SILENT MOMENT THAT REGENERATED PROPERTY'S POWER TEAM

Written on the 15 May 2015 by Nick Nichols

SILENT MOMENT THAT REGENERATED PROPERTY'S POWER TEAM

THE continuous ping of telephone emails fell deadly silent for seasoned commercial real estate executives Tania Moore and Mark Witheriff this time last year.

Moore concedes there was a moment of panic that dissociation from technology often brings, but it wasn't until a couple of days later that she really appreciated the value of that silence.

It gave her time to throw herself into the task ahead, preparing to take on the role of co-managing director with Witheriff at Knight Frank Gold Coast.

Until then, Moore was managing director of CBRE Gold Coast. Former MD Witheriff played a pivotal role alongside her as the most experienced executive in the CBRE team.

CBRE accounted for a combined 40 years of their professional careers, and their departure came as a shock to industry observers.

Yet, for Witheriff and Moore, there was a clear vision of the opportunity before them.

"After day three, I couldn't care less where my mobile phone was," says Moore, who described her four-week gardening leave as "the best break I've had in 15 years".

It was probably her most productive as well, as Moore, an avid systems developer, took to the road to compile a database that laid the foundation of impressive growth in the Knight Frank business since their appointment in June.

Witheriff says they had to be "very respectful" of their contracts under their previous roles in terms of client restraints. However, this gave them an opportunity to take time out from the day-to-day bustle of the property industry and develop a five-year business plan which continues to evolve and be implemented throughout the business.

"Our business has always been client led and the time on the sidelines allowed both Tania and myself to review the market as a whole; it has been interesting to see how much change has occurred post GFC," says Witheriff.

"Part of the business plan was very focused on the culture of the business that we wanted to develop and we set down some culture statements about the attributes of the team and how we wanted to present ourselves to the marketplace.

"It was simple things such as being solutions focussed in our advice to clients, answering the phone when it rings, or at least getting back to people when they call.

Then it was about culture, about the people we wanted to hire."

Moore took an even grittier approach to the task. Just as she had done when she joined CBRE as a leasing agent in 2002, Moore did the legwork again for her new role at Knight Frank by creating a comprehensive list of potential business contacts so that she could hit the ground running once she was in the chair at Knight Frank.

"I worked from seven to seven, six days a week and set up a whole new database," says Moore. "That was the upside of the break. Because I wasn't able to go out there and transact, I was 100 per cent focused on that. You don't get the chance to do that very often."

Witheriff, whose talents rest in big-ticket sales and long-term relationships, particularly in Asia, gives up a knowing grin as if he's seen it all before.

Moore describes the database as a system that captures owners and tenants against Gold Coast properties of all sectors in the major CBD precincts. 

The figures speak for themselves. In the past eight months Knight Frank's team of four staff, including Moore and Witheriff, has grown to 16.

The team also has recently relocated from Bundall to a purpose-designed "Agile Ready" workplace in accordance with Knight Frank's corporate guidelines within The Wave building in the heart of Broadbeach.

The 247sqm office, plus 150sqm balcony area, has adhered to the Agile Ready principles which includes flexible meeting rooms, both informal and formal, open plan layout plus a kitchen that would be quite at home on the Master Chef set. It has even promoted monthly cooking challenges amongst the staff.

Witheriff says the new office space is driven by lifestyle, the very reason he says Gold Coasters flock to this city. But he says it's also about renewal and regeneration as the Knight Frank business adheres to a carefully crafted philosophy for both staff and clients.

Knight Frank has been operating on the Gold Coast, under various names such as Baillieu Knight Frank, and under different ownership structures for the past 35 years. The brand has a history of strength in property management supported by leasing services. 

Witheriff says the business has grown fourfold over the past year by focusing on those strengths, although broader expansion is on the cards.

"Tania and I have traditionally grown our businesses in the past on the back of property management. It feeds the business. You manage it, you lease it and sell it.

"This was the key focus of our business plan in year one. In year two and three, we will start branching out and eventually we will build a full-service offering, including commercial and residential valuations, residential project marketing and industrial sales and leasing.

"The first 12 months have been a period of growth to ensure that cash flow is strong and that our personnel understand the culture of the business we want to build."

James Branch has been one of the firm's key appointments as the development sector on the Gold Coast builds momentum. Branch, who has an agency background with PRD working with the late Don Dietz, is arguably one of the best development specialists on the Coast. He has spent the past 12 years developing apartments in his own right with Brisbane-based developer Property Solutions.  

Another key recruit has been Sanja Stankovic, as associate director in charge of retail leasing. Her previous experience from both client and agency roles has been "invaluable, particularly with high-end retail assets such as Marina Mirage, Soul and Oracle".

In the past year, Knight Frank has secured a host of big-ticket listings including The Rocket tower at Robina, Sheraton Mirage and Soul's retail precinct in Surfers Paradise. Sales have included the Foxtel building at Robina for $46 million and Sykes Building at Varsity Lakes for about $10 million.

Major office and retail leasing assignments include A-grade buildings such as Corporate Centre Precinct, Soul Boardwalk and a range of properties under management. 

Knight Frank's management portfolio includes Marina Mirage, the Oracle precinct as well as a range of office buildings and neighbourhood shopping centres and, most recently, The Wave at Broadbeach where it is headquartered.

Both Witheriff and Moore believe the Gold Coast is now in early stages of an upswing in the cycle.

"Given the strengths of the Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane markets, the Gold Coast is now seen to be real value and in this current interest rate environment investors are seeking opportunities in the city both in development and investment across all market sectors," says Witheriff.


Author: Nick Nichols

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