Former Team Great Britain Judo champion injured in a car accident leaves sporting career to build £250 million fortune in property management business

Within 15 years, Harry built a personal portfolio worth 250 million with 50 million profits each year

Former Team Great Britain Judo champion injured in a car accident leaves sporting career to build £250 million fortune in property management business

Within 15 years, Harry built a personal portfolio worth £250 million with £50 million profits each year

“Judo gave me a great set of transferable skills that I still use today, from determination and resilience to focus and strategic thinking, especially when under pressure to perform, Harry Fenner, founder of Navana Property Group Team, told me. I’m a big believer that skills can be acquired, but character much less so. 

Harry Fenner grew up in Woking, Surrey with his mother and father, and it was during his youth where he developed a passion for Judo. At five years old, Harry began taking Karate classes at a leisure centre and by 15, he was offered a scholarship to train full-time with the Great British Judo squad. While my friends were studying and gaining degrees, I spent my teenage years attending training camps and tournaments across Europe and internationally, Harry told me. The resilience and discipline garnered from the sport have without a doubt equipped me for business better than any degree in my view. 

In May 2007, Harry endured a horrific car crash and survived ‘ but his girlfriend, who was in the vehicle, lost her life. Harry suffered a fractured pelvis, bleeding lungs, a broken nose, lacerations and a severe concussion. However, he was unable to continue competing in Judo due to the severity of his injuries. I often woke up in cold sweats and suffered from endless night terrors. It was only after more than a year went by, that I realised that the biggest disrespect following my girlfriend’s death, would be to not live life to the fullest, Harry said. With my Judo career ending due to my injuries sustained, I had to adapt from competing at an elite level to channelling that same passion and drive into a different direction. 

At 21 years old, Harry began his first business venture taking over the security for a multi-tenanted office in Cobham, Surrey, which gave him a taste of the property sector. He then went on to work in residential property management in the City of London and since then, he fully immersed himself in the world of property. It was one chance moment that Harry caught his big break. It was during a game of snooker and a pint with his granddad at the Conservative Club in Swinton where he met a homeowner threatened with repossession and offered to buy their house. In the next 12 months, Harry made over 80 similar deals by purchasing pre-auction and completed more than £60 million of property transactions, which allowed him to get involved in bigger investment deals on small developments, land acquisitions and planning opportunities. He even acquired an industrial site near the A12, Colchester, Essex and obtained planning permission for a major residential development. 

In 2019, Harry founded Navana Property Group, specialising in management, development, investment, placemaking and financial services for the real estate market. The firm has also developed an app to allow building owners to see where maintenance charges are being spent in real-time. Navana also holds stakes in firms that specialise in building supplies, aggregates, recycling and conservation, including Benchmark Scaffolding, Stonewest, Accoil Recycling and Darwen Terracotta, wit investments are worth £250m and generate annual profits of £50m. Speaking about his business, Harry said: Navana Property Group is a fairly new venture which comes with the usual struggles most early-stage businesses face; building a brand, recruiting talented and committed people and proving the worth and value of the business to potential clients, particularly in an industry like ours which can often be risk averse.

It’s certainly been an interesting time to launch a business. The impact of Brexit and Covid-19 undoubtedly posed challenges but the business continues to grow. The crucial thing is we have been agile, responding to a changing market and building our business in ways we perhaps didn’t initially envisage. We’ve been open-minded about growth opportunities whilst simultaneously being disciplined when it comes to adhering to our core strategy. 

With sheer determination and resilience, Harry said he was always driven to become a business leader and develop his skills to the best of his ability. As Harry clinched more successful deals, he gained confidence in his abilities, building up his portfolio and making his mark in the property industry. I’ve always been driven to become the best at whatever it is I’m doing, Harry said. Whilst some luck is undoubtedly involved in business, you can take calculated risks by educating yourself on the market, taking the time to understand investors and really getting to grips with the fundamentals of how the economy works. Although there were periods of stress and a great deal of self-inflicted pressure, the more deals I made and the more portfolios I acquired, the more confidence I gained to aim bigger. 

Speaking about his attitude and mindset in business, Harry said: My mindset has been unquestionably shaped by my experience as an elite athlete. If you lose, the only option is to try harder and be smarter next time. This is pivotal when working in the business. You must always be able to dust yourself off if things don’t quite go to plan and have the resilience to try again. The property market can catch people out therefore I always consider how wider economic trends could impact a business model. One of the main drivers behind Navana’s philosophy is to instigate change and offer greater transparency in the property sector, facilitated by increased use of technology, thinking creatively and taking a new approach to resourcing. 

In a few pieces of advice for SMEs who are struggling during the pandemic, Harry said: Ultimately, my answer would depend on the business we were talking about. However, my advice would be to keep your powder dry where and when possible when things are tough. This means quickly moving to review your expenditure and protect cash.  Having said that, attack is always the best form of defence, another lesson I learned during my judo days, so you should always keep alert to any openings or proposals that look good over the long term, even when the hatches are buttoned down. Some of my biggest wins in business have been achieved at a time when the wider market was not in such great shape. Whenever there is a challenge, there is also an opportunity to face it is not my quote, but one I think is apt for our current day.

Latifa Yedroudj
Latifa Yedroudj

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