to make sure they remember you. This has worked really well for me and we have had some really successful wins in our team this year, with clients we have previously not done as much work with.

AP:  What do you think the key to greater diversity and inclusion (DE&I) is in 2021? 
RP:  In my opinion, promoting open-mindedness, improving awareness of intersectionality, and having honest and open conversations more often. Looking forward I think we, as an industry, should be doing more DE&I training and ensuring DE&I focused objectives are embedded within organisations, including senior leadership.

AP:  That’s a really good point, and I’ve heard it come up more and more in similar discussions. Holding senior leadership accountable through DE&I focused objectives ensures that conversations are happening and that these topics don’t slip. Are there any initiatives that you are a part of?
RP:  I am a member of the Women’s Network Board at CBRE as of January 2021. We have been working on some fantastic policies relating to family friendly benefits around maternity leave etc., which are industry leading and have been designed to ensure we collectively advocate for our current and future talent. We also recently hosted our annual Women’s Network Conference where Wendy Mann, CEO, CREW Network, delivered a fantastic session on Learning to Lead.  Wendy spoke about many areas of DE&I and her career journey.  One final point on this, and probably one of my favourites, as I think it is so important to have female role models across the business: CBRE has made a commitment to reach the following female quotas at each level – 50% at Director, 40% at Senior Direct and 30% at Executive Director by 2025. Still some way to go, however, a big step in the right direction.

AP:  It’s great to see how involved you are. It sounds like there’s a lot of focus around the DE&I agenda at CBRE, which is great to hear. I’m sure we’ll see more of this across the sector.
Who has been your most influential professional mentor? And why?
RP:  There isn’t just one particular person, as I’ve been so lucky to have some great mentors throughout university and my career. I’ve also really valued sessions I’ve had through the CREW UK mentoring scheme. As part of our DE&I initiatives, the CBRE Valuation Department launched a mentoring scheme, which has also been extremely valuable. I’ve had monthly sessions with my mentor for a year, working towards specific goals; it has been one of the most valuable experiences.

AP:  What made them so valuable?
RP:  Firstly, the programme was very specific and thoughtful in the pairing process.  It focused on really understanding the need of the mentee and the relevant mentor that was best placed to advise. During my first session, we discussed key goals that I wanted to work towards which meant it was also quite structured.  This helped me maintain accountability and follow my progress. It was also really helpful to be able to have someone internally, that understood the CBRE structure, who could be a sounding board outside of my team and I could be very candid with.

AP:  What is the best piece of professional advice that you have received?
RP:  Build a strong network (attend events, connect with people, reach out to them), this is something I really encourage amongst more junior people on my team. Take all of the opportunities given to you. In my opinion, there is no such thing as a bad opportunity, you will always learn something.

AP:  Outside of work, do you have a hobby or passion project you are working on?
RP:  I really enjoy yoga, which I also turned into a work passion by coordinating yoga classes for CBRE, which ended up migrating online during the lockdown. The classes raised money for our charity partner at the time, Action for Children. I also really enjoy interior design, which I regularly implement in my own flat and anyone else’s flat if they let me! Last, but not least, I am a huge foodie and love keeping track of London’s restaurant scene.

AP:  Music to my ears! I have maps for restaurants in all of the cities that I’ve travelled to, so if you are ever in need of a recommendation, I’m happy to help! Riah, such a pleasure to speak with you today and thank you again for your time. Catch you at the next CREW UK event soon.