Harry Hyman is CEO of Primary Health Properties (PHP.L), a company he founded in 1995. With over 500 primary healthcare facilities and market cap of around £1.4bn, PHP is one of the largest healthcare real estate investment trusts in the UK.
The British entrepreneur also founded Nexus Pine and Nexus Media Group, as well as the International Opera Awards.
I had the idea for Primary Health Properties thanks to working under my first boss Michael Goddard, the founder and managing director of Baltic, which was a specialist in asset finance.
I was there for 11 years until 1994 and learned about finance and life in the fast lane during the time of the Big Bang and Nigel Lawson slashing corporation and income tax. It was a period when there was lots of merchant adventuring going on in the finance world.
We weren’t a bank but we were close to being one. Our leasing portfolio was up to £200m, which seems small now, and we were one of the first companies to be listed on the Unlisted Securities Market. We soon progressed to the main market and I was the finance director and deputy managing director of that business.
At 27, I might have been the youngest FD of a listed company back then. I was challenged with coping with the growth and pace of change and learning about reporting to public markets.
At one stage we banked with 31 different banks and there were some hairy moments with the Stock Market crash of 1987 and the 1992 sterling crisis. As a small management team, we coped with it and it was a formative period.
Michael was very demanding but he took people along with him, as there was a desire to match up to his high level of expectation.
He was like a father figure and paternal in some respects. He cared about employees in his team and he got upset if someone was mauled in the business sense. It was a buccaneering period in financial history and some of that spirit of the 1980s has disappeared and everything is more regulated and placid – and maybe that’s a function of moving up in scale as a business.
We did some interesting deals and as it was a small company, you had to learn on your feet.
Leadership is a journey and a good leader can inspire in a number of different ways. Mine now is more of a team and consensual approach than through outright antipathy.
We later sold our fund management business to Aberdeen and I learned some of the skills of negotiation and how to keep calm in a crisis from Michael.
He was and is an extremely good negotiator and if I was half as good as he was, it’s one of the key assets I learned and how not to be afraid of being a good negotiator.
There is something in the British psyche of being afraid when it comes to the challenge pricing and a true entrepreneur will have a reason for paying what they want to pay, being dogmatic, staying in the game and not losing out on the deal.
PHP is a simple concept but I have a number of different strings to my bow and having worked for Michael for 11 years it was a natural thing to leave and doing my own thing.
I set up PHP as an externally managed vehicle to start with and it was based on the concept of what I had discovered through the sale of the fund management business to Aberdeen and seeing them in action.
Entrepreneurialism is sometimes seeing an idea and applying it in a different set of circumstances. My original idea for PHP was when I discovered that GPs in the UK have their rent paid for by the NHS.
I thought that was interesting. The NHS is technically an agency of the British government and although the leases are written to GPs, the counterparty who pays the rent is the NHS and so there is a yield and covenant mismatch which my training at Baltic helped me to see. Understanding credit risk and putting it together with appropriate finances was the core of what Baltic was about.
I am stepping back from CEO in April but hoping to continue in some form of non-exec capacity. There comes a time after nearly 30 years where succession planning is quite important and PHP, with a team of 60 people, needs a new generation of leadership.
Meanwhile, if I can continue to harness some of the connections and fundraising abilities to bring some extra money to help younger people develop their careers in the arts, to my mind that’s a worthwhile thing to do.
Opera is a difficult art form to make your mark in if you’re not from a very well off, middle-class background. Last year we gave out over £100,000 or bursaries to over 20 recipients. I founded the awards in 2012 and it helps to fund that.
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