The Housing Collective: Forging A Unique Path as a CEO within the Housing Industry

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. 

Our third and final exploration of Bjorn and Tom’s conversation looks more closely at how business leaders within the housing industry can forge their own path whilst continuing to look out for the residents they serve and the employees—at all levels of seniority—that make their work possible. 

Cutting Out The External Noise

For Bjorn, this concept of cutting out the external noise is crucial. As we explored in our last post, whilst other organisations across the housing industry are encouraging their employees to return to corporate sites, for instance, he recognises that Aster Group’s business model means their remote-first attitude works well. 

“I frequently describe myself as a short-term custodian of this very long-term business… It’s my job to hand it on to the next Chief Executive and the next leaders of this organisation better than when I inherited it, and it’s their job to do the same.”

Previously owning over 67 offices, from large corporate sites to smaller, field-based offices comprised of three or four colleagues, the entailed business cost means that forging their own path has made abundant business sense. Reducing waste—in terms of the number of miles that colleagues would travel each day to reach their assigned site, amongst other areas of the business—has not only benefitted the organisation, its residents and employees as something which is ‘nice to have’, but has also enabled them to achieve ever-greater sustainability, crucial to the good of the wider world.

Of course, a remote-first policy isn’t the only way that Aster Group are bucking overall trends within the housing sector. Indeed, this approach feeds into their overall strategy—especially when it comes to meeting their non-executive recruitment targets across the globe—but the company also aims to remain grounded, and not necessarily follow the latest trends when they are experimenting. 

“If you don’t experiment, you’ll never arrive at what actually is going to work for you and your business.”

As Bjorn highlights, not everything new is exciting. During his tenure as Group CEO, he and his executive team have always tried to pick wisely where they want to be different, ultimately focusing on making the right long-term strategic decisions, a recipe that has seen them continue to grow and attract quality candidates. 

Planning For The Future

So, what are Bjorn’s plans for Aster Group as they move into the future, particularly given the currently uncertain economic outlook for the wider housing industry? In short, he’s looking to stay true to the principles that have enabled the organisation and its brands to achieve success since their founding. 

A balance between three equally critical business focuses is the bedrock on which Aster’s short and long-term development strategy rests: 

  • Investment in services for the organisation’s customers
  • Looking after and maintaining residents’ homes
  • Building new properties to address the housing crisis

As Bjorn illustrates, “...the job of a good board is to get the right balance between those three things.” It’s often the case that getting this balance right is a primary issue for businesses within the housing sector—with organisations that focus too closely on building new homes often doing so to the detriment of the maintenance of current stock, for instance.

Indeed, Aster’s careful balancing of these three focuses allows them to forge ahead with their experimental path, ensuring that the development programme remains simple but allows them to increase revenue and profitability. 

Alongside these business focuses, Bjorn continues to work with the Aster Foundation, a charity that supports the mental health and well-being of some 35,000 people who live in the homes that Aster Group and its subsidiary brands maintain. The Aster Foundation’s goal is to better the lives of at least 40,000 individuals living and working in the communities the organisation represents and serves by 2030. 

Bjorn highlights that businesses across the housing industry are in a unique position to tackle social challenges—with the Aster Foundation’s inc.ademy initiative seeing them spare their resources and expert knowledge to offer trailblazer support for individuals looking to begin their own businesses. The foundation is currently working with its third cohort of entrepreneurs, who will receive mentorship and coaching to achieve financial and professional success in their fields.

Aster Group’s openness to innovation in service delivery and their people offering gives Bjorn the confidence that the business will go from strength to strength, attracting the right people, creating an environment where individuals’ careers can thrive, and providing excellent service and care to residents. 

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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