In our regular series, established business people remember when they were still spring chickens
Hi, Neil! Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Neil Sinclair, and I’ve been in the property world since the 60s!
What’s was your #MyFirstMcjob?
Working at Smart Weston, part of a larger group, the men’s wear shop, age 16.
How did you get the job?
My dad said: “I want you to get a Saturday job. I want you to learn the value of money. I want you to learn how to talk to people, how to get up in the morning and how to put a suit on.” I wrote to Mr Joe Segal, the Head of Personnel saying I wanted a Saturday job and I was invited in for an interview.
What did you have to do every day?
Sod all, initially, because I had no sales experience. I just watched what everybody was doing and ended up doing quite well. I got a promotion and was transferred to a branch in Soho, which was very exciting as a 16-year-old with all that went on in Soho. Then I was transferred to Shepherd’s Bush, around the corner from the BBC, where all these comedians and actors would come into the shop.
Who was the most famous person you served?
I remember Benny Hill came in, asked everyone to stop what they were doing, and did a 10-minute act, which was bloody funny.
How long did you work there?
Until I was 18.
What were the perks of the job?
It was a great bunch of people. I loved every minute of it.
What skills did you learn that you still use today?
How to deal with people and give them respect.
What’s the most memorable thing that happened?
A guy came into the shop asking for a pair of working socks. They cost 18p a pair. He said: “I don’t want a good pair,” but they were the cheapest we had. I said: “I’ll tell you what. Why don’t you buy one sock this week for 9p and come back next week to buy the other sock?” The staff couldn’t believe it, but you’re not allowed to laugh in front of a customer. I sold him the one sock, and the next week, he came back for the other one.
Are you still in touch with anyone you worked with?
One of the cashiers I worked at Shepherd’s Bush became a Lord Justice of Appeal — of the top judges in this country. I lost touch with him for years, then about 12, 14 years ago, I happened to be in the High Court, recognized the name and — even though I hadn’t seen him for about 45 years — thought: “I’m going to drop him a note: ‘Dear Stanley, are you the guy that worked in Smart Weston in Shepherd’s Bush when we were 17? If you are, you’ve done great. If not, tear up the letter.’” He phoned and we had a coffee in his chambers; magic.
Why is alumni important?
Alumni is very important because you must keep in touch with people. That’s the great thing about LinkedIn. Alumni means you know what people are capable of. I still keep in touch with as many people as I can.
What would happen if you went back and did a shift in the shop today?
I’d be more experienced. I would know exactly how to handle it. But I can’t see I would change much. I knew exactly what to say to people. Your objective when working in a shop is to sell as much as you can. I’ve built up that experience in my real estate world. You’re out selling and letting and dealing with people.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself?
I’d say: “Be prepared for downturns at any time, particularly if you go into your own business.” In my business recently we’ve had to get over Brexit and we’ve had to get over Covid. And now we have to get over inflation.