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‘If poor mental health can happen to me then it can happen to anyone’, says leading industry figure

Bob Scarff reveals both his struggle to cope when it 'all got too much' and how it shaped his people skills, ahead of World Mental Health Day this Saturday.

Nigel Lewis

A leading figure in the property industry has revealed his struggle with mental health issues at one point during his early career ahead of World Mental Health Awareness Day on October 12th.

Bob Scarff (pictured, below), who is now Managing Director of Callwell, says his experiences of poor mental health made him realise the importance of understanding how people feel, not just how they perform. They occurred when he was managing director of Birmingham-based estate agency Dixons, then part of Hambro Countrywide, during the mid-1990s.

Bob Scarff image“I was concentrating on doing a good job and the pinnacle of that was when we became the most profitable subsidiary from a position of being the worst when I took over” he says.

“I had been completely consumed by that, but when I then made it successful, I did not have a clear plan about what to do next and it all fell apart inside my head, even though the business was doing well.”

Scarff says he could see his mental health problems developing because, looking back on it, he was stressed and wasn’t talking to anyone about it, not even his wife, and instead kept it bottled up.

“And then one day a minor problem became the straw that broke the camel’s back so I went to see my boss, Harry Hill who, although he didn’t deal with it in a modern touchy feely way, did tell me to take as much time off as I needed and that he’d find me another job to do when I returned.

“At the time I couldn’t see how I could carry on working at such an intensity at Dixons; don’t ask me to rationalise it, the situation was completely irrational. Remember I was only 39 years old.”

Scarff says that from that day to this he’s always made sure that when he does one-to-one meetings with a direct report, he ensures that as a matter of routine they talk as much about themselves as discussing business.

“Too often people say they’re talking to their staff, but often it’s all about numbers, not about the individual and how they are feeling,” he says.

In the interview (see below) Bob Scarff also talks about the Grenville Turner era, the Alison Platt era and the truth behind his own departure from Countrywide in 2015.

Watch the video

Find out more:

Time to change campaign

ITV ‘Britain Get Talking’ campaign

World Mental Health Awareness day

October 7, 2019

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