Get To Know Our Head of Operations

Get to know our Head of Operations

We recently sat down with our Head of Operations, Dan James to find out about his journey into the PBSA sector, how he manages operations across the Prime portfolio, and his plans for next year.

Tell me a about how you got into the PBSA sector and becoming Head of Operations at Prime Student Living? 

I come from a hospitality/retail background but in 2019, after nearly 10 years working for Costa Coffee, I was ready for a change and a recruitment agency asked whether I’d ever considered a career in student accommodation property management and to be honest it had never crossed my mind!  Over the next couple of weeks I learned everything I could about the company and the industry and the more I learned the more it seemed like an incredible opportunity.  Prime was offering something that was such a huge leap beyond anything I’d experienced in my own time in university in the early 2000s that by the time I walked into my interview I had prepared a SWOT analysis and a business plan for the site! I got offered the job the next day and I’ve never looked back.  Over the last 5 years I’ve experienced life as a Property Manager, a Multi-Site Manager, a Regional Operations Manager and, for the last 6 months, the Head of Operations.  It’s been a really incredible journey.

Can you tell us about the role, and what it entails?

A typical day for me can be anything from site visits, team engagement, training, liaising with local councils, supporting with sales & marketing, basically a lot of time in meetings!  Every day is so varied but I like to think that overall my job is about building relationships, and creating a culture where people want to do better, to achieve more, and then making sure they have the time and the resources to be able to focus on what’s important: looking after our tenants.  We delivered some great results in 22/23, both in terms of recognition (GSL Awards Best Booking Experience and all properties Gold or Platinum rated!) as well as financially – and that’s down to the incredible team we have here.

What is the best part about working as Head of Operations for Prime Student Living?

I love working with our people and a day at site is always a highlight for me, but I think the best part of my job is the privilege I feel getting to be a part of so many young people’s journeys, and the opportunity we have to make a difference at such a crucial time in their lives.  Prime have an incredible events calendar which lets us engage with a lot of people we might not otherwise see but more than that it’s about the smaller moments and interactions, the LGBTQIA+ tenants who trust us to be part of their coming out journey, the struggling tenant who trusts us to ask for help. Mental health has become a huge part of what we do, and I’m so proud to say that all our Property Managers receive mental health training to be able to support as much as we can.  I guess what I’m trying to say is the best part is that we’re not just there to fix your sink when it’s leaking, we’re absolutely committed to enabling our residents to be the best that they can be.

What improvements are you currently looking at to Prime’s operations?

It’s not the most exciting answer, but I think the biggest difference we can make in terms of improvement is by continually investing time in our people.  In the new year we’ll be looking to continue driving this at every level, making sure we upskill our people to be able to do more.  That helps speed up our response time for our tenants, reduces costs for clients and ultimately just creates a much more positive work environment. Another huge focus in the new year is looking at ways to reduce our costs.  Utility costs are a huge problem throughout the industry right now, which we’re aiming to tackle through a mix of smart monitoring solutions and tenant engagement.  Our goal is not only minimising costs for our clients, but also contributing to the environmental sustainability of all our properties.

What operational efficiencies have you proposed or implemented during your time at Prime Student Living?

I LOVE data, but it’s easy to end up focussing on the numbers and losing track of what they actually represent.  Data is only helpful if it’s actually making our tenants or team members lives easier. As such, I’ve introduced new financial tracking system, everything from debt and deposits to council tax, allowing our teams to spend more time doing what they do best, engaging with tenants, actively chasing down debt and ensuring legal compliance.  It’s paying off too, our council tax tracking system just contributed to a £200k reduction in costs at one of our properties!

What are your top priorities for next year?

My top priorities for the coming year revolve around three key pillars: People, Profit, and Performance. I’m committed to fostering a positive and engaging environment for our team members and residents, investing in their growth. Simultaneously, we are focused on optimizing costs, driving revenue growth, and ensuring a robust financial performance to sustain our operations. Finally, our dedication to performance involves making data-driven decisions and consistently striving for operational excellence to meet and exceed the expectations of both our clients and our tenants. By balancing these priorities, I’m hoping Prime will continue to offer a thriving and sustainable living experience while maximizing our overall success.