Shauna’s career in property built on careful progression
FROM being employed in 1987 to ‘sit in a window and look pretty’ to a director and shareholder of the company, Shauna Clapham has come a long way in 30 years at Swoffers.
For a woman so driven by success and so adept at working a room, you’d be forgiven for thinking she got there by being a cut-throat menace, but you’d be wrong.
Women literally weren’t allowed to wear the trousers at Swoffer Reed, as it was known when Shauna started out, let alone work as negotiators.
It was a time when the company’s photographers had to run down to Boots every morning to get negatives developed and sent out with the post. The agents, too, would have to have plenty of coinage on them for a quick dash to the telephone box when sealing a deal. But it was the presence of one director of the company 15 years her senior that made Shauna strive for the top.
‘She made it look glamorous and fun and she taught me, however much of a cliche it may sound, that you only get out of life what you put in,’ she said.
Shauna’s younger years were spent helping out at her family’s hotels and B and Bs on the island.
‘My mother put us to work early on, I was a waitress and chambermaid before I hit 15 when all I did was plan to get out.’
In 1982 she attended Birmingham Polytechnic to study foreign languages for business, living next to Aston Villa football ground, which was ‘always interesting, such a change compared to Guernsey’. Despite plans to conquer the world and earn her riches, a brief stint back on the island after university working at Condor left Shauna pining for her way out again.
‘A friend of a friend was moving to Tenerife and needed to employ a Spanish speaker. I’m not sure I really did speak Spanish.
‘I spent three months living in a hotel. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven, eating out every night.’
Her now boss was involved in property and work took her on a route that led to her living behind Harrods before setting off to Portugal.
‘I met all sorts of interesting people. They only built one house and a garden, but I had lots of fun.’
Then a job selling kitchens in the Algarve became Shauna’s own first taste of the industry.
‘I wanted to be selling property but I wasn’t old enough really, I was only 21 when I went out there and of course it was all very male.’
At 24, Shauna returned the island when her dad fell ill and to a bank job. Slightly despairing, she was quick to look into a position at Swoffer Reed after hearing good things from an acquaintance. The plan at the time was for the office to move into the High Street and Shauna, young and suntanned, was offered a job sitting – purposefully – in the window answering the telephone.
‘The move to the High Street never happened. When I turned up to work, they said they didn’t have an open market secretary and asked me to do that. I don’t think I was a particularly good secretary.’
Today she exudes a confidence Shauna insists is ‘just a front’, but her foray into real estate became one built on careful progression.
‘I don’t remember my first sale, but I remember all the mistakes,’ she said.
‘I also remember most of all the lovely people I worked with.’
By the early ’90s the office was full of women. Shauna had met her soon-to-be husband and had already outstayed the two years on Guernsey she had promised herself in 1987.
Despite occasional pangs for what might have been on the Algarve, Shauna says her home turf makes the job easy.
‘I don’t think I could have been selling houses here for 30 years if I didn’t believe in Guernsey.’
Over time Shauna moved from local to open market negotiator, picking up business lessons that never go out of style.
‘You have to sell to the person, there’s no need pointing out six bedrooms as a plus point if they’re really looking for three – a good agent can make a house sound smaller if they need to.’
Shauna has dealt with the naysayers throughout her career with remarkable restraint, calmly passing the call on elsewhere when someone asked to speak to a ‘real director’ and not driving a client into a wall when asked just 10 years ago if she was the Saturday girl. Like her favourite sorts of property, she is classy and not to be messed around with.
‘I have a lot of respect for those people who haven’t felt the need to run with the trends,’ she said.