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Meet the MD: Sarah Barraclough of Skipton Properties

Heading up a new era in her family business, Sarah Barraclough talks to us about balancing work and family life as MD of Skipton Properties, putting quality at the heart of all operations and the value of an office dog, an amazing PA and the strongest of teams. 

What is it the company does?

We’re a medium-sized, family-owned-and-run developer, with over 30 years’ experience in creating unique homes. Our father, Brian, founded Skipton Properties back in 1986, after being disappointed with the quality of house building at the time. I recently took over from him as MD, he is now chairman, and my sister is sales, marketing and design director.

Our headquarters are in Cross Hills, but we build our homes across Yorkshire and Lancashire. We’re particularly skilled at bringing derelict land back to life, and creating a real community through our properties. We’re always on the lookout for an area we can breathe life into, so it can remain part of the local landscape for future generations. Our mission is to create beautiful homes that work with the natural rhythm of their surroundings, fusing traditional values and craftsmanship with modern-day living.

Every home is developed using sustainable building methods and we design all of them to be as energy-efficient as possible. We’re currently working on a total of five developments, with more than we’ve ever had in the pipeline.

Describe your role in no more than 100 words

Making sure we build the best quality homes our customers are excited to move into.

Making sure we have the best team to make that happen.

Making sure we invest wisely in places where we can make a real difference.

Making sure we never lose sight of the bigger picture: quality at every step.

Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?

I started on the ground at a Yorkshire estate agent, working indirectly for each developer. I was employed as sales advisor, usually working independently selling from the show home. Soon after, I joined Skipton Properties as a sales manager and was quickly promoted to sales director then operations director. I was made managing director of our family’s business earlier this year, which is a huge achievement and something I’m very proud of.

I’ve worked from the bottom up in this business, so I understand the whole build process and know instinctively how all the departments within the company work. That’s fundamentally why I’m able to take our business forward into a new era. 

What do you believe makes a great leader?

Someone who can really listen. Listen to those around you, pull on their expertise and experience to make you stronger, and realise you can’t be the oracle on everything, even as MD. Let others shine; we all bring so much to the table, and a leader’s job is to bring that out of people.

I make sure I listen to all sides of the story from our staff, customers and the general market, and then together with a smaller team of directors, we as the leaders of the company can make a valued decision based on that information – what to buy, when to buy, what product to put on, etc. Being a family business also means we can be agile in this respect.

A great leader also knows what everyone is doing in their team. Only with that intricate knowledge can we have the confidence that everyone is doing what they should be doing, and that the right people are in the right role. If you haven’t got the confidence or trust in your people, you haven’t got anything.

What has been the biggest challenge in your current position?

Planning the unknown. Trying to plan into the future with sites that you haven’t got planning permission for yet. We’re not a national builder so we haven’t got hundreds of sites in the pipeline; more like a dozen sites, but it’s still a difficult juggling act that we manage every day.

We’re planning more as we grow. In property development there are always lots of hoops to navigate: flooding, drainage, ecology, air quality, noise pollution, it never ends. There are much more in-depth reports to do now but we have to take on that challenge and thrive on it, ultimately it helps us futureproof the business.

How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?

I’d go crackers if I didn’t go to the gym! I go three to four times a week when the kids have after-school activities. I can’t control when planning permission comes through, or whether we’ll get a permit, and that is stressful, so the gym is my outlet.

I’ve also got three dogs and two children, so home life is hectic too but I love it, family time is so important to me.

Having an office dog helps. When you’re having a bad day and little Lola the sausage dog comes and sits on your knee, it makes everything better! We have a lovely team so if there’s a stressful situation at work I just take time out to make a brew, have a chat and we all remember why we’re here and that we’re here to do a job.

And I don’t know what I’d do without my PA, Dawn. She’s such a support.

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I didn’t want to be a builder! I wanted to travel the world, so being an air hostess was my thing for a long time. I lived in Indonesia when I was younger and always travelled with my parents, so I wanted to continue that and being an air hostess seemed like a logical way to do that and make money.

As I got older I always worked in hospitality, so having a restaurant would’ve been amazing. Then I wanted to be in the police force, because I was obsessed with criminology, which is what I studied at university.

Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?

I hate laziness and cutting corners. We only employ people who have a lot of self-motivation and get up and go. We’re a lively business doing great things and we’re on a mission, we haven’t got time for laziness.

Where do you see the company in five years’ time?

We’ll have expanded into different areas around the region and be in a strong financial position with the same team. Our team is the reason the days go smoothly here.

What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?

Build your team. Don’t think you can do it all. Trust people.

What do you wish someone had told you when you started out? 

Working with family is hard but rewarding!

Neina Sheldon
Article by Neina Sheldon
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