Leeds Property News: Tycoon tells of humble start

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Among a wave of immigrants who fled east Africa during the Idi Amin era, Nazir Ahmed arrived in Leeds keen to find work as an accountant.

Among a wave of immigrants who fled east Africa during the Idi Amin era, Nazir Ahmed arrived in Leeds keen to find work as an accountant.

His skills from Malawi were not transferable and racism was rife in 1970s Britain, so he bought a grocery shop and put his head for numbers to good use. Well before buy-to-let became mainstream, Nazir calculated that if he used his savings to buy a condemned back-to-back as a short-term family home, he could afford another house to let.

That investment property, bought in 1977, was the start of a multi-million pound bricks and mortar empire that keeps on growing. Parklane Group, best known for its student lets, has now diversified into purpose-built student accommodation, launched an aparthotel chain and is pioneering new ways of renting.

The company is one of Yorkshire’s most impressive property success stories and it is still very much a family business with a younger generation propelling it forward. While Nazir is chairman, his sons run the day-to-day operation. Naveen is managing director, technology expert Sameer is commercial director and Nadeem, who is also managing partner of an accountancy firm, is the finance director. It was they who suggested opening an office on Cardigan Road, Headingley, in 1994.

“The business was run from home for many years and my mother was the backbone of the business. She is an entrepreneurial spirit and very creative. She was always pushing my father to buy property, “ says Naveen, who has inherited the creative genes and whose determination was forged by a character-building adolescence.

Well educated at an ex-pat school, he spoke good English when he arrived in Leeds aged 13, but the colour of his skin still made him a target.

“I remember being beaten up within weeks of coming here but that sort of thing makes you very resilient, “ he says.

At university, he struggled to find a placement, so for his second shot at work experience the rules were bent to allow him to set up his own business.

“I bought antiques from auction and sold them on, which was profitable and enjoyable, but my ambition was to work in the family business. Dad wasn’t sure what use I would be so I trained as a plumber and that convinced him, “ says Naveen.

After opening the first Parklane office, the Ahmed family began to expand. They now have sales and letting agencies in Headingley and the city centre, managing over 3,000 lets, and recently won a best lettings agent award. Meanwhile, they have built their own substantial portfolio of residential and commercial property and recently rescued Leeds Golf Centre, which is now the UK headquarters of the David Leadbetter Golf Academy.

Rather than rely on contractors, the company established its own maintenance team at Hive. Spotting the trend towards purpose-built student accommodation, they constructed their own, The Triangle. For students in their second and third years and for young professionals who want to house share, Parklane has introduced Rentinc., an all-inclusive package that includes rent and bills. It’s very popular and now makes up 30 per cent of Parklane’s rental portfolio.

The latest innovation is IconInc., targeted at wealthy overseas students who want five-star accommodation. A gym, concierge, cleaners and first-class fixtures and fittings will come as standard. The first two IconInc. developments in Leeds will be complete in September and the company is looking at building in Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and London.

“We are looking at joint ventures and franchising to take our purpose-built, high-end accommodation ventures forward, “ says Naveen, who is the brains behind the branding and design.

He came up with the clever Roomzzz title for a chain of aparthotels, which the Parklane Group launched in 2009. The first was in Leeds and there are now Roomzzz in Manchester and Dubai with a franchise in Newcastle and additional branches opening in Liverpool, Chester and London over the next two years. They want to expand in the Middle East and Europe.

“There’s a lot going on but we are very cautious. We’ve been strong thanks to my father’s stewardship. Three years before the financial crisis we could see property prices were too high and we stopped buying and started selling, “ says Naveen, who also designed the company’s distinctive orange branding.

Orange is his favourite colour and an appropriate choice for a company whose future continues to look bright.

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