7 lessons learned: Michael Polledri, MBE, founder of Lee Valley Estates

Michael Polledri MBE is founder of Lee Valley Estates, a regeneration development company creating affordable workspace, homes and mixed use communities in north London and the Lee Valley Corridor. Michael looks back on his career with the benefit of hindsight.

Starting his career with KPMG, he began his property career thirty years ago, seeing through five recessions. He was awarded his MBE in recognition of his services to enterprise and regeneration in North London and was recently bestowed the St Mellitus Medal by the Bishop of London for his community building work in Hale Village, a new urban village in Tottenham.

Don’t rely on the banks

They follow trends, not your business. Always have a plan B so you aren’t totally reliant on them. Don’t ever assume they are your friend, regardless of how good your relationship is. They are bankers and will always want their money back, on their terms, not necessarily your terms.

Build the right team around you and value it

Loyal and honest staff are critical to a business. ‘Yes men’ are of no value and will actually be damaging. Encourage your staff to challenge and question decisions; that way they get tested and can be improved.

If there’s a danger that you’ll let your heart rule your head, have a person in the team who can balance this and play good cop/bad cop.

Know your strengths and build a team to plug the gaps. It’s conceited to think you are good at everything, so create a team of people that can do things better than you. Harness those talents and nurture those staff. Always let people know they are valued and praise them when they do something well.

Enjoy what you do & lead from the front

Making money for money’s sake ultimately isn’t good. It may feel okay short term, but it’s disillusioning long term. Ninety per cent of business is perspiration and determination, so you’ve got to relish what you do.

The good times won’t last forever

Having been through five recessions, all of which have affected the property market, I learnt this very early on. Never presume interest rates will remain low and never over-borrow finance. The good times aren’t permanent, they are cyclical. Always keep that in mind to future proof your business otherwise you will be lulled into complacency. If that happens, you will be unprepared for any change, making it even tougher to survive.

Be a decent person

Operate with integrity. Business success may come and go, but integrity is forever and it defines you and your business. I’m an advocate of the 5 Pillars of Character: trustworthy, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship. I look for it in other people that I want to do business with too.

Sleep on a problem

Sleep on a problem if you can; or at least give it some thinking space. I always ‘park’ very difficult decisions overnight for when I shave the next morning and always come up with an answer. It is not always the right decision, but at least I’ve had a good night’s sleep. I’ve got through the night without stress and can think with a clear head. At 3 am everything is much worse than it is in the cold light of day.

Don’t worry about things that are outside of your control: it’s like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but gets you nowhere. It’s stressful and consumes your energy.

Be optimistic

In business there is an element of luck, but I do believe you create your own. Optimism is also contagious and benefits others around you. To be truly entrepreneurial you have to believe that the cup is half full because it helps you see opportunities, learn from different and difficult situations and keeps you moving forward. It also helps you take the risk and back your own judgement.