Notable Alumni - Kevin McGrath

Kevin McGrath
Estates Management, 1989

Robert Humphreys

One of the country’s most successful property investors, Kevin McGrath now splits his time between running M&M Asset Management – which manages a commercial property portfolio worth around £600 million – and his philanthropic pursuits. A passionate believer that everyone should have the opportunity to realise their potential, he works to promote diversity and give young people from disadvantaged backgrounds practical support to overcome barriers and lead a happy and productive life.

Kevin arrived at the Polytechnic of the South Bank in 1984 to study part-time for a BSc in Estates Management, sponsored by his then employer the Greater London Council (GLC). ‘When I left school at 18, I wanted to get straight to work,’ he says. ‘No one in my family went to university, and no one talked about it when I was at school. But somewhere at the back of my mind, I knew I wanted to get some qualifications so that I could get a good job. I suppose I’ve always had that drive and sense of direction.’

It’s a quality that has taken him to the very top of his profession. From the GLC via Ealing and Westminster councils, he moved to Hermes, a pension investment company that managed funds for BT and the Post Office. Then in 1996, he was asked to set up a company to manage property investments on behalf of a large family trust. ‘We started with about £50 million-worth of property,’ he says. ‘When I stepped down in 2007, the portfolio was worth about £3 billion.’ 

His role at REIT gave Kevin the financial security he needed to shift focus. ‘I made a conscious decision to scale back,’ he says. ‘There were just so many other things I wanted to do.’ He dabbled in publishing, including a stint as proprietor of the left-wing magazine Tribune, stood as a parliamentary candidate for the Labour Party and joined the board at his beloved Queen’s Park Rangers, where he is now chair of the ladies’ team who, he proudly points out, were promoted this season, just like their male counterparts. 

He also set up his own charitable foundation, and became deeply involved with a number of charities, including Liberty, the Chartered Surveyors Training Trust and the Clink Prison Restaurant Charity, which gives serving prisoners the opportunity to learn practical, marketable skills by running a high-class restaurant inside prison. ‘Pretty much everything I’m involved in relates to trying to give young people from deprived backgrounds an opportunity,’ he says. ‘I’m interested in breaking down barriers, and finding ways to stop the cycle of deprivation and under-achievement.’

Then in 2013, he was tempted back into property. ‘It just seemed like a good time to invest,’ he says. M&M Investments now has commercial property interests worth around £600 million, and Kevin spends around half his time managing the portfolio, and half on his charity work. He has also taken up tennis, and is learning to play the piano. ‘I’m always trying to push myself in new directions,’ he says. ‘These are opportunities I didn’t have as a child, so I’m grabbing them now.’ 

Kevin was recently appointed High Sheriff of the County of Greater London for 2014/15. This prestigious office dates back to the Norman Conquest and is awarded by the Queen on recommendation of the Privy Council. High Sheriffs act as the Queen’s representative on criminal justice at county level, supporting the judiciary and the police, and working closely with voluntary sector organisations. ‘It’s a great honour,’ says Kevin. ‘It’s also a great opportunity to get in and talk to the people who’ve got power and influence ¬¬– police commissioners, prison governors, high court judges. I’m hoping we’ll be able to gain an insight into each others’ worlds.’ 

It’s striking that despite his tremendous success, Kevin still very much sees himself as the boy that grew up on a council estate and who never shone at school. He is mindful of the barriers faced by many young people growing up in similar circumstances, and clear about the role he thinks educational institutions such as LSBU should play in helping them to realise their potential. 

‘I think universities should be looking to make their student bodies as diverse as possible,’ he says. ‘That’s something LSBU has always done, and one of the reasons why I’m a member of the University Court. My degree was a hugely important stepping stone for me. It meant I could get my professional qualifications, which led to a good job and then to starting my own business, which helped me achieve the financial success that now enables me to do all the other things I do. Anyone who studies at LSBU is getting the most fantastic opportunity to do something with their lives. My advice would be, work hard to fulfil your potential in every way – and don’t forget to give something back.’ 

© London South Bank University 2018