The Housing Collective: Continuing to Challenge Yourself as CEO of a Housing Association

6 mins
Tom Neely

By Tom Neely

The third episode of the Housing Collective podcast, delivered in partnership with crowdfunding platform Beam, sees Neemar Search founder Tom Neely catching up with Bjorn Howard, Group CEO of Aster Group, a coalition of companies that serve Southern England from Cornwall into Surrey and Sussex, as well as the Southern Midlands, Oxfordshire, and London. 

In this first blog post on the podcast, we discover and discuss Bjorn’s advice to executives at all points in their careers—from time-served experts to aspiring and new leaders—and understand how, even after a decade, you can continue to challenge yourself and those around you to give their best.

If you’d like to learn more about the Housing Collective podcast or you’re searching for more impactful leadership lessons, make sure to check out our founder’s recent open letter, in which he details the Neemar Search mission statement and highlights the crucial aspects that we believe will make the housing sector and the communities within it stronger, more resilient, and more capable of driving positive change. 

Bjorn’s Journey to CEO

Bjorn’s career path within the housing industry begins at university. Originally studying law with the ambition of moving into the commercial and corporate sector, a voluntary summer placement with a housing aid sector saw him “...bitten by the housing bug”, in his own words. 

Much to the consternation of his parents—at least at the time—this would encourage him to drop out of his degree course and seek out a role within the sector in which he’d be able to contribute towards the social good that housing organisations and local authorities can achieve. 

“Housing is fundamental in a civilised society.”

From his first role as a Clerical Assistant with a local authority, Bjorn would work his way through the ranks before joining a housing association. This vocational calling led to a thirty-year career within the sector, alongside which he has served as a Non-Executive Director with an NHS Trust and a government appointee to a housing association.

As of catching up with him for our podcast conversation, he has been Chief Executive of Aster Group for fourteen years—during which time he has presided over the expansion of the organisation, growing it to a turnover of over £300m and employing just over 2000 professionals who serve and maintain over 32,000 properties. In short, with Bjorn at the helm, Aster Group doesn’t sit still. 

Given a forward-thinking leadership style that always seeks to improve and overcome obstacles, the question arises: How does he personally and professionally continue to inspire himself and act as an example for his colleagues at all levels of seniority throughout the business?

Continuing to Evolve

During Bjorn’s tenure as CEO of Aster Group, the housing industry has continued to evolve—as he notes, “’s not the same job for fourteen years.” In that time, the company has doubled in size and turnover, acquired smaller housing trusts, entered into different service lines and established the Aster Foundation charity, which seeks to improve the lives of the residents and customers across the Group’s footprint.

In all of this, Bjorn has always challenged himself to keep his passion for the social good that housing associations do front and centre. Three catalysts drive his goals and ambitions for Aster Group: 

  • The business’s operating environment
  • Their financial robustness and resilience
  • The demands of customers who—rightly—expect more of the association on a daily basis

This desire to do good as the CEO of a housing group such as Aster has meant that he continues to find pleasure in what he does, enjoying his current post just as much as he did when he first began working in the sector. As he illustrates in our conversation, you truly have to love what you do when it comes to a leadership role in housing. 

“What I encourage other people to do is to ask… at least every six months, ‘Am I still really passionate about this? Have I got the drive for it? Am I still loving it as much as I did six months before? …if you can answer yes, then carry on.”

For Bjorn, as long as you can continue learning every day, you’re being honest about your mistakes, and you’re still positively impacting the lives of your customers and colleagues—executive and non-executive alike—you’re the right person for that leadership role. 

Emphasising the key leadership qualities that he believes will lead to success within the housing sector during these uncertain times, he encourages aspiring and new leaders to always stay true to their principles, empathise with colleagues and customers, and remain humble when working and collaborating with others, whether they’re internal stakeholders or external partner organisations. 

Specialist Housing Executive Search Firm

Whether you’re a candidate making a career change or you’re a business leader searching for a seasoned expert within the housing industry, Neemar Search is here to support you.

If you’re interested in learning more about the challenges facing the housing sector or you’re searching for more leadership lessons, join the Housing Collective Newsletter for the latest expert insights.

We’re dedicated to partnering with leading not-for-profit housing associations, local authorities, arms-length management organisations (ALMOS), and for-profit enterprises to drive change within the industry through executive staffing solutions. Whether you require recruitment expertise within corporate or customer services, asset management, development, or finance, we can help you to make an impact. 

Contact us to learn more about our specialist hiring services within the housing industry. 

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