This should’ve been one of the highlights of my real estate career – but when I looked around and saw the room full of happy faces, inside I questioned how prepared my business was to go forward.
It was April 2014, and me and the rest of the Realmark team were celebrating the company’s 25th anniversary at one of Perth’s most glamourous venues. Over the years, we’d built up a network of 13 offices and 170 staff, so there was a great sense of joy and fulfilment and optimism in the air.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t fully share the excitement. Although we’d established a strong brand over the years, I questioned whether our business was still on the right path. I’ve never been the sort of person who focuses just on the present; I’ve always believed in looking around the corner. At that moment, I looked around the corner and didn’t like what I saw. I was worried that we had not evolved to meet the challenges ahead and that our culture had also become distorted.
Western Australia had come out of a long-term growth cycle and was now in a downward direction. It still is. On top of this there were new challenges – some not yet fully evident – that any contemporary real estate agency business would need to consider. There were some senior people at Realmark who didn’t realise how serious the downturn would be or what it would mean for the company. Some of those people had never experienced anything other than a boom market: they were used to success automatically being delivered to them. So when I looked at them and wondered whether they were people who could adapt to new realities and embrace the challenge, I didn’t feel as though they were.
This was a feeling that had been building in my mind in the months leading up to the party, but I hadn’t acted on it. One reason is that I’d been procrastinating about the hard conversations that, deep down, I knew I had to have. The other reason is that it can be easy to become consumed with the realities of day-to-day business, which also makes it harder to gather your thoughts.
So one or two weeks after the party, me and Anita, my wife and business partner, flew to Singapore for a few days. We wanted to get away to an outside space where we could stop, breathe in and really think. The two of us had some really big-picture conversations: we talked about macro real estate trends, the broader economy, where our business was at and also our personal goals.
The conclusion we reached in Singapore was that we had no choice but to re-evaluate and even dismiss some of the members of our leadership team, because otherwise nothing was going to change at Realmark. It’s not like we hadn’t already had discussions with them in the previous months – but it felt like the message of change was resonating. Also, we felt their skill sets and attitudes weren’t right. Once we came back, we took action over the next few weeks.
Those weren’t easy calls to make, but they were the right calls. Since then, we’ve made some major changes at Realmark and the company is in a much better place. We conducted a major brand overhaul, which involved creating a new logo, executing a new digital marketing strategy and implementing a new strategic roadmap. It didn’t come cheap – it required a massive investment of time and hundreds of thousands of dollars – but it’s positioned us for our next phase of growth. That’s something that wouldn’t have been possible had we not shaken up the old leadership team. Interestingly, the biggest shift was in the culture – back to the DNA that we had seeded 25 years earlier. The sense of people feeling like they belonged, and having a feeling of purpose and value, reappeared much quicker than we had expected.
So what are the lessons to be learned? Well, firstly, it’s important for business leaders to always have one eye on the future. Remember: the platform that gets you to one level of growth often won’t be able to take you to the next level.
Another lesson is that you’ve got to clearly articulate that vision to the rest of the team. If you recognise that some people don’t fit in with that vision, you need to be willing to have those crucial but unpleasant conversations with the staff members in question. The thing is, people will have already sensed that there’s some sort of problem – so by procrastinating, all you’re doing is contributing to a toxic work environment.
Today, Realmark has grown to 18 offices and 250 staff. We’ve created several new and significant corporate roles and hired some experienced non-industry executives. As a result, I’m feeling much, much better about our future than I did at last year’s party. We are excited about the future and there is a renewed purpose about coming to work every day.
John Percudani is the principal and managing director of Realmark, which he and his wife, Anita, founded in 1989. John’s passion for real estate was fostered early in his career as a town planner, initially with the State Planning Commission and then with the City of Perth. He is a regular commentator on property and business. In 2015, Realmark became the inaugural inductee in the REIWA Hall of Fame.