My grandfather started Ray White real estate in a tiny Queensland country town in 1902. His business was to do anything and everything he could. He did machine sales, insurance sales, livestock auctioning, and finally he became confident in selling properties. In around 1922, he moved his whole family to Brisbane and started again at middle age to create business which became a real estate business. There was only a “Ray White” signing shed, no roads. That’s how we started, the most humble beginning imaginable. From there, the family has kept pursuing growth, and now we’ve become the largest group in Australia and New Zealand. Ray White now has over 1000 offices in Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, China, the Middle East and Atlanta in the US.
Family value is always our core value, which permeates a lot of our deeds. My grandfather is the founder of this property business and had no extra offices when he started. My father is the one who started to expand the map. He was the first to open some additional branches in 1966 in Brisbane. He created great reputation that Ray White really meant good quality. I always think my father created the springboard and my job is merely to jump on it. When I first took over the company at the age of 31, I had neither skill nor confidence in being a leader. People without confidence cannot be a good leader, and I didn’t really recognize myself as the leader until I realize these basic principles. Leadership is a very big subject and is as broad as the ocean. You need to communicate correctly, understand correctly and know what to do when mistakes are made. I wish I would be more confident in being a leader a bit earlier.
As a family business, we are very sensitive to the needs and opportunities for families to keep their businesses within a family. Just a year ago, I was invited to the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. They had the first family business conference. The whole mission was to help family businesses be stronger. I was surprised that only 1% of family businesses can get to the fourth generation, which is still owned and lead by the family. So I am pretty proud of what we have achieved.
Although our slogan says “Ray White Sells”, it does not fully speak for the company. For this business, it is not a single slogan but the competition that really matters. The best thing we can do for our sellers is to create competition from different buyers who want that property. When you get to create that, good things happen to the price. Competition and challenges are sometimes our driving forces. At some point, they make us understand that a change is a must. Back to old days, the provincial markets were terrified of what we call the “Southerners”—people from Sydney and Melbourne. How could you compete against them? Eventually our competition in Queensland became dominated by the southern groups. We knew if we didn’t become national, we would have a lot of problems. That’s when we decided to transform a provincial business into a national real estate group, and to adopt a franchising model.
The expansion of Ray White has never paused in the past 30 years, since the first office expanded in 1987. Apart from the increase in the amount of offices and geographical coverage extension, the service range of Ray White has been tremendously broadened as well. In Queensland, Ray White projects such as the Gold Coast tallest apartment and Elegance were launched. We also set foot in home mortgage brokering now. Broadening our service range has now become our major focus.
There were tough times, of course. We had to keep our determination and family spirit to overcome the difficulty. But one thing about real estate is that people need to buy and sell even during economic downturn. Ups and downs are very common, and it’s crucial for buyers and sellers to seize the chance. For example, compared with last year, the auction clearance rate dropped from 80% to 50-60%. Sharp as it may appear, this is only a decrease from an extremely high rate to a normal rate, and will definitely improve in the future. It still can be a good timing because sellers may realize that the prices might decrease.
The property market has seen a strong growth in the past 6 years, which is a really long period of growth. Hopefully the ups and downs will fluctuate at a level where everyone can adjust and adapt. I don’t like big booms because when that comes to an end, it would be a lot of pain. Challenges and opportunities always come along.