As the 154-year-old institution prepares to implement sweeping reforms following the governance scandal, new chair of the board Martin Samworth has a busy year ahead

The new year always brings the prospect of a fresh start, but for the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), 2023 promises to feature a full reset. As the 154-year-old institution’s new leaders pack away the Christmas decorations at their Parliament Square headquarters, they will be gearing up for a pivotal 12 months. The next time the tinsel goes up, the RICS could look very different.

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New chair of the board Martin Samworth started working at CBRE in 1983 

Big plans are in progress to wipe the slate clean following the damaging governance scandal that led to four senior resignations in 2021, including those of its president and chief executive. By next December, all of the recommendations in Michael Bichard’s review – which was commissioned in the wake of a report into the scandal by Alison Levitt QC – will have been addressed.

The next three months will be particularly busy, with the appointment of a director general – the new title given to the institution’s chief executive – elections for a reformed governing council, the release of budgets for branches in each global region and the launch of a new public website.

New president Ann Gray has taken over from Clement Lau following recent reforms to the presidential cycle to align it with the calendar year. Gray, who has been president-elect since October 2021, is a real estate broker and licensed architect formerly based in Los Angeles, who runs her own practice in California. She previously held the US market seat on the governing council.

Another new arrival is Martin Samworth as chair of the RICS board. He was selected for the role last month following a recruitment process and his is the most senior appointment made at the institution since Bichard delivered his review in June last year.

Gleeds chairman Richard Steer says the choice of Samworth, a chartered surveyor who worked at CBRE for nearly 40 years, is an “important step for the RICS in trying to rehabilitate its tarnished reputation”. During his three-year term, Samworth will be responsible for approving and providing advice on the RICS’ business plan and reviewing proposed changes to its constitution and royal charter – both recommendations made by Bichard.

>> Also read: Explainer: key recommendations in the RICS review

The establishment of the board was a key part of Bichard’s review. He said the board should effectively become the RICS’ “driving force”, overseeing day to day operations and the delivery of matters decided by the governing council.

It will meet at least every two months and include chairs of the institution’s other bodies, including the audit, risk, assurance and finance committee, the commercial committee, the nominations and remuneration committee and the director general. It will also include Bichard himself in the newly created role of senior independent governor.

Martin Samworth’s path to the RICS job

What experience will Samworth bring to the job from his career at CBRE? “Leadership, management, change and evolution,” the new chair tells Building.

He started at what is now the world’s largest real estate services company in 1983, holding roles including head of investment and managing director of commercial markets before being made managing director of the UK business in 2004. He added the Nordic region to his brief in 2010 and, four years later, was made chief executive of the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region.

In 2019, two years before he left, he was promoted to group president and chief executive for the Asia Pacific and EMEA regions with responsibility for $2.5bn of revenue, before being made chairman of the two regions in February 2020.

Samworth has been directly involved in more than 30 mergers and acquisitions over the past 10 years, although he stood down about a year before CBRE signed its historic £960m deal to buy 60% of Turner & Townsend in November 2021. 

He now holds several part-time positions on boards of various companies, including non-executive director roles at real estate firm Dominvs Group and Alteration Earth, an acquisition firm in the clean energy sector.

My fear would be that Mr Samworth has a busy non-exec portfolio to support. I just hope he has the time to provide the necessary oversight for the new team

Richard Steer, Gleeds chair

He is also a senior advisor at real estate consultant Ferguson Partners, part-time chief executive at real estate data firm RE5Q and a member of the advisory council for industry body Real Estate Balance, which campaigns for greater diversity in the sector. 

That sounds like a lot of juggling for one individual. So could it affect Samworth’s RICS role? Gleeds chair Richard Steer thinks it might.

“We all know that what went wrong [at the RICS] was at the executive level and my fear would be that Mr Samworth has a busy non-exec portfolio to support. I just hope he has the time to provide the necessary oversight for the new team,” Steer says.

Much needed reforms

Samworth insists that he does “not anticipate my dedication to each to be affected by the other”, but with the institution’s busy calendar this year, his inbox could certainly get swamped. He says his first few months will see him assisting in the appointment of remaining executive and board positions, meeting staff and seeking to “understand the organisation more deeply”.

He also says he intends to engage with the RICS’ often restive membership to “understand how we can better support their needs”.

RICS hq 6

The RICS headquarters in Parliament Square

He will certainly be closely watched by the institution’s 140,000 members, who were the driving force behind the revolt in 2021 which forced former chief executive Sean Tompkins and former president Kathleen Turner to order Levitt’s independent investigation into the sacking of four non-executive governing council members in 2019.

That review uncovered deep dysfunction at the top of the institution, with confusion around the roles and responsibilities of senior leaders resulting in a power struggle. It led to four non-executives being ousted when they asked why a damning financial report – warning that the RICS was at risk of fraud, misappropriation of funds and misreporting of financial performance – had been suppressed. 

When that story leaked, the scandal quickly became more about members’ dissatisfaction with the organisation’s lack of transparency and its direction under Tompkins than about the details of the non-execs’ dismissals. A survey in May 2021 found trust in the institution had crashed by a third in a year, while the number of members who said they were satisfied with their membership fell from 63% in the same period to 43%, a historic low.

Just 9% of members said they knew how the RICS spent their membership fees – some of the highest in the UK construction sector at £539 for professionals and £658 for fellows.

Samworth says a fee review, which was also recommended by Bichard and which has been promised since 2021, will finally be carried out this year. Fees have been held at the same level since 2020, which Samworth says recognises “that many members will have been going through a difficult period economically, first due to the pandemic and now the cost-of-living crisis”.

It is also possible that the RICS leaders did not dare to stir the hornets’ nest further by hiking them during the Levitt and Bichard reviews. Samworth says the new fee system will be “simpler, clearer and fairer for members at all stages of their career”, with value for money being a “key consideration” in the process.

Having a financially viable organisation is imperative, as is having an engaged and growing membership

Martin Samworth

Another consideration is the RICS’ financial solvency. Much of the criticism of Tompkins was his emphasis on overseas expansion and growing the membership, a direction which UK members felt left them underserved and under-represented for the money they shelled out on fees.

But Tompkins took over at a time when the institution was losing money, and the international policy – which built on the work of his predecessor Louis Armstrong – was intended to plug the gap. So it is no surprise that former governing council chair Nick McLean said in June that the RICS leadership wanted to “continue to be a truly international organisation”.

What does Samworth think of Tompkins’ efforts to balance the RICS’ books? “Having a financially viable organisation is imperative, as is having an engaged and growing membership,” he says. “It is also important to ensure that the organisation is running optimally and delivering on our mandate for our professionals.”

This is the careful balancing act which Samworth, Gray and the new director-general are faced with this year. “This is a membership organisation,” Bichard told Building last year. “Ultimately the big decisions should be taken by the members.”

But what members want is not necessarily what the institution needs, and some of Bichard’s recommendations such as the fee review will need to be handled skillfully to avoid either bankrupting the institution or bankrupting members. If the costs are too high, there is a risk that rival institutions might start picking off overseas members.

“You’ve got to be aware of the competition,” Bichard said. “If you can identify an organisation that gives at least as good a service at less price in those places [abroad], why wouldn’t you join it?”

Steer says a key challenge for the new leadership will be improving transparency.“The Bichard review indicated root and branch reform was required. Hence a radical approach is needed from Mr Samworth,” he says. 

“I hope he has the energy and time to devote to the task at hand. It is no good leaving it all to the executive team, otherwise we could find the RICS repeating the mistakes of the past.”

What Martin Samworth said about his new role

Q: What experience learnt from working at CBRE will you take into your new RICS role?

A: Leadership, management, change and evolution.


Q: What other positions do you currently have outside the RICS? Will your role at the RICS affect these?

A: I have a small number of non exec roles but I do not anticipate my dedication to each to be affected by the other.


Q: What are you expecting your work at the RICS to involve in the first few months?

A: The first few months will see me assist in populating any remaining exec and board positions; understanding the organisation more deeply; meeting more of our employees; and engaging with our membership and stakeholders to understand how we can better support their needs.


Q: What is your view of Sean Tompkins’ efforts to make the RICS a financially viable organisation?

A: Having a financially viable organisation is imperative, as is having an engaged and growing membership. It is also important to ensure that the organisation is running optimally and is delivering on our mandate for our professionals.


Q: Do you think RICS fees are too high?

A: We have held member fees at the same level since 2020 in recognising that many members will have been going through a difficult period economically, first due to the pandemic and now the cost-of-living crisis. The process and structure of setting and agreeing subscription fees is to be reviewed ahead of 2024 to ensure that this is simpler, clearer and fairer for members at all stages of their career. Value for money will be a key consideration in this process.


Q: Do you understand concerns of some members who think the RICS has focused too much on overseas expansion?

A: The RICS will be doing a review of our focus going forward as recommended in the Bichard review, where it was recommended that the balance of our membership be considered.


Q: Is it important for the leadership of the RICS to be chartered surveyors?

A: Not all of the leadership need to be chartered surveyors, as some leadership positions require specific skill sets, but it is important for them to be fairly represented. It’s important to note that chartered surveyors are represented in other key areas in our organisation, including our technical specialists.


Q: What are the most important issues facing construction in 2023?

A: The economic and geopolitical environment; building costs and access to labour.


The RICS roadmap for 2023 (as proposed by the Bichard review)

January to March:

  • Director-general and RICS board chair recruited
  • Governing council nominations and election process begins
  • Global regional budgets released for local events and initiatives
  • Inaugural meeting of RICS board
  • Matrics roll out into global regions
  • Launch of new website

April to June:

  • Chairs and members appointed for member services, knowledge and practice and commercial committees
  • Chairs and members appointed for public interest and technology panels
  • Chairs and members appointed for diversity, equity and inclusion and sustainability panels

July to December:

  • Draft strategy and organisation valus put to membership for consultation
  • New governing council composition finalised
  • Bichard’s outstanding recommendations addressed