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In this episode of The Inner Chief podcast, we speak to Mark Pomeroy, CEO of Pomeroy Pacific, on managing risk, asking great questions, and succeeding in a family business.
Since 2005, Mark has been the CEO of Pomeroy Pacific, one of Australia's premier development and project management firms with over 50 years of funding and delivering successful projects.
Before he joined the family business, Mark completed a Law Degree from Monash University and spent 3 years on KPMG’s Graduate program.
He is also an alumni of the Harvard Business School, having studied on their Real Estate Program.
Mark is an executive of the YPO Yarra Melbourne chapter, having been involved for the last 9 years, including a 2 year stint as Chair.
In this episode we talk about:
- The incredible mentoring he got from his father, Dug, after coming into the business without much experience in the industry
- Why they have succeeded where many family business have failed
- How managing risk is the most critical activity in construction
- Understanding the “why” before making any decisions.
Connecting with Mark Pomeroy
You can connect with Mark via LinkedIn.
Books and resources
Good to Great – by Jim Collins
“A leader doesn't make a great business; the people make a great business. The leader just helps bring out the best in its people.”
On a story from his youth
- I lost my mum to breast cancer and when something like that happens, I guess you learn to become a lot more independent and resilient. When I reflect on that moment, that's really framed my personality and my mindset on how I approach life.
On early career lessons
- My first job after I finished school was selling mobile phones and it was there that I realised I had a natural ability to be a salesperson. It's where I learned the subtlety of how to deal with clients, with customers and how to become a ‘chameleon’ to achieve desired outcomes ie. We need to adjust our personality to work with others.
- I believe the best leaders are those that can adjust their personalities to achieve desired outcomes through people.
- At KPMG I started in the tax area, and while it was probably not the most exciting area, it really taught me the importance of process, structure and diligence. It helped me see the best parts but also the parts that I didn't personally like in that big environment.
- It was the importance and the investment that they did put into their people and training and that is something that I took and really value a lot in business.
- The problem was that I felt that everyone had to buy their time there ie. in two years, you get this position, that's the progression. Whereas the way I view things is that I don't care if you are 19 or 30, if you prove your capability and you've got the right values, approach, are respected by others, there's no reason you can't be at a certain level at a certain age.
On what it takes to succeed in property
- Too many people think that to be a great developer, you’ve got to be able to sell for the greatest number, lease for the greatest number but I believe that – and it probably applies in all business – being an expert at risk management is key.
- Other crucial traits are being capable of responding decisively and strategically through projects because projects generally have a lifespan – from the point of acquisition through to completion – of three to five years and there are so many elements that change during that lifecycle. And no matter how well you think you have a handle on projects, there are an endless array of matters that can and do go wrong.
- It’s also having an ability to not just throw your hands up and give up, but rather to find a way to deal with those situations, no matter what.
- It's the process to manage your risk to actually get outcomes. We spend an enormous amount of time doing due diligence on projects and asking ourselves what is the exit strategy, what happens if things go wrong, what happens if building prices go up, what happens if we can't achieve the revenues, is there an alternate use on the site etc.
- We're always looking to never pigeonhole ourselves into a point that you can't exit because, if there's no exit, you can really lose an enormous amount of money very quickly.
On having his father as a mentor
- I'm very fortunate that the two of us think very alike. And whilst it’s said that two people that think the same is one too many people in the room, in this instance, it's very helpful and we don't have, like so often with father-son relationships, a lot of butting heads. I've got a father that's always been extremely open to trying new things and also happy to give me enough leash in my early days to make my own decisions and live by the outcomes for better or worse.
- The first two years of my career in the business I came in pretty cold with limited knowledge about the industry. He took me to pretty much every single meeting he went to, and I just shadowed him and I would frantically write notes. But what I was actually writing down were questions as to why and what was going on. Why did he say that? What did this mean? Why didn't he agree to that? At the end of every day, we used to meet and I would go through the various meetings and he would explain to me why we were doing things, his logic, his analysis, his strategy.
- That two year period was probably getting 10 years of work experience because, so often in business, you are told what to do, but not why.
On ethics in business
- Ethics is black and white to me, it's either wrong or it's right.
- Everyone can always justify their actions through the world of grey, but when we go into that area, we are just convincing ourselves that we can outsmart the greyness. “Well, it didn't say you can't do that, it said you shouldn't” or “If I do it like this, maybe I'm not actually doing anything wrong.”
- We all know when we're on the wrong side of the line. But I've always taken the view that it's not worth the downside because, once you cross it, the next time you cross a metre and a half, and then it's two metres, and so on.
On asking great “why” questions
- Before making any decisions or giving recommendations, you must understand the why. When someone comes to me and says, “I think we should do it like this” I go, “Well, why is that?” And if I get a response like, “Because the architect told me,” then that's not an answer. I need you to understand why the architect formed that view.
- If you don't understand the basis of the decision, of how someone got somewhere, then you cannot critically assess it. I see it time and time again. People make decisions relying on information without actually understanding why they're making the decision.
- Too many people ask one question but it's question two and three where all the value is. For example, question two could be, “If you had the ability to redesign this from scratch, would you do anything differently?”
- That opens up a whole new discussion that the first question didn't unlock. So, to me, the quality of questions allows you to understand the why. That's how I actually manage risk and how I teach my team to think.
On investing in people
- We invest in culture and training for our people. I've always believed that you need great people, they need to be smart, they need to be passionate, they need to be aligned with your values but, ultimately, they're the ones that create the value.
- I employ so many people on my gut feel. You can read resumes, they can tell you about how good they are, what they've done, etc. I've got other people, obviously, that do the preliminary interviews and they go through a lot of those processes. But if they are culturally aligned, they share our values, they have a high performance mindset, and desire and hunger, then that's what I look for.
- You've got growth, you've got needs, you need people to help build your business. So then if you hire someone, what if they aren’t right and you need to get rid of them? How do you find someone else? What does that do to the business?
- I've found that if I hired on gut and the end up being wrong, you’ve got to sometimes move on. Hire slow, fire fast. It doesn't happen that often anymore because, as we've grown and really understood who we are with more clarity, we can really get a better sense of who will work out.
- We've also got 100% of our people back in the office full time and that's not mandated. It's not like, if you don't work in the office, you won't have a job. It's the choice that our team has made. That's a testament to a great culture.
Final message of wisdom and hope for future leaders
- Be a good person, care about others, listen and be an expert at self-awareness. With those characteristics, I really don't think you can go wrong because you will succeed in building trust and you'll build relationships. They're the qualities that you need to actually build a team and success. So, very simple in my view, but not everybody has those seemingly simple values.
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