How a former Cold War soldier turned Sirius into a British success story

As a British soldier during the Cold War, Andrew Coombs was posted to Berlin while still cut in half by a wall of concrete and barbed wire.

Fortunately, more than three decades later, things are different – and the boss of Sirius Real Estate has a magnificent view.

From his office overlooking the Reichstag, Coombs runs what has quietly become an impressive British achievement abroad.

Strike back: Sirius Real Estate boss Andrew Coombs in his office overlooking the German parliament

FTSE 250 has a vast empire of business and industrial parks across Germany and made £ 141million in profits last year, up from £ 124million in 2019.

Tenants include GKN, Amazon, Daimler, Bopp & Reuther and other blue chip giants, as well as smaller companies.

Yesterday, in a business update, Coombs reported an almost 12% increase from a key rental figure to £ 85million and said ‘confidence is returning’ with the rollout of the vaccine.

Shares slipped slightly, down 3.2% to 125.2p, but remain up more than 150% since the low of the pandemic.

A far cry from the situation Coombs, 56, inherited in 2010, when he was brought in to stabilize Sirius in the wake of the financial crisis with stocks hovering around 20p.

At its lowest point, the business had collapsed to an annual loss of £ 44million as the property bubble burst and property values ​​collapsed.

As creditors knocked on the door, Coombs was forced into rearguard action just to stay afloat.

“The first two years were just a matter of survival,” he says. “When I arrived, we only had the money to keep us going for three weeks. “

The firm’s bank was going in circles, anxious to claw back a £ 100million loan – even if it meant shutting down the business – as investors were unwilling to provide any additional funds.

Soldier: Coombs in the days of his army.  He was briefly posted to Berlin in 1982 at the age of just 17.

Soldier: Coombs in the days of his army. He was briefly posted to Berlin in 1982 at the age of just 17.

“I remember horrible days when I personally laid off 29 people,” Coombs says. So how did the business survive?

“We stopped spending, let the staff go, and managed to arrange for some clients to prepay rent to keep us cash.”

He remembers eating at a London restaurant with a customer when two high-ranking bankers ambushed them and told him ‘you’re done’.

“It was absolutely horrible. But my response was, “We are turning the tide. I repay these loans. If you use these tactics, the business will go bankrupt and you will not get anything.

“And we’ve paid back every penny – one of the reasons we can get money at low interest rates today. People know we’re going to pay him back.

In 2012, Sirius had been restructured to bring the management of its properties in-house, achieving further savings.

But with the company still valued at a 70 percent discount on its properties, Coombs decided he finally needed to raise money.

So he opted for a double listing on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, largely because – by his own admission – “South Africa was the only place where we could raise funds.”

The company raised 40 million euros and used the money to invest in new properties, which kicked off a revival that culminated with its debut on the FTSE 250 three years ago.

That’s a vindication for Coombs, who took an unusual path to the boardroom via military and advisory work.

After leaving school and joining the Territorial Army, he was briefly posted to Berlin in 1982 at the age of 17.

He remembers crossing the east-west border of Germany and seeing Russian troops pass a memorial to the Unknown Soldier.

“It was like the West was in color, but when you crossed the border, the cars, the clothes and everything else were black and white,” he says.

“It was difficult to grasp. At that age it was an adventure – drinking German beer, meeting German girls, it was a great experience. You won’t realize that until later.

A year later he had joined the Grenadier Guards, part of the regular army, and continued to serve in Central America and Northern Ireland and became a skilled marksman. Coombs returned to the TA in 1987 and left as a platoon sergeant in 1992.

He first struggled outside the forces – “I didn’t have the social skills” – but with the help of a mentor he got a job in sales and marketing at the Yellow Pages and worked his way up. echelons.

He left as a manager and worked intermittently as a consultant for companies in need of transformation, including British Airways.

This was followed by a stint at Regus before joining Sirius.

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