Michael Wright, Douglas Allen

Nigel Lewis gains insight into the work life and philosophy of an agent working within a big group, with an independent approach.

Douglas Allen fundraising image

Michael Wright is the Operations Director at London and Essex agency Douglas Allen which, given it has some 18 branches and is part of the high-profile and 100-branch Arun Estate group, makes him one of the industry’s senior figures. But what makes him and his business tick? The Negotiator sat down with him to find out.

What does ‘Operations Director’ mean at Douglas Allen?

“In other businesses it would be an MD role, as here I run the business and, bar some help with running the financial services side, I’m in charge of business strategy, running the branches and hiring and firing,” he says. “Above me is Aldo Sotgiu the Group Managing Director, who all the people like me across the brands report into. But one of the attractions of this job is that you have a lot of autonomy – something I didn’t have when I worked at Countrywide and Haart.”

How did you start in the industry?

“I began 20 years ago as a young ‘Saturday boy’ at Bairstow Eves in Muswell Hill [in North London] at a time when that estate agency was considered the ‘top of the tree’ within the industry,” he says. “A couple of weeks later I was offered the role as a negotiator and from that point onwards I never looked back – and after running a couple of decent branches I was soon running North London for them.”

What is a good leader?

“A good one is somebody who leads by example by showing, mentoring, coaching or helping and someone who takes responsibility for the staff who work for them in the branch, and who doesn’t rely on a head office training department to do it for them,” he says. “Lots of branch managers have different personalities, but you’ve got to be emotionally intelligent, more so now than you had to be in the past.

Michael Wright - Douglas Allen - image
Michael Wright

“When I started at Bairstow Eves I was ordered around and told to ‘effing’ do this or that, or have my chair taken away if I didn’t hit target – whereas now the world has changed, people can’t be talked to like that.

“I have three rules; one: tell the truth to your customers, your colleagues and to yourself and then you’re already above and beyond most agents on the high street.

“Two: people should work here because they do it for themselves and the customers, not because they’re told to do it. I always ask people – how many people have you helped today?

It’s all about the branch manager – get them right and the rest filters down from that.

“And three: you’ve got to enjoy your job. We all have bad days but you’ve got to enjoy it for the majority of the time to be winning.”

What’s the difference between an under-performing branch and a good one?

“It’s all about the branch manager – get them right and the rest filters down from that; I was saying in a meeting today that if you look after your customers and your employees via good ‘micro leaders’ like branch managers, then you’re set,” he says. “The biggest challenge is finding the ideal people to lead a branch – you can never tell how they’re going to perform until they settle in and understand our processes and how we work.”


Joined Countrywide in 2004 and worked his way up to be a Regional Manager by the time he left in 2016 to join Haart as a Regional Partner and latterly, an Estate Agency Director. In September 2021 he joined Douglas Allen as its Associate Operations Director before being promoted to Operations Director in September 2022. In his spare time he is a keen golfer.

What makes Douglas Allen different from says Pittis or Cubitt & West?

“It is geographic really – we have the East London and South Essex marketplace because that’s where we’ve been operating for years, and people tend to migrate from the former to the latter,” he says. “But then when you go over the Dartford crossing, you’re into Wards territory and so on – but we stand alone.

Douglas Allen have helped donate an incredible £15m to charitable causes close to our hearts.

“From an operational role we’re also different – for example Wards and Cubitts are each divided up into two operations with separate directors running them – whereas I get to run the whole show because we’re a little smaller.”

How’s business?

“In sales at the moment, we’ll take anything we can get but we’re in a good position because many of the areas we cover are still affordable but London and the SE standards – such as Romford, Ilford and East Hams,” he says.

What’s the biggest issue you face every day?

“People – by a long way. Whether it’s the recruitment, management or development of them,” he says. “Everyone here has a six-month review with me regardless of whether they’re getting promoted or not getting promoted or whatever.”

Douglas Allen fundraising image

Arun recently signed up with Teclet for the group’s letting business – what’s your view on ‘proptech’?

“Arun is unusual because all of our technology has been developed bespoke for us by our own in-house developers – we don’t use Reapit or whatever – which is unusual,” he says.

“When we do try out new tech, we think it through and we’re pretty cautious, unlike other bigger agency groups, and will pilot them in a few branches first, then an area, then a brand.

“We also use SalesScreen, which is a ‘gamification’ of performance – which is important because so many of team are now younger and used to being engaged like this – but of course some of the older staff are coming along kicking and screaming.”

Is there internal competition among the different Arun brands for instructions?

“This is where we differ from companies like Haart and Countrywide which, when I worked there, weren’t that joined up when it came to passing referrals around the business,” he says. “But at Arun it’s actively encouraged for staff at different brands to compete for businesses, but we do work as a collective to ensure that if a lead comes in for Douglas Allen and we don’t have the coverage to deal with, then it’s passed on to one of the other estate agencies.”


Douglas Allen agency imageThe original and eponymous business was started up during the 1960s by Ivor Spiro, Cyril Dennis and Martin Garrard in East London although Garrard subsequently left to set up his own agency.

The remaining founders then purchased Essex firm Douglas Allen during the 1970s. At the start of the Thatcher years, Spiro bought out Dennis, selling some of his holdings in the company during the mid-1980s to an investment firm.

In 1988 Spiro sold his remaining shares in the company to Refuge Assurance and the company then went on to expand across North and East London as well as Essex.

In 1991 the agency had become rolled up into the Prudential Property Services empire which included five other agencies in and around London, and this was bought that year by businessman Paul Rooney.

In 1996 Douglas Allen opened its first letting operation and in 2000 a financial services arm and 12 years later underwent a major rebrand, with another following in 2020.

Arun Estates, which was the new name given to the group by Rooney in 1991, helped him become one of the first independent estate agents to make it into the Sunday Times Rich List in 2015. The other brands within the group, which he is credited with building up, including Cubitt & West, Pittis and Wards.


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