Law of the Lander

As Nabarros’ Geoffrey Lander prepares to leave his home of thirty years, Emma Vere-Jones finds out why he is launching a property outsourcing company

It’s lucky I have no other meetings booked on the morning I meet Nabarro Nathanson’s real estate king Geoffrey Lander. The man can certainly talk.

To be fair, Lander’s two-hour discourse – the flow of which is more than a little difficult to interrupt – is to the benefit of a journalist’s ear. “I actually prefer listening to talking,” he tells me, and I’m sure that his clients get the ‘listening Lander’. As he reminds me later in the interview, “a lawyer is like a priest to his client”.

I suspect this virtuoso performance is not so much about ego as about control. Lander is certainly something of a control freak, even by his own admission. “I used to drive one of my partners, Anne Wright, mad when I first started working with her, because I plan every transaction to the end,” he says. “Every meeting I have, I have an agenda and meeting plan and I always get into the room 10 minutes early. I will set out the agenda and the seating plan and then I’m in control. But I don’t look as though I’m in control, I look extremely relaxed.”

And control is also one reason he enjoys his job. “Being a lawyer is a fantastic life. You’re in control, it’s a position of power, a position of respect,” he says.

Lander has been a driving force at Nabarro Nathanson. He has been a partner since 1980, has headed the firm’s property department and has held a key role in management. Next month, however, he departs on a very different journey, launching his new property outsourcing service with partner Jonathan Edwards – but more of that later.

Lander was born and raised in Manchester. Listening to him now it’s impossible to detect an accent, although he’s more than happy to admit that Manchester United is still his religion.

It’s perhaps not surprising that he ended up in law. His father, a businessman, had always envisaged a professional job for his son, but Lander says: “I can’t add up and I don’t like the sight of blood, so there wasn’t much other than the law.”

He headed down to the City and in 1972 got a training contract at Nabarros. “Within a week I felt as if I owned the place. I just felt so comfortable,” he says. And 30 years later that feeling hasn’t changed.

His rise through the ranks of Nabarros was nothing less than meteoric. Made up to a salaried partner at 29, he became an equity partner two years later. Four years after that he reached the top of the equity, where he has stayed ever since. This is not surprising for one of the firm’s biggest billers, whose client list includes Hammerson, Quintain and JP Morgan Chase. It is perhaps also not surprising when you consider some of Lander’s personality traits. His desire to be the best is blindingly obvious.

Lander is a workaholic. When management told him last year that he really should fill out a proper timesheet he discovered he’d worked a staggering 4,000 hours – on average that’s about 80 hours a week. But he doesn’t consider it work. “It’s just fun,” he says.

And it seems that Lander loves his job now more than ever. He says he is at the top of his game. Which leads one to the obvious question and one that has been asked by stunned colleagues and clients alike: why on earth is he leaving? I have to admit that before meeting Lander I did suspect he was suffering some kind of mid-life crisis. His decision, I thought, was akin to a middle-aged man leaving his wife of 20 years for the office secretary. What’s more, he is about to commit what sounds like certain lawyering hari-kari: he tells me happily that in his new venture, he won’t be charging any fees. But on talking to Lander, his decision, and the issue of fees, soon becomes perfectly clear.

At 52, he still has the energy of a 30-year-old – in fact, that’s probably flattering to myself and most other 30-year-olds I know. With Nabarros’ retirement age not quite around the corner, but equally not that far off, now is the perfect time to start a new venture. And retirement, he admits, is something he finds frightening.

To understand his decision on fees, a further investigation of the new business is required. At the end of April, Lander will leave the firm and he and Edwards will focus full-time on their new business, Tricore Equity Partners. The pair will provide a property outsourcing service not dissimilar to that of Mapeley and Land Securities Trillium. However, it differs in one key way – rather than transferring the ownership of a real estate portfolio entirely to Tricore, companies will set up a joint venture with Tricore, thereby allowing the risk to be shared. Any savings that Tricore makes for the company will be shared fifty-fifty between the two parties, but similarly cost will also be shared by the two parties.

While this may sound like something of a gamble it’s not as risky as it initially sounds. For one thing, the team will choose their clients carefully. The client sets out a base case, which is what their real estate portfolio would cost without the help of Tricore. That base case is then verified by a chartered surveyor. “Very simply, we then share the risk,” says Lander. “If we can beat the base case, we take 50 per cent of the saving. On the other hand, if we exceed the base case, we share 50 per cent of the cost.”

And Lander certainly knows how to make a saving. When Nabarros moved to its new premises in Theobalds Road, the deal Lander arranged added an extra £7m to the partners’ profit pool.

The timing of the venture is also perfectly executed. “If you get 99 per cent correct as a lawyer you’ve failed,” he tells me categorically. In a recession, of which Lander has seen four, companies are looking for innovative ways to manage their real estate and make any savings they can. “We believe that for the next five years, the letting market is going to be difficult,” Lander says. “We’re going to have a series of joint ventures. And we’re going to solve our clients’ problems.”

Lander insists his move is not brave. “Yes, I could make an absolute balls-up of it. But I won’t,” he says. “Anyway, I can always get a job. I can always phone up those very nice people at Nabarros and say: ‘Is there anything in the postroom?'”

He pauses, momentarily, in his flow and looks at me somewhat curiously. “Your job must be great,” he says. “You meet people all the time. Maybe if my new business doesn’t go so well I’ll apply for a job at The Lawyer.”

His joking aside, I would say it’s a fairly safe bet that Lander won’t be knocking on The Lawyer‘s door anytime soon.
Geoffrey Lander
Nabarro Nathanson