Jonathan Michael Hunt
June 1953 (age 67)
|Known for||founder of Foxtons|
|Net worth||GBP £1.186 billion (STRL April 2015)|
Jonathan Michael Hunt (born June 1953), is a British billionaire property entrepreneur. He is best known as the founder of UK estate agency Foxtons, and is more recently known as the founder of Pavilion, the business members club chain. He has developed Wilderness Reserve, an area of restored natural lakes, parkland and woods situated in Suffolk's Yox Valley.
Early life and career
Jonathan Michael Hunt was born in June 1953, in Colchester, Essex, into an Army family. Hunt was awarded a scholarship to Millfield boarding school (tennis, rugby and swimming). He left after O-levels to join the Army, passing basic training for the Royal Artillery, where his father had been a colonel.
After leaving the army, and following a short spell washing cars in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Hunt returned to the UK in 1972 and spent the next eight years working as an estate agent in Woking and Guildford, Surrey.
Hunt's property career began at age 19 when he borrowed a £100 deposit to buy a one-bedroom conversion flat in Walton Road, Woking for £4,500.
In 1982 Hunt, then aged 28, founded Foxtons with school friend Anthony Pelligrinelli, who put in £30,000 to fund the business in its first year. The company took its name from a village near Hunt's Suffolk home. Hunt has since commented:
- "When Foxtons opened in 1981 I had no idea there was a recession going on. I didn’t often read the newspapers let alone the business pages."
The firm's office in London's Notting Hill Gate neighbourhood distinguished itself from competing estate agents by opening a then-unusual 74 hours a week, including weekend and evening hours, rather than the conventional 40 hours worked by rival estate agents. Foxtons expanded to other London districts, each new branch offering a 0% commission in its first three months of operation to attract customers, thereafter charging higher rates than competitors.
The property crash of 1988–94 had a severe impact on the firm. In a 2010 interview, Hunt recalled:
- “…Foxtons had no significant lettings department and as a consequence it barely hung on – we were close to going bust every day".
The experience prompted Hunt to expand into lettings, relying on the additional income stream to cover operating costs during future downturns.
Other notable Foxtons initiatives from Hunt included an early web presence, initiated in 1999, and an 800-strong fleet of branded Minis driven by agents.
During Hunt's tenure Foxtons grew to 20 branches, over 1,600 employees in the UK and US, £110m in turnover and £34m profits. Director Magazine called the company "...London's biggest, brashest estate agency." Hunt is quoted as saying that Foxtons clients expected it “…go to war for them", while others described the company culture as overly competitive. A 2006 BBC documentary of the UK estate agency industry accused Foxtons agents of misleading clients, falsifying signatures and destroying the signs of rival agencies. Hunt later agreed that the company had made mistakes, though he felt the programme was edited unfairly.
Hunt sold Foxtons to private equity group BC Partners for £375 million in May 2007, at what some commentators described as the height of the UK property market. Interviewed by the Evening Standard newspaper in 2010, Hunt insisted that his timing of the sale was straightforward:
- "If you remember, there was a rampant market ... I did think this is roughly the right time and if you're going to go, go now. I'm absolutely not a genius."
Commercial and residential property investments
Since selling Foxtons, Hunt has made significant investments into commercial and residential property in central London. These investments, along with other family property holdings, are managed by Ocubis Ltd. In December 2011 Ocubis received planning consent for a 120,000 square foot mixed use redevelopment of its building at 150 Holborn, designed by Make Architects. Ocubis also refurbished the 120,000 sq ft Fulham Green Campus next to Putney Bridge tube station in 2012 and their agents Savills, Frost Meadowcroft and Hanover Green let these offices to tenants including Emma Bridgewater, Hurtigruten, Green Fields Technology and Sweaty Betty.
In May 2013 Ocubis purchased the Grade II* listed building at No.5 St James's Square, formerly the Libyan Embassy. The Times newspaper reports that Hunt plans to refurbish the building to provide 15,000 sq ft of office space, along with 13 luxury flats currently under construction on an adjoining site. In October 2015, the parent company for Ocubis filed accounts showing that pre-tax profits in 2014 reached £3m, up from £1.6m the year before, with staff numbers rising to 82 from 61. The company is said to be seeking rents of £160 per sq ft for its office building at 5 St James's Square, making it among the most expensive in London.
In 2010, Hunt formed Bacchus Partners, which invests in sites suitable for residential or retail development in the South East of England. Focusing on sites between £200,000 and £1 million in value, Bacchus works with local property professionals who identify suitable investments in their local area in exchange for an equity stake in the development project.
Hunt owns and operates Pavilion, a business members' club in Kensington High Street. Pavilion is an up-market serviced office catering to entrepreneurs and business executives; it has been described by The Times as "...an office rental club aimed at affluent start-ups". It opened under the name "Dryland" in 2011.
Heveningham Hall is a 5000-acre 18th-century Suffolk estate owned by Hunt. It was first purchased by him in 1994. It hosts an annual motorsport and classic car event, the Heveningham Hall Concours d'Elegance. It also hosts an annual country fair, reported to attract over 10,000 attendees. All proceeds from the fair go to local community charities.
A Grade I listed Palladian country house, Heveningham was designed by 18th-century English architects Sir Robert Taylor and James Wyatt; its garden was designed by noted 18th century landscape artist Capability Brown and is being restored by Kim Wilkie. The project is expected to require the planting of 800,000 trees. Up to 20 hectares of broadleaf woodland is being planted each year. Wilkie is implementing a set of plans drawn up by Brown that had lain abandoned since 1782. The plans had hitherto been unrecognised as Brown's work.
In 2013 Hunt launched the Wilderness Reserve, an area of restored natural lakes, parkland and woods situated in Suffolk's Yox Valley on the Heritage Coast. The reserve is part of a recently implemented design by the noted landscape architect 'Lancelot 'Capability' Brown (1716-1783). In developing the Reserve, Hunt purchased 5000 acres of land, restored buildings and oversaw the reintroduction of wildlife and various species of flora and fauna. Hunt's private residence is adjacent to the Reserve; within the Reserve Hunt has made various buildings available for private hire, including Sibton Hall. He told the Financial Times: "Farming alone won’t pay for a modern estate to survive. Real estate will."
Hunt is married to Lois, a former nurse, and they have four children together. In press reports he is described as having the "bearing and manner of a former military man" and being "like an ex-SAS officer", as well as "famously tight-lipped". He is a known collector of classic Ferraris.
- "Sunday Times Rich List". The Sunday Times (page 32). 26 April 2014.
- "Foxtons founder Jon Hunt sees higher sales at his London offices firm". Evening Standards. 8 October 2019.
- "Pavilion - restaurant review". Evening Standard. Retrieved 15 September 2017.
- "Companies House". Foxtons Limited. Retrieved 9 January 2016.
- "What I've learnt: Jon Hunt". businesslife. 11 September 2012. Retrieved 9 January 2016.
- Jones, Rupert (24 May 2007). "'He has built a business on a model I wouldn't want to replicate but you must take your hat off and say well done ... '". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 30 October 2020.
- Purnell, Sonia (26 March 2006). "Jon Hunt: As cunning as Foxtons". The Independent. London. Retrieved 26 July 2012.
- "The Foxtons founder on building one of property's biggest brands in the midst of a recession". Startups.co.uk. 16 February 2010. Retrieved 26 July 2012.
- West, Matthew (September 2010). "Foxtons set to open 20 new branches". City AM. Retrieved 26 July 2012.
Foxtons waives commission on new instructions for up to three months to gain share in a new area and secure sales
- "Complaint by Mischon de Reya Solicitors on behalf of Foxtons Limited Watchdog, BBC1, 28 March 2006". Ofcom. 16 July 2007. Retrieved 26 July 2012.
- Blackhurst, Chris (15 September 2010). "What Foxtons founder Jon Hunt did next..." Evening Standard. Retrieved 26 July 2012.
Hunt...sold the estate agencies chain for £370 million just weeks before the credit crunch hit and the property market slumped...His timing was brilliant.
- "150 Holborn given green light". World Architecture News. Retrieved 13 September 2012.
- http://www.fulhamgreen.com/tenants Fulham Green website
- Hipwell, Deidre (7 May 2013). "The Times". Embassy siege building sold for 'tens of millions' to Foxtons founder. News International. Retrieved 7 May 2013.
- "Foxtons founder prospers as landlord to wealthy businesses". Independent.co.uk. Independent Newspapers. 21 October 2015. Retrieved 4 November 2015.
- Thomas, Daniel (13 September 2010). "Social venture for Foxtons founder". Financial Times. Retrieved 27 September 2012.
- Reardon, Lisa Grainger, Gavin Bell, Kate. "Great British bolt holes: the best country hotels, cabins and lodges for your domestic holidays". ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 16 September 2020.
- "Heveningham Hall Concours d'Elegance 2017: picture special | Autocar". www.autocar.co.uk. Retrieved 16 February 2018.
- "The Country Fair Trust". Heveningham Hall Country Fair Trust. Archived from the original on 10 September 2012.
- Grice, Liz (3 May 2012). "Kim Wilkie is Led By the Land". The Telegraph. London. Retrieved 26 July 2012.
At Heveningham Hall in Suffolk, he persuaded English Heritage to let him create a majestic sweep of grass terracing along the lines of a scheme that Capability Brown designed 200 years ago but died before he could implement.
- Wilkie, Kim. "Heveningham Hall". Kim Wilkie Associates. Archived from the original on 8 May 2012.
- "Landscape Lover".
- Davidson, Andrew (29 January 2012). "Notting Hill estate agent returns to his old manor". The Times. Retrieved 26 July 2012.
[Hunt owns] a mansion on millionaires' row in Kensington, west London, and a prized collection of vintage Ferraris, for which he is building a car museum in his mansion, 50 feet below ground.
- "Heveningham Hall". KimWilkie.com. Kim Wilkie. Retrieved 11 June 2014.
- Aslet, Clive. "Into The Wild". Country Life. April 2014: 84–85.
- Sophy Roberts (13 December 2013). "Jon Hunt's Wilderness Reserve". Financial Times. Pearson. Retrieved 20 April 2015.
- ". . . Meanwhile Jon Hunt says no to £300m for his house". EstateAgentToday.co.uk. 19 March 2012. Retrieved 26 July 2012.
- "Ferrari 250 GTO: Britain's most expensive car". The Telegraph. London. 6 February 2012. Retrieved 26 July 2012.