GROWTH LEADER Ash­lea Merlo

Elite Property Manager - - Contents - SARAH BELL

“UL­TI­MATELY, UN­LESS WE UP-SKILL OUR­SELVES AND OUR KNOWL­EDGE BASE, THERE’LL BE WEBBASED PROP­ERTY MAN­AGERS RE­MOV­ING THE PER­SONAL CON­NEC­TION.”

ASH­LEA MERLO WORKED ex­ten­sively across prop­erty man­age­ment busi­nesses in Aus­tralia, driv­ing growth as trainer and con­sul­tant, be­fore seiz­ing the op­por­tu­nity to ap­ply her knowl­edge and ta­lent as Head of Prop­erty Man­age­ment in one of Aus­tralia’s most ex­cit­ing growth busi­nesses, Clarke & Humel in Manly, NSW.

“I’M A TRUE BE­LIEVER IN per­sonal de­vel­op­ment and in­vest­ing in your­self. I’m con­stantly learn­ing and grow­ing in the in­dus­try and as a leader. I’m not the best that I can be right now. In five years’ time I’m not go­ing to be the best that I can be; but ev­ery sin­gle day I’m go­ing to chip away at grow­ing a part of my­self and learn­ing to do some­thing bet­ter,” says Ash­lea Merlo of the mind­set that has pro­pelled her to lead­er­ship. Ash­lea’s growth game is strong – and she is a leader who draws on ex­pe­ri­ence, mean­ing and pur­pose to drive ac­tion and growth in the busi­ness and the peo­ple she is lead­ing. From a back­ground in the cor­po­rate world of real es­tate, driv­ing prop­erty man­age­ment ex­cel­lence across a na­tional net­work, Ash­lea’s decision to put down roots at Clarke & Humel was born from feel­ing at home, sur­rounded by those driven to achieve in the same way.

“I’m about bring­ing out the best in peo­ple,” says Ash­lea. “I do take own­er­ship of it. I treat this de­part­ment like it was my own busi­ness, where I build ca­pa­bil­ity by sup­port­ing and chal­leng­ing in­di­vid­u­als to be their best to bring sta­bil­ity for growth.”

The op­por­tu­nity to work lo­cally and in­ten­sively with one team has al­lowed Ash­lea to find re­ward in the growth of oth­ers, par­al­lel to the growth of the de­part­ment. “It’s amaz­ing watch­ing your team go from strength to strength, lis­ten­ing to the con­ver­sa­tions that they’re hav­ing with peo­ple and ul­ti­mately help­ing them de­velop their skill set and knowl­edge base,” she says.

Growth in busi­ness is about re­defin­ing the stan­dard of ex­cel­lence and push­ing those bound­aries to reach lev­els of high per­for­mance and high growth. They can­not be main­tained or mean­ing­ful, how­ever, un­less those within a busi­ness are com­mit­ted.

With a be­lief that great cul­ture stems from great lead­er­ship, it is ev­i­dent that Ash­lea’s in­di­vid­ual suc­cess, and that of ev­ery­one in her de­part­ment, is con­nected to the suc­cess of the busi­ness and its core val­ues.

“Our clients know that no one will work harder than us,” says Ash­lea. “I’ll give you a leas­ing ex­am­ple. We aren’t re­stricted to Wed­nes­day through Satur­day open homes. We will show prop­er­ties when­ever we need to in or­der to get a prop­erty leased. Our clients, from that per­spec­tive, know that we will go above and be­yond for them to make sure that we’re get­ting them the ab­so­lute best price and the best qual­ity ten­ant, re­sult­ing in the best re­turn on their in­vest­ment. We wouldn’t want to limit their pool of get­ting the best ten­ant if they are un­able to make it dur­ing those sched­uled times.

“We know that we’ll never be out­com­peted by hard work and en­thu­si­asm.”

When it comes to lead­ing a team en­gaged in the un­re­lent­ing pur­suit of ex­cel­lence, Ash­lea never loses sight of what peo­ple will ul­ti­mately need from a leader.

“I be­lieve that you need to be hu­man. The rea­son I say that is, as a leader, you have the abil­ity to make some­one feel a cer­tain way. You know you have to have some hard con­ver­sa­tions as a leader. Some­times de­liv­er­ing that hard mes­sage could leave some­one feel­ing in­cred­i­bly de­flated. Just un­der­stand­ing it from their

“WE KNOW THAT WE’LL NEVER BE OUT-COM­PETED BY HARD WORK AND EN­THU­SI­ASM.”

per­spec­tive, like how would that make you feel as a per­son? Ul­ti­mately, craft­ing your con­ver­sa­tion in a way that still de­liv­ers your mes­sage but has some­one walk­ing away from that con­ver­sa­tion with a spring in their step.”

From a young age, Ash­lea learned the power of pos­i­tiv­ity, and she counts two sig­nif­i­cant women as her lead­ers and men­tors.

“There is my mum, who’s prob­a­bly one of my big­gest mo­ti­va­tors and driv­ers. She had me at 17 years of age, in­cred­i­bly young, and ba­si­cally she gave up ev­ery­thing to have me. She’s an in­cred­i­ble wo­man. She’s been a sin­gle mum, and she’s bought and sold around eight prop­er­ties by her­self. She’s not a ca­reer wo­man or any­thing like that. She’s just a re­ally in­spi­ra­tional and pos­i­tive lady.”

“Cherie [Humel, Prin­ci­pal of Clarke & Humel] is the main rea­son why I wanted to work at Clarke & Humel … be­cause of her val­ues. She’s an in­cred­i­bly in­spir­ing and tal­ented wo­man. I think it’s im­por­tant to have great lead­ers and men­tors around you as women that em­power women,” says Ash­lea.

And the re­spect is mu­tual. “Ash­lea had a broad un­der­stand­ing of PM busi­nesses and a fan­tas­tic depth of knowl­edge of prop­erty man­age­ment, in which she was es­sen­tially he­li­coptered into and out of busi­nesses across Aus­tralia, consulting on ef­fi­cien­cies in sys­tems and pro­cesses to make them world class,” says Cherie.

“Now that Ash is with C & H, she has ap­plied that huge depth of knowl­edge to im­ple­ment world-class sys­tems and pro­cesses and lead the PM team, fo­cus­ing on ex­cep­tional ser­vice with a pri­or­ity on growth and re­ten­tion. She’s had to learn, and ul­ti­mately thrived in busi­ness de­vel­op­ment and se­cur­ing high-end rentals, and led a team to man­age the prop­er­ties that have been se­cured. She’s also de­vel­oped the grit to see prob­lems through with both clients and staff de­vel­op­ment.”

Solv­ing prob­lems is the cur­rency of the prop­erty man­ager. How­ever, Ash­lea’s ex­am­ple of ex­cel­lence op­er­ates on a level that is con­nected to the decision-mak­ing of land­lords and ten­ants. Con­nect­ing ac­tiv­i­ties to a pur­pose builds trust, cre­ates value and gen­er­ates the type of loy­alty that Ash­lea en­joys from her po­si­tion as trusted ad­vi­sor to clients.

“I be­lieve that re­ally un­der­stand­ing why peo­ple in­vest in prop­erty and ul­ti­mately wealth cre­ation, how you can help them lever­age their in­vest­ment port­fo­lio, is go­ing to give you a com­pletely dif­fer­ent com­pet­i­tive edge,” she says.

“Be­ing able to give guid­ance and ad­vice. ‘Have you thought about the mar­ket’s growth? You’d have a fair bit of eq­uity in your in­vest­ment since pur­chas­ing a few years ago. Have you con­sid­ered about pos­si­bly in­vest­ing fur­ther? We’ve got this prop­erty on the mar­ket for sale at the mo­ment with the ex­pected rental re­turn...’ The abil­ity to have high-level con­ver­sa­tions with clients then ul­ti­mately adds value in what we do [as prop­erty man­agers].”

Ash­lea be­lieves by pro­vid­ing value in this way, and by grow­ing to find new av­enues of value to clients, prop­erty man­age­ment can limit the threat of tech­nol­ogy, de­fend the propo­si­tion of pro­fes­sional man­age­ment and demon­strate the value of an in­vest­ment in a pre­mium ser­vice.

“I think there are still el­e­ments of the in­dus­try that are in­cred­i­bly com­pla­cent and out­dated. Ul­ti­mately, un­less we up-skill our­selves and our knowl­edge base, there’ll be web-based prop­erty man­agers re­mov­ing the per­sonal con­nec­tion. Land­lords pay a one or two per cent fee, and they’re just do­ing the ba­sic ac­tiv­i­ties in line with leg­is­la­tion. You lose the re­la­tion­ship com­po­nent.

“I also think, typ­i­cally, the old-school prop­erty man­ager is all about just nur­ture, nur­ture, nur­ture. That skill is in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant. It’s im­por­tant to get those fun­da­men­tals right. One thing we’ve done a lot with my team is un­der­stand­ing the sales and ne­go­ti­a­tion side of what we do and be­ing able to ar­tic­u­late to a client why we do things to lever­age the in­vest­ment,” says Ash­lea.

“It’s not just about call­ing an owner be­cause they have a leak­ing toi­let and they need to get a plumber. Un­der­stand­ing ul­ti­mately how we can max­imise that client’s in­come and then min­imise their ex­po­sure to risk; that helps us show clients why we do things and why we’re worth that one or two per cent higher fee than our lo­cal com­pe­ti­tion.”

Ash­lea is the archetype of a prop­erty man­ager who is op­er­at­ing and lead­ing in ex­cel­lence. Ex­cel­lence is dy­namic; it changes. The goal­posts to ex­cel­lence al­ways move, and you’ve got to move with them. “If you’re not go­ing for­wards, you’re go­ing back­wards,” says Ash­lea.

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