There are a few things that being at sea for 23,000 miles in a 12 metre sailing boat teaches you. One of them is the need for expert planning. “I always have a clear mind of where the project needs to go; it doesn’t have to be frantically put together,” Niccolò Barattieri di San Pietro, the CEO of luxury residential developer Northacre, tells me in his London office. “I’m methodical, I plan ahead – as you have to if you’re crossing the Atlantic.”
Barattieri will need all those skills and more as he embarks on Northacre’s biggest project to date – the redevelopment of New Scotland Yard in London, the former headquarters of the Metropolitan Police, into properties as luxurious as your superyacht. Planning permission was granted earlier this year for the million-square-foot project, known as Ten Broadway. Before that’s completed in 2021, though, there’s the small matter of redeveloping No. 1 Palace Street, right next to Buckingham Palace, and the only building in London offering residents views into the Queen’s backyard. It’s going to take four years to build – “a bit like a superyacht,” Barattieri jokes.
The pressure that comes with developing such landmark London sites does not seem to faze the quick-to-smile 45 year old, another handy consequence of spending so much time at sea. “It taught me a lot of patience,” he says, “as well as a huge amount of responsibility and flexibility. Situations change very quickly on the water and you have to adapt to that.”
Barattieri was only 20 when he sailed a 12 metre catamaran across the Atlantic, through the Panama Canal and out into the Pacific. He had been sailing since he was eight, encouraged by his father, who bought him the catamaran when he turned 18. “We putted around one summer in the Med and then I went from Antibes to Gibraltar and on to the Canary Islands and then off I went – Martinique, the Grenadines, Panama, Ecuador, but I never made it to the Galápagos. I was beating into the wind for seven days and I just couldn’t take any more wave slamming on the hull and I turned slightly south-east to Ecuador.”
After a holiday in the jungle it was back out to sea and an epic 32-day, 4,000-mile leg to Hawaii, where he stopped to do an MBA at the University of Hawaii. His whole life has been like this: a little itinerant. He was born in Washington, DC – his father worked at the International Monetary Fund – but the family moved back to Rome when he was a toddler. At 16 he moved to the UK to attend boarding school and he did his undergraduate degree in Paris. As an adult, he has lived in Spain, France and the US, but now London is home. “I used to change house or country every two to three years, but now I’ve got kids I’ve started to quite like my routine,” he says.
Only in the past 10 years has Barattieri figured out what he wanted to do with his life. Before moving into real estate, he worked in the City as a trader. Armed with an MBA, his immediate thought was: “I’ve got to make as much money as possible.” Looking back on his time at various hedge funds, he says: “I enjoyed it and it made me grow up very fast as well. But ultimately I’m a people person and I like beautiful things. In the long run, a finance career would never have fulfilled me.”
His escape route was a position with his mentor and friend Alessandro Cajrati Crivelli, who founded property development company Est4te Four. During his time at the company he criss-crossed the globe, working on projects from Milan to Los Angeles. When Northacre was bought by Abu Dhabi Financial Group in 2013, he was asked if he would like to become its CEO. He didn’t need much convincing – the projects the 25-year-old company was working on were some of the most prestigious in London.
The city is central to Northacre’s business. It doesn’t develop in other capitals and it works mainly with properties that have history and character. “At the Lancasters development in Hyde Park, the facade retention was 140 metres long,” he says. “It’s an engineering feat but when you can bring these buildings back to glory, with 21st century amenities, you stir the emotions of buyers. And these buyers are incredibly keen, incredibly demanding, and they know exactly what they want. If you don’t understand them, you’re dead in the water.”
Expert planning and organisation. Tick. Patience and flexibility. Tick. And figuring out what people want – an unavoidable consequence of being stuck on a small boat with family and friends thousands of miles from anywhere. Being on the water really is the best education of all.