Unite Group CEO steps down with new appointments lined up

As Unite’s long-standing CEO will step down from his position at the end of the year, the Board has made a series of promotions and appointments to aid the transition.

Unite Students' Feeder Road scheme in Bristol | PBSA News
Unite Students' Feeder Road scheme in Bristol.

Owner, manager, and developer of student accommodation Unite Students announces that Richard Smith has decided to step down as Chief Executive with effect from 31 December 2023. Having been CEO since 2016, Richard has decided to step down after 13 years with the company.

Richard will remain as an advisor to the business until the end of September 2024, to ensure a smooth handover of responsibilities and to provide advisory support on Unite’s relationships with higher education partners and government stakeholders.

During his time with the company, it has grown significantly to 157 properties across 23 university towns and cities, providing homes to over 70,000 students. Unite also became a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index in 2022. After leaving Unite, Richard aims to pursue his personal interest in supporting the education and development of young people, including understanding issues that affect mental health.

Following an extensive selection process supported by independent consultants as part of the Board’s succession planning, the Board has appointed Joe Lister as CEO, effective from 1 January 2024. Joe steps into the role after 22 years with Unite, including 15 years as Chief Financial Officer.

“On behalf of the Board, I would like to extend our sincere thanks to Richard and acknowledge his significant achievements over the last eight years as CEO. He has been a driving force behind our successful strategy of aligning to the best universities where demand is highest, and building Unite into a purpose-led, responsible business.

“As a result, we have seen significant and stable growth and are today an established provider of choice for the UK higher education sector with over 60 valuable university partnerships.

“We have an exciting future ahead and I am confident that under Joe’s leadership, Unite is best placed to build on our successes to date and continue its leading role in increasing the delivery of much needed affordable student accommodation at a time when the supply demand imbalance has never been greater.”

Richard Huntingford, Chair, Unite

The Board regards Joe as an outstanding candidate – ideally equipped to lead Unite as it continues to execute on its proven strategy and deliver valuable growth. While responsible for all areas of finance as CFO, Joe has also played an integral role in delivering the developer’s investment strategy and has direct responsibility for its property function.

Following Joe’s appointment as CEO, current Group Investment Director Michael Burt will be promoted to Chief Financial Officer, also effective from 1 January 2024. Bringing with him a wealth of experience in the sector, he will assume responsibility for all areas of finance. Michael joined Unite in January 2019 from equity brokerage Exane where he was head of real estate research.

Current Group Finance Director Katherine Grafton will also be promoted to Deputy Chief Financial Officer at the same time. Other key members of the senior management team include Karan Khanna, Chief Customer Officer, who leads all aspects of operations for the business and will report to Joe. Claire Barber, who joined the business earlier this year as Asset Management Director, and Tom Brewerton, who leads the property development team, will report to Michael.