This week I had the pleasure of joining in the celebration of 50 years in the property development industry by one Bert Dennis, founder of Australian property group, The Dennis Family Corporation. I have always found Bert an inspiration and it was a delight to hear him in full flight reflecting on his time in the property game. He came from very humble beginnings and through his talents, resilience and integrity has created a very successful business turning over $300 million plus annually with an exemplary model of an enduring family business.
Some of you will know the Dennis Family Corporation and many of you will not, but regardless I would like to share with you some of Bert’s philosophy to business and life. Firstly, integrity is sacrosanct. Bert spoke with great pride about how his early contracts were sealed only with a handshake. Meet the man and you would be very happy to always work on that basis. From a property perspective, Bert’s view is that you only buy in a down turn and interestingly the business has purchased no major slabs of land in the past 5 years (but the GFC is starting to ease some opportunities into the market!). Never borrow as much as the bank is willing to lend, as according to Bert, it typically results in a gearing ratio that becomes a millstone when the market dips. My take is that Bert has a great read on greed, and that is: don’t be seduced by it.
On a personal basis, Bert may in fact be a great match for Gen Y’ers, in that he has always endeavoured to have a sense of balance in his life. For example, his office has to be 5 minutes from home, so that daily lunch (and nap?) can be enjoyed at home. He puts his personal health at the top of his list of priorities, unusual for males, but probably why he is still actively engaged in the business in his 70’s. He places family next on the list, followed by sport and then business/work in fourth place. An interesting sequence, and begs the question, what are your own priorities? Finally, on the personal philosophy front, Bert believes that one’s life style should always cost less than one’s earnings. That there should always be a surplus available, to be saved and allowed to expand, through the delights of compound growth. At this point of Bert’s ponderings, I was forced to squirm a little….savings, what a brilliant thought!
Bert’s insights on the evening were a treat. But it was also a reminder to me that it was whilst working on the brand charter for Bert’s business more than a decade ago that I first worked with my now business partner David Ansett and his design studio Storm. Dave’s team followed our brand positioning work with the development of a new corporate identity. As an identity, I think it was a very elegant and powerful on-brand expression. Importantly, it has a very enduring quality about it and has stood the test of time exceptionally well. And it is on this note of endurance that will I close my little reflection on the Dennis Family Corporation. The other evening Bert also shared with us the significant mental shift that he and his four children (who are employed in the business) made when they decided that their mission in business life is to create an enduring business for future generations of the Dennis Family. It is, that the business is not about them, it is about the future. The third generation is now being introduced to the business, and one suspects, that they cannot help but have some of Bert’s expansive thinking in their genes – they certainly have some big shoes to fill.