A country perspective on growth, client relationships and leading othersMar 15, 2023
Do you know of the play ‘A Man for All Seasons’?
It was on my Year 12 reading list back in the 1990s.
The term describes someone who is prepared to handle various possibilities and behaves appropriately in any situation.
I have had the pleasure of working with Chris Stewart of LJ Hooker Commercial for two and a half years.
Chris has a proven ability to work with a range of people and embody the qualities of "a man for all seasons".
When I interviewed him for the podcast, I was struck by his passion for bringing bigger commercial real estate career opportunities to young people across regional Queensland.
And that's why I've titled our latest episode ‘A Man for All Regions’.
I believe Chris' roots in Toowoomba, Australia's largest inland city that isn't our nation's capital, have given him a unique perspective on business growth, client relationships, and leading others in commercial real estate.
If you're interested in a country lad's perspective on these topics, I highly recommend checking out episode 131 of CRE Success: The Podcast.
The biggest regional town in Australia that is not on the coast is Toowoomba.
And today we're going to meet a third-generation real estate professional who is doing great things not only in Toowoomba, but he's also now expanding to the coast. Stick around.
Hello, and welcome to CRE Success: The Podcast. My name is Darren Krakowiak. I'm here to help commercial real estate leaders to develop their people and to grow their business.
And on today's episode, we are speaking to another one of my one-on-one clients working with me on business growth and also on leadership.
It's Chris Stewart of LJ Hooker Commercial Toowoomba and also LJ Hooker Commercial in the Sunshine Coast.
Chris is one of my longest standing one-on-one clients. Been working with him now for over two years.
And we're going to be talking about what it's like to work with your mom and dad, because he works with his mom and dad inside the business.
We're going to be finding out what he looks for the attributes that represent the quality person that he is looking to find and put into his business to help it grow.
And also, I'm going to ask him about what it's like to work directly with me in CRE Success.
Now, hearing from Chris makes you think that you'd like to work directly with me, then go to cresuccess.co/leadership. Leave your details, and we'll find out if we're a good match to get started working together.
Chris Stewart, welcome to CRE Success: The Podcast.
How you are doing Darren?
I'm doing awesome today. Thanks so much for being there. Now you work in a family business. Tell me all about the family business in Toowoomba.
Yeah, so I came back here in 2019. I'm third generation up here. And I have the pleasure of working with both my mother and my father. Mike works in the residential team. So, he does residential sales, manages all our finances, make sure we can open the doors and run the ship. And then Julie's our all-things property management. So, she's the master of the whip and all those sorts of things. And she's the workhorse. She makes sure the doors can open as well from a property management standpoint. So that's us business was started by my grandmother in 1950, Stewart Realty. We turned into LJ Hooker in 1996. And we've been doing that ever since we've got 42 staff here at LJ Hooker Toowoomba now. We commercially cover all the way out to Roma, all the way down the New South Wales border. And as you're aware, down, we've got an exciting new opportunity that we're opening in another market as well, which we'll talk about shortly. But that's really us. We're real estate family, we can't play Monopoly at Christmas, because it turns into an argument that never ends. So, it's in our blood mate. That's what we do. It's got its challenges. But obviously, as you know, we've been working with you on how to deal with some of them and put some really good strategies in place to make sure that our business relationship and our personal relationship can stay separate and make sure we're driving the business forward while still keeping that you know, really good close knit family relationships. That's really the basis of who we are up here on the hill, mates.
So, working with your mom and dad, it sounds like it works.
It does. Yeah, look, obviously like anything makes you run into problems with family, you run in with disagreements, I suppose the thing that I have learned is patience, and to have a conversation. So, you know, sometimes your relationship with your parents on a personal standpoint is very bullish into both, especially me and my father, we just sort of butt heads constantly sometimes on a personal thing. But that started that way in the business. But as it's sort of grown, I stayed here and, you know, chose to settle here. The conversations have been robust, but there have been conversations rather than arguments, which is the biggest thing that I've learned is that everyone's got an opinion and everyone is deserves an opinion. But sometimes collaboration those opinions can get the best outcome for the business rather than someone standing there with a big pole saying, 'Thou shalt not pass on stuff'.
Right. Well, you're about to open a new location on the Sunshine Coast, which is a great next step for the growth of the family business. What's been the biggest surprise as you've gone through this process of trying to get a new business up and running in a in a different part of the state?
The basis of a lot of markets are pretty similar in the sense that its relationship building, its report, and its reputation. So, LJ Hooker we're down there in 2006 as LJ Hooker Commercial Sunshine Coast but we're working on the quiet Homemaker Center. Mark and Julie's did that. Really successful went really well. Probably chose partners that were of a different opinion to us as to how commercial real estate businesses should be run. So, we've changed at this time. We're going down as a family, it's us. And we're going to try and replicate the same model that's been working for, you know, over 50 years up here in Toowoomba. But the pull through from Wessel has probably been the biggest surprise for us is, I worked in Brisbane for Ben Armstrong, they'll do a commercial down there. And that was a new market for me. I was a development manager before that was going into real estate. So, I have an innate understanding of what it takes to you know, build a presence in a marketplace, even though it might not have been the presence that I wanted down there, it was still building a presence. So that side of things, the immediate pull through and people identifying us being there without any signage, or any office open was probably the biggest surprise. So that doesn't mean that we can relax and not do the phone calls and not do all the things that you need to do. But it's just nice to know that people take notice down there as new things coming. You know, we had a billboard on Sunrise way. I walked into 40 weeks to buy new sheets, my bed, and he saw LJ Hooker on my show. And he goes, "Are you the new guy coming down into commercial real estate?" I said, "Well, I'm actually" and he said, "I saw your billboard on some sunshine, by the way." So, things like that have been really nice, people wanting to engage with this, wanting to talk to us, not sort of saying you're not from here, you're unique. You're not a local, don't talk to me. So, the world's changing in my opinion, markets getting tighter and closer. You know, it's an expertise-based game, now, people are employing you because you're the best at problem solving, or you're really good at negotiation, or whatever it might be. So that's what we're trying to push forward is the same results that we've had up here, we can do for you down the Sunshine Coast. And it's based on my three pillars of real estate, which is honesty, integrity, and then results. At the end of the day, they're the three things that I believe you need to get to, to get the market share. So here we go.
The honesty, integrity and results. Are they the three things that you look for when you're hiring people? Or is there something else that you're looking for when you're loving it?
Absolutely, I think that honestly is the first thing for me is you know, I've just put on another young 22-year-old Bloke, so I'm going to put it who's going to work at the Sunshine Coast. And he was honest with me, he's never worked in real estate before. He acted with integrity that he's legit ready to learn. But the results part of it comes from having those first two things to me is, I call it the pub test, which I think I've spoken with you about before Darren is why can take anyone without any real estate knowledge. You go and sit them down with my biggest clients in a pub, and I go away for half an hour and I come back and they're still sitting there having a chat. That means that you've got integrity, because the people that I usually deal with have that and they want to converse with you and they want to get to know you and they want to they want to engage with you. The rest of it, I believe we can teach you the fundamentals of real estate and a knowledge base. And that's where you'll get the results. If I can put a good person with a good knowledge base, the results will come. And that's just about being you and understanding who you are. I've never tried to hide the fact that I'm from Toowoomba, I'm a country boy, I tell I act, that's how I talk. But that doesn't mean that I'm no worse than anyone in the metro market. I've just chosen to live out here. But I still believe that I have the ability to do all of those guys in the bigger Metro Markets have as well. We've just got to get the exposure to those opportunities, I suppose.
And what's your favorite part of the job?
I love rocking up to work and having no idea what I'm going to do that day down. Because it makes me get out of bed. Obviously, you've got your key, you know, things that you do make any callbacks and doing all those sorts of things and talking to you repetitive clients. But I had a call the other day from someone who called me from the middle of the Northern Territory asking me if I can look at a farm. Now, I don't do farms. That's not what I do. But that was an opportunity for me to learn something. And ultimately, I went back and said, "Look, this isn’t for us, we can’t help you, it’s just too big. But because I never would have thought I would call from a farm in the middle of the Northern Territory." So those sorts of things where you just don't know what you're going to do. And you've got a problem self, you know, there's situations where you're getting down to an hour or two of getting someone to pay a deposit or do whatever it might be, or structure the deal differently to keep the deal moving forward. But if you don't have the ability to swap hats or move horizontally or be a little bit more agile and have a little more out of the box thinking, then you're probably not going to get to do some of those more unique opportunities, I suppose. And probably the best way to put it.
Awesome. So, tell me, what was it that made you want to work with CRE Success? What was the reason for you getting started with this process that we've been on now for about a couple of years.
For me, it was about so obviously I've heard about you throughout network and listen to you in a few different things. I've had coaches before. For me, it was your relaxed style. And the fact that it wasn't just about business. You also wondered and cared about how I went and how my family was traveling in our unique situation that we're in. Some of our conversations have been made for an hour, say on the phone just venting about anything and everything. Which means I could have done that when we finished the call over free headspace because I'll put that on someone else and you've given me the ability to move through the rest of the day, without that clouding my judgment and my problem solving. But then in the same sentence, there's been times when I've said something, and you said, "We're mate, that's probably not the best way to look at it. Why don't we look at this situation?" So that's the honesty side of things is that I've dealt with coaches before who just placate you, and yes, yes, that's great man, keep doing what you're doing. But that's not what I'm looking for. Because if that's what I was doing, I just continued on the path I was on, which is standing tall and running through the rage. But you need someone to sometimes stop you before you run into the tree and just say, "Maybe look down this path before you run into that tree mate, because this might save you a bit of pain, a bit of hurt." So, for me, it was about finding someone that I actually genuinely enjoy talking to, and someone who can immerse themselves in our business. And I know it stays with us. So, I'll tell you before making a steel trap, that's a massive thing for me. And talking about business opportunity and growth. And where I want to take your business as a whole has been really helpful, outside of our family, because as you know, history sometimes plays into the future. And we sometimes get stuck on mistakes made in the past of family and things like that. Rather than going I understand that, but let's take the lesson from that mistake and use it to not make any good. So being able to rationalize those things with you has been guided to me. And it's just given me a clear headspace, mate. I'm not confused. That's one way to put it. But I'm doing it in my head, by having conversation with you about things that might be important to me as a person, but aren't important in business. But because I can unload on someone who's completely unbiased and completely removed from all of my circles, it just allows me to move on with the day without that personal stuff attached to me. So, it's a mentor relationship, in my opinion, mate but it's also a friendship and conversations point where we've been doing it long enough now where you probably know a lot more about me than some of my other friends do. But that's something that I enjoy. Because I know that when I get on these calls, I can be very open and very frank with you, and it stays you.
I appreciate you being open and honest throughout the process. And the time that we've been working together and the progress that you've made has been great to see. And you know, obviously opening up this business now. And Mike and Julie giving you really the responsibility of opening up this new commercial business in the Sunshine Coast is something that you should be proud of, and it's an accomplishment in itself, that they've put that trust in you to be able to do that. And you know, I'm really pleased to say that progress and those results come through. So, what has really been the value for you, and also for the business of being in this coaching relationship?
I suppose for me, the big thing is, not taking these conversations through the business, if that makes sense. You know, if it wasn't a conversation with you about some of these things, it would be a conversation internal. And we have skin in the game in this business, you know, everyone does. Me, Mike, Julie, we all have skin in the game. So, there's a personal connotation with conversations and ideas and opinions that sometimes overlap. You know, Mike, my father is a very good real estate agent. He's a very good business owner. But he's been doing it for four years. So sometimes conversations that shouldn't be more free flowing, go to, "it's been 40 years, I've learned these lessons, Chris, this is a pathway going down", which is fine, that's fine. Understand that I am the new guy. And that's fine by me. But being able to still get my ideas across to you. And it's not gratification or anything like that. But understanding that I'm not completely off the reservation helps me go okay, that's my goal, I need to work on within our business to get a more open dialogue with these people about ideas. And even if we still go down that path, whatever path that is, at least everyone feels like they've been able to put their ideas on the table. So, it's clarity, is a good word I use for. It is it gives me clarity around whether an idea or a conversation or a strategy is something that should be implemented or should be thought about a little bit one that we had a conversation this morning about something that's a major issue for our business. And I hadn't thought about the strategies that you'd put in place. And that's because I'm probably too close to it. But now removing ourselves and putting someone who understands the context of the business and what we're trying to do. But removing themselves from the personal side of it has helped me go okay, it's actually I understand where they're coming from. And maybe that is the best way to move forward.
And I think part of what gives me the ability to do that is also the longevity of the relationship that you and I have had over the past couple of years, I've really got an understanding of what's important to you, what your priorities are, some of the dynamics that exist between you and Mike and Julie and where you want to take the business. So, what would you say to someone who's sort of thinking about doing something like this and joining a program, like the one you're in with CRE Success.
Just start. That's the big thing I'd say is Darren is not a typical sales guy who follows up and follows up and follows up. He wants people to work with him who want to work with him. And the only way you're going to know if you can do that is by starting. And if you start and you get a month in, and you turn around and go, it's not for me, I don't think he's not going to have a problem with that. But at least I've tried, you know what I mean, I sat there for years saying, I need this, I need that I need this, and I need that. But then, once you do it, you commit to it, and you get into the processes. Sometimes I sit down with or sometimes I don't want to get on the call at 10:30 on the first day, because I feel like there's more important for you to do. But then you do the call, and you go through the process, and you have the conversations and the stuff that you were going to do in that period of time, get done better and quicker and more efficiently after you had the conversation. Because you remove the things that are sitting in the back of your head, as you're typing away, you're going, "Oh, I've got to do that. And I'm going to do that, and I'm going to do that." Helps you put strategies in place, and all those sorts of things to just give you the air time to do what you need to do and be the best version of yourself in real estate. So, I just say try, just give it a try. Have a chat with Darren, say, "Look, man, I'd like to give it, you know, a one off tries and have a conversation with you." Again, I'm not putting words in your mouth. But I'd imagine you'd be open to something like that. If it's not palatable, it's not palatable, I mean, personalities, personality, you can't change who you are. I was just very lucky that I got some of that I enjoy talking to him, and can be very open with but there will be someone out there for everyone. And I believe that everyone in this business needs, especially if you're a high performer, and you're a business owner, or whatever it is, is that you've got a lot fine in your head. And just having someone that's completely unbiased and the ability to just download and then find things in those situations or those problems you've got in your head that you didn't realize, and can come back and say, "Have you thought about this man, I heard you say this is your blurting words across the page at me that might be you should maybe go down that and then there's been times when I've taken that advice and gone and looked at it on how we should." That's actually where you know where it started to fall apart. So just try just jump in. There are no wrong answers in this business. Just get in and have a conversation. And you might surprise yourself.
Or put you on the spot here with one final question. Obviously Sunshine Coast about to open maybe even open by the time we release this interview. What's next?
It's a good question. I mean, my thing is that, on anyone you talk to, that knows me in the Queensland Business, I believe LJ Hooker, it's who I am, I've always been LJ Hooker. So, there's an opportunity in this state and in this country for us to go, we've got the most residential franchises, Ray White will defend that quite brutally. But that's where I'm happy to have that conversation. But I think you know, there's an opportunity for youth in this business. I think, if you've got the knowledge base, then you've got the ability to pick up the phone and not be offended to be told no, it's not an old man's game. It's not getting younger energy. For me energy. I had that when I was younger. I'm still young, but it takes its toll after a while but being able to employ young people and give them those opportunities. You know, I'm from a regional town in Toowoomba, and I went to Brisbane and you go down there and it's a culture shock. You really use this university. You can get to across the border and back in half an hour. It took me one way to get to university an hour. That's a culture shock for someone from Toowoomba. But all the opportunity initially lives in Brisbane. So, I would like to give opportunity to regional guys who go to Brisbane to have the opportunity to go back to their hometown and do what they love. So, you know, places like Townsville and Cairns, Rockhampton, and Mackay and Bundaberg and places that are really bustling, great regional centres that need good young energy. They don't get that opportunity because they just go to Brisbane. And I think the only way from the career growth is to stay in that range of standard Metro markets get into the big corporates who do a great job. Some of the best agents I've worked with through JLL and CBRE and Cush work and colleagues and saddles. But it's not the only avenue, you know, transactional and helping, you know, helping a hairdresser go into a first tendency, it's a very rewarding process. Now the fees might not be something to write home about. But those conversations and those processes you go through create you and make you a better real estate agent, some of the hardest deals I've done, you know, $15,000 Gross leases, because every cent that leaves that person's pocket really mean something to them, it really means something to them, and you're putting them in a position that could make or break. So that's probably the big thing for me now just giving people in regional Queensland an opportunity to work in commercial real estate and it doesn't have to be you know, if you like living in Boulder or you like Liberty main data or you've got a farm you can do it doesn't mean you can't still do business on the Sunshine Coast to do business. It's about your expertise. It's been a connect with people. So, I think that's an opportunity nowadays. I use the word I've said to you before is we want to be real estate for regional Queensland that's really want to be, is we want to be the experts of managing Queensland, but we can connect on a personal basis. That's really rare on a headset.
Fantastic. Well, Chris, you're an excellent ambassador for the Stewart's LJ Hooker, and as a client of CRE Success. I really appreciate you coming here today and just sharing a little bit risk to people who might be thinking of working with us. Thanks so much for being on the show today.
No problem. Appreciate it, Daren. We'll talk soon.
I hope you enjoyed meeting Chris and listening to our conversation. If you believe that it is something that you want to get started with, really find out a little bit more about what it means and how it looks to work together, cresuccess.co/leadership is the place to go.
That's our episode for you today. Thank you so much for listening, and I will speak to you soon.
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