"It wasn’t this incident alone that prompted a career change for Bill at 35."
At the time of that incident, Bill was the manager of the family’s Royal Hotel in Auburn and living onsite. No stranger to conflict – he’d seen his share of it when he managed the Golden Grove in Maroubra – the incident rattled him.
His wife was fearful and suggested if he didn’t find an alternative career soon they might not have too much time left together. But it wasn’t this incident alone that prompted a career change for Bill at the age of 35. It was a comment by a real estate agent who noticed his attributes would suit the industry one day if he had the urge, coupled with an almost accidental stumble into a niche area of the property market that no-one yet had seen coming. This was all about good listening skills on the agent’s part; to really listen, to understand what the purchaser was looking to buy. And then deliver it. Bill saw it as an opportunity which he grabbed it with both hands and into a whole new lifestyle.
Today he’s very well known within the industry, achieving high sales records and moving properties of multi-million dollar proportions. His clients may read like the list of BRW’s Rich 200 list but Malouf works just as hard for the best deal he can get for all his clients, despite size or value of the property. And one of his recent customers – the 83-year-old retiree selling up the family home he’s owned for 50 years – couldn’t be happier!
Now a real estate agency principal, Bill is a Coonabarabran-bred country boy whose family was in the hotel industry. When he was old enough to work in his father’s pub he quickly learned about people which fostered his ability to relate to a broad range of personalities. His father was a great role model whose ethic was “your word was your bond” and Bill came to emulate this in his own hotel business and then later when he entered the real estate industry.
Sent to boarding school at age four because his mother didn’t think the pub environment was the place for youngsters, Bill developed in the ordered and disciplined framework of the institution. When the family later settled in Strathfield and Bill was able to attend a local day school, he found he had too much freedom. So much so, he couldn’t even get to school on time. He was eventually expelled and, recognising the value of regimentation, asked his parents to return him to boarding school. He happily finished his schooldays at St Joseph’s Hunters Hill.
A self-confessed larrikin, Bill saw school more as a place to have fun than develop academically. He knew he’d never go to university and after finishing his HSC started work in one of his dad’s pubs, the Student Prince in Camperdown, picking up glasses.
Bill’s father taught he and his brothers the trade of the publican. From wiping tables and stacking bottles at the bar to the intricacies of getting the keg gas pressures right in the cellar, the boys worked their way up each of the steps to bar manager and finally hotel manager.
At 35, Bill made his decision – a real game changer – to try a new industry. A decade earlier, he’d spent a few years managing the Grove Hotel in Maroubra, where he’d stared down trouble on more than a few occasions. He also ran a betting syndicate for the football on a Friday afternoon for all the real estate agents. One of them was real estate principal Michael Sanchez, who suggested that if Bill ever wanted a career change, the business of real estate would suit him.
At the time he was running an early opener, the Royal Hotel in Auburn. He’d transformed the hotel by building a tavern and a shopping centre, both co-owned by the family and a partner – and he, at 25 was living above the premises with his 22-year-old wife. After a “nasty experience” with a knife, his wife suggested they may not have much of a future together if they didn’t get out of the business soon.
Bill’s first forward step was to test-run a move out of the hotel premises and into a house in Strathfield which meant purchasing a property for the family home. His days at the hotel were long – from 4.30 a.m. until 11 o’clock at night – so there was little time to look.
He wrote to seven real estate agents hoping they’d help find him a property. Giving them an indication of price range and preparedness to make improvements, Bill says he “got a hell of a shock” that most of the properties suggested were far from fitting his criteria. Finally he purchased in Barker St, Strathfield – one of two properties shown to him by George Devine from Strathfield Real Estate. None of the other properties had what he was looking for.
Bill saw an opportunity in the market for “somebody who could listen to the specific requirements of the purchaser and then deliver what they want” because he hadn’t seen it in Strathfield. He mentioned it to his wife one night, adding she had wanted him to have a career change. A phone call to Mike Sanchez was made to assess industry possibilities and to reaffirm Mike’s suggestion of 10 years earlier that Bill might be good at selling real estate. Sanchez said, “You can start tomorrow”.
Bill needed to talk to his parents, who were part of the business, about his desire for a career change and the fact he wanted to lease out the pub. His shocked parents posed the question: what did he know about real estate? His response was a neat summary of the family’s achievement of having built units previously and that he’d personally learned a lot by sitting in on negotiations and boardroom meetings. Finally, he felt the real estate business was all about communication, and he was good at that.
A position presented itself at an office managed by Ken Jacobs (who now runs Christie’s). When Ken asked what Bill’s qualifications were, he said he ran hotels overseeing 65 staff. And, to strengthen his case, he delivered Ken a promise that if he didn’t cut the mustard in six months he’d get up and walk out the door. The job was his and the rest, as they say, is history.
You don’t find opportunities like that today. Getting a job without qualifications can be pretty well impossible, but Bill’s own capacity to look beyond the piece of paper during the interview and peer into an interviewee’s drive, tenacity and charisma has provided to be valuable insight and has paid off well. After all, says Bill, real estate is an industry that requires charisma. With the belief that living your life with the four principles of “honesty, credibility, accessibility, and knowledge”, and operating under these same principles, Bill says, “You cannot but be successful”. He quietly adds that anyone without those attributes doesn’t get a gig in his office.
After 12-15 months at the Double Bay LJ Hooker Office, Bill started to feel confident this industry really was for him. He loved the area, calibre of people and he’d heard rumours that LJ Hooker no longer wanted the Double Bay office which was then company-run.. Bill saw an opportunity to step up and take a risk. He could buy the business as a franchise, work hard and turn it into a viable, sustainable profit-making company.
The business has been a great success and Bill credits this to the reputation he and his team have built up around honest communication; “telling people, what you honestly think”. Taking on listings which can be discussed honestly allows the team to provide a really good experience for the vendors.
Bill looks at it like this; “You go to a restaurant. You have a really good experience. The waiter gives you excellent service. The food is superb. The wine’s good, and you have a great night. I guarantee you within a month you will then take another group of friends, because somebody had taken you to that restaurant, to experience what you experienced.” This is business building based on good experience with word-of-mouth referrals and the real estate industry works in the same way.
The commitment to keeping clients totally informed throughout the selling process is essential. Bill says they should know “exactly what’s going on” as selling what is often their most valuable asset, be it a two-bedroom unit or a house worth $40 million, means they are deeply invested, and need to know if their expectations are realistic and can be matched.
The business wasn’t always so successful. When Bill joined it in 1986, he didn’t have a licence and wasn’t given any management responsibility in the family structured partnership. Ten years later things changed. After the bank had called refusing to cash the wage cheques until there was an injection of funds into the coffers to cover a large overdraft, Bill decided it was time to act. He wasn’t an owner or a principal, and he certainly wasn’t happy about what had happened. He decided to go it alone and buy everybody out.
Bill asked Hookers to back him and sold off the property management portion of the business enabling him to pay back the partner and family. He started again from scratch with zero in the bank, managing sales only together with a mortgage and four children to support.
They were tough times, but having hit the bottom, Bill knew there was only one way to go, and that was up! So, he backed his own capability.
If that was Bill’s low point, his highs are the satisfaction of the sale, knowing people rely on him for good advice and great results, the personalities he meets and setting records and prices that others can’t attain. It’s the sense of achievement and accomplishment for those he represents that drives him. And, he’s certainly represented some high flyers, celebrities and very wealthy individuals in the Eastern Suburbs.
What is it that makes Malouf stand out from his competitors? “Being accessible and willing to pick up the phone at anytime of day – or night.” People, he says, want an instant response, not a voicemail message and a return call days later, so the phone stays with him even on annual holidays.
Success for Bill Malouf means establishing a lifestyle he can enjoy with family and to help his children. It’s not so much about the money he makes in abundance (according to media reports), but about growing his wealth so he doesn’t have to rely on anyone, including the government, in his old age. And, the nice things people have to say about the man and the business are a welcome added bonus.
The Double Bay office now employs about 23 people including five sales staff, but in the early days Bill did everything, from selling and motivating staff to running the office. After losing his driver’s licence for 12 months he had to hire a driver. Twelve months later, the driver had become his PA. He realised he could let go of some of the tasks and focus on his best attributes – working with the people; talking to vendors and talking to purchasers.
Good management, according to Malouf, is the ability to define your strengths and weaknesses. Stick to your strengths and hand over your areas of weakness to others who can do a better job of it.
As a very hands-on boss, any low figures on the sales ledger at the end of the month or signs of flagging confidence in a member of the sales staff and Bill will “talk to the person, find out what’s going wrong, and reboot their batteries”. Lost skills and confidence in sales can see a staffer so desperate for business they’ll talk the talk during a presentation but won’t be listening to the requirements of the purchaser. And, in Malouf’s world, that’s absolutely essential for maintaining his good reputation!
What’s the succession plan for the business? Bill’s son joined the team three years ago after working successfully for a time as a personal trainer. When he realised he was never going to make enough money from it to sustain his desired lifestyle, his father welcomed him into the fold. In the last 12 months and after some guidance from Dad, he’s gone from “strength to strength”, and although Bill says he’ll never sell the business, a breakdown of ownership of 100% to 50% could well be in the offing in the coming years.
Bill never envisaged his life as he currently lives it and is quite honestly surprised as to how it panned out. But he says life has funny ways of making changes for you. It’s how you adapt to those changes, and what nudges you into making the change that’s important.
- “Honesty, credibility, accessibility, and knowledge.”
- “A self-confessed larrikin, Bill saw school more as a place to have fun than develop academically.”
- “Stick to your strengths and hand over your areas of weakness to others who can do a better job of it.”
When a knife was pulled on Bill Malouf, little did he know it would change the direction of his career and his life forever. Bill went on to take the No.1 position in real estate, marketing Sydney’s most prestigious homes.