5 minutes with Ian Kirkby of Agora Luxury Consulting
Ian Kirkby, CEO of Agora Luxury Consulting Dubai, was born in the UK on the day of England’s World Cup win in 1966. At age 15, he was scouted by the then world champion Geoff Hunt, to play professional squash in Australia, sponsored by Wilson. He lived in Sydney for three years, and Perth for two, at which time he developed Smith fractures in his tibias, requiring hydrocortisone injections every 2-3 weeks. It was clear to Ian that his sports career was over.
Without a single academic qualification, he was desperate to find his calling. Through some creativity, Ian got himself a scholarship to a Tampa State university, where he studied commercial law and feasibility. He then moved to San Clemente, California where he worked for Cendant for 4.5 years.
When law proved to be boring, Ian joined a friend on a vacation to Majorca, and met with a real estate expert who was developing projects there. Selling timeshare in Europe at this time was considered the lowest of jobs, consumed by earning ridiculous amounts of money selling clients something they didn't want or need. Ian spent a few days at the resort and got a peek into what they do, and then wrote up a new training program to sell the product. Using his new marketing model, Ian took a prospective client around the resort, and made a sale at the very first attempt.
After three months, Ian became the sales director for 4 resorts, leading a team of approximately 150 people— unabashedly the best sales team in the company. He lived in Majorca for three years until he was 35, and returned to the UK when his parents became ill. His mother died of cancer when she was in her early 50s after only five weeks of the diagnosis, and then just twelve weeks later, his father died of a heart attack. Kirkby’s only regret is not spending more time with his family.
In 1997/98 when Dubai was still relatively quiet, a large Middle Eastern family called on Kirkby to assist them with feasibility, and then in 2004, when people were buying second homes in Turkey and holiday homes in Miami, he set up his own company, Blue Sky. Kirkby sold property in 58 countries through his website, and was advertising in big international magazines— thanks to connections and barter deals with the right people. Blue Sky did exceedingly well, and Ian sold it at the perfect time in 2007, but then invested in a project that unfortunately went badly wrong and lost him everything. Preferring not to speak of the details, Ian says that there was an issue with a global bank, so that the money that was to be deposited into the account, never made it in. Ian repaid his clients from his own funds, which eventually helped him repair his reputation.
Ian returned to the UK with no intention of going back to the Middle East, but three years later after he met his wife Lesley in the UK, England no longer felt like home. A Saudi family setting up luxury real estate company, called on Ian to act as their sales director, which he did for three years, while he continued to dabble in commercial assets, cars, jewelry, art and more. A short stint as Luxury Director at Sotheby’s seemed to be a perfect opportunity to utilize his skills and interests, but for various reasons, things didn’t pan out.
Today, after a year of hard work, Ian has created something he is immensely proud of. The first of its kind, Agora is the amalgamation of all the things he loves, and brings exclusive products and services to his clients that others do not have access to. Although he has enough knowledge in most of the fields he works in, Ian calls on the experts in each industry. Through years of networking, surrounding himself with good people and learning from them, Kirkby has built relationships with the top dealers in the world who look after his clients.
While Ian doesn’t consider himself a follower or a fan of many, he is inspired by Chinese business magnate, Jack Ma, who he has been lucky to meet. It’s hard to notice that Ian struggles with self-confidence and insecurities— his friends refer to him as the James Bond of real estate because he’s so elusive, but his clients view him as strong, positive and eloquent.
Agora clients hail from Europe, the Middle East, the Americas, and all over the world. Most of them are multi multi-millionaires, CEOs, and directors of major companies in the Middle East, self-made success stories who want products that are exclusive and unique. Building relationships with these people, has taken years, because trust is built over time, he says. “The only thing you can sell to the client is your service, your self, and the trust they can gain through working with you— but you cannot sell a billionaire a house— if they like the house, they'll buy it, but if they don't like you, they’ll never look at another house with you”.
Ian will never forget being on the beach when the tsunami hit Thailand in 2004, a day that he says, changed his life forever. His experience diverted him from being quite materialistic, to a person who values friendship and health more than anything in the world. While money was once the most rewarding, today, people, health, family and friends have taken center stage. Kirkby will go to great lengths to make people happy— to get a client the piece of artwork they are dreaming of, securing the very last unit in Monaco in a certain piece of real estate, or simply taking his children somewhere enjoyable and giving them a new experience. His favorite day of the year is Christmas because he can give gifts. “If I had 100,000 pounds, I would spend 99 and half thousand on everyone else”, he says. He hopes to one day have a charity to benefit the children in Thailand.
The future looks bright for Kirkby. He plans to get Agora fully established in Dubai over the next 12 months, and then open in Monaco, Shanghai, and potentially New York or London by the end of next year. Eventually he hopes to move out of the region and run one of his offices from Thailand. With a good team of people working for him, he doesn’t need to be in the office full time.
A typical day involves servicing clients, assisting the team and continuing to develop and maintain relationships with brands and products so that he can bring his clients the best opportunities. Early rising a challenge for Ian because he works until 1 or 2am most nights. Going to the gym is always on his radar, but unfortunately not always practical.
For Ian, luxury is something that money can't buy, but an experience or item that is unique and personal. If it was up to him, he would hand it out for free.