Adrian Butera: The Big Give

Adrian Butera from Compton Green has won some big awards in 2017, including the REIV President’s Club recognition and also the AREA Award for Game Changer of the Year. Here, he talks to Elite Agent about disruption, innovation and the surprising secret of his success.

Compton Green’s Adrian Butera is someone who understands priorities. When things get tough, his team come first.

“The first thing I’ll do is go to an Italian supermarket and buy fresh ingredients – pasta, tomatoes, parmesan, herbs – before going back to the office and cooking lunch for my team. That’s what I do on days when real estate is really hard: I get practical, I get in the kitchen and I give back.”

My success comes from two things only: sharing with others and growing my community.

Whether giving back with a bowl of pasta or by generously mentoring his peers, this former Director of the REIV understands the simple relationship between giving and success. As Adrian clearly identifies, “My success comes from two things only: sharing with others and growing my community.”

An icon of the Australian real estate industry and recipient of the 2017 REIV President’s Award, Butera is not only sole director of thriving independent agency Compton Green; he’s also an award-winning auctioneer with multiple gongs in his trophy cabinet, having coached many of Australia’s leading auctioneers.

Under Adrian’s leadership, Compton Green have been named as AREA’s Innovation/Game Changer of the Year for 2018, having instituted multiple industry firsts – including their signature ‘Goes Green’ environmental audit for landlords, ‘Green Stays’ (their unique take on Airbnb) and ‘Goes Green Solar’ (an energy-positive, environment-positive offering in the works for the coming year). Needless to say, he’s a thought leader to watch.

Reflecting on Adrian’s 27-year real estate career, it appears that working within the property industry was written in his stars.

“Back in the day, I thought I’d be a lighting designer. My father and I ran a lighting business – both commercial and residential – for three years, before the late 1980’s recession hit. Afterwards, I entered the real estate industry and quickly realised it was a business that gave back to you what you put in. The harder I’d work, the more I’d earn, the luckier I’d get. I figured that to be successful, I needed to work as hard as I could.”

Despite the influence of technology upon the industry, Adrian remains optimistic about real estate as a profession of great potential. “I still believe that effort equals reward, but these days I also appreciate that burnout is a real thing. Today there’s more smarts to working hard, and success leaves clues in its wake. Just as important as working hard is being smart: if you’re smart, you get lucky in real estate.”

But is hard work paired with smarts enough to beat the demon of disruption, seemingly hot on the heels of real estate agents from Hobart to Darwin?

“I think disruption is life,” smiles Adrian. “The real estate is certainly being challenged – we’re reminded of that daily on social media and at conferences.

We had disruption 30 years ago too, but we just called it ‘different tools’ or ‘new ideas’.

Like many principals, Adrian identifies property management as the area at highest risk from disruption. “The systems and technologies that run rental databases and trust accounts – they’re not cutting edge. They don’t compare to sales databases. Somehow, property management been left behind. I’m aware that companies like Console and Rockend are working aggressively to improve their digital platforms – but poor property management technology is a real threat to the marketplace, because an estate agency’s only asset is their rent roll. If disruptive players simplify property management, it may mean our fees get cut – and our assets will diminish as an industry.”

It’s not unusual for principals to lose themselves in the glamour and high fees of their sales departments, at the peril of their rent roll. Adrian agrees: “We often get caught up in sales fees, but there is very little value in an estate agency’s sales fees. The real catastrophe of disruption would be the loss of value in rent rolls.”

Peter Hawkins (previous REIV president) and Adrian Butera at the REIV Awards 2017

So how will Adrian help set Compton Green’s compass for 2018? “Compton Green constantly challenge the status quo. Every year, we run an Innovation Day to set the tone for the coming 12 months.” Rather than doing this work going into holiday season, Compton Green hold Innovation Day in the middle of the year, off-site for maximum team focus.

“We choose to do our planning at the start of the financial year, using the quieter months of December and January to really implement our plans. This strategy leads to a really good lift in February and March. As a principal, Innovation Day puts healthy pressure on me: I know I need to have products to roll out and ideas ready to present to our team in July. There’s a lot of infrastructure that goes into the event, to help us launch new products, new tools, new initiatives.”

It makes sense that all the newness takes time to action – which is why Compton Green’s implementation plan is rolled out over the following 12 months. This measured approach to change benefits from a clear vision and a fair timeframe, lowering stress levels for everyone involved in the evolution.

Innovation Days have instigated unique offerings for Compton Green, resulting in their AREA award for Innovation/Game Changer of the Year 2018.

“‘Goes Green’ has improved our business, going from a concept to an offering that’s at the core of our brand. We’re recognised as thinking progressively about the environment by our community.” Compton Green’s ‘Goes Green’ offering is an eco-audit for landlords – identifying ways they can make their investment additionally energy-friendly.

“With our new offering, ‘Goes Green Solar’, we’ll be extending our focus on ‘greening’ investments, allowing tenants to have solar panels on the roofs of their properties and lower energy costs. This also provides a benefit for landlords by lifting equity in their property with the addition of valuable technology,” says Adrian. “The landlord is better off because there’s solar on the roof, the tenant has lower energy outgoings – and importantly, the environment is better off. It’s just a no-brainer!”

But beyond the feel-good factor of supporting landlords to do their bit for the environment, has ‘Goes Green’ benefitted Compton Green’s bottom line?

Most certainly. “It’s just improved the number of landlords that come to our business,” nods Adrian. “We’ve attracted landlords who have identified ‘Goes Green’ as a unique service that sets Compton Green apart. Every agent collects rent and manages maintenance. But not every agent is focused on environmental benefits for their tenants and landlords. That’s the difference.”

Want to take your agency to the next level? You need your team to adopt your business vision. “There’s no easy answer to team buy-in,” says Adrian. “But one of the best ways to help people feel connected to goals is to involve them in their creation. For example, we had one of our property managers do a professional 15-minute presentation at Innovation Day. We asked her what she’d do if she were boss for a day, and the insights she provided were really amazing.

“Dee Gibson – my wife who’s been in sales for 20 years – did a presentation on ‘Great Words’, highlighting clever turns of phrase to be used in email and copy. If you hand your team creative freedom on what they can discuss, and ask they use presentation tools and take the challenge seriously – you can learn so much, and they get a new life skill. Everyone has a smile on their face!”

Beyond evolving your agency’s culture, how does a principal set sales targets that don’t alienate or intimidate their team? Again, Adrian suggests a collaborative approach gets best results.

“On Innovation Day, I’ll share our sales goal. It usually looks huge. But the team are aware that the goal is cumulative – it’s not mine alone. It’s a number built from their personal commitments and professional goals, which comes from a one-on-one conversation with each team member. I ask each salesperson where they want to be. We might have challenging conversations about what more they can try to make this month different, this year extraordinary. There’s no pushback on this collective goal, because everyone has contributed towards it.”

With goal-setting firmly squared away, Adrian and Compton Green will focus on reflection and rest during the holiday period. When asked if the real estate industry takes the concept of rest seriously, he is unequivocal. “The answer has to be no. It has to be no, because it’s still something our industry needs to learn to respect. You have to rest. I know when I need time away from real estate: whether it’s a week in Bali with my family, or just a day in the high country fly fishing by myself, it’s a reset. I think balance is different for everyone.”

And it’s not just the rest that Adrian benefits from – it’s the fresh ideas that come from committed rest. “I can be flying back from a holiday or camping trip and new ideas are going through my mind. It sounds corny, but I often have great ideas in the 24 hours following my return from rest. The length of the break doesn’t really matter. I reckon taking lots of small breaks is a great idea.”

Time to book that getaway to the beach – and while you’re there, try to turn off your phone and minimise social scrolling.

“It’s important to allow your mind to relax, to get away from your phone. When you’re away, be away.

We’re in such a connected world that a client can still reach you when you’re on a beach in Bali or a resort in Rome. It can ruin your day; you can still feel an overwhelming pressure to respond regardless of how many assistants you have.”

Does this sound familiar? If the concept of switching off your phone brings on anxiety, it’s time to put your device in aeroplane mode more often – for the benefit of both your mind and your business.

As you head into your annual holiday period, restoring and nourishing your soul for what will be your best year ever, consider Adrian’s reflection. “The secret to success is ensuring that you are giving. That comes in all shapes and forms; it could be giving time to a colleague or someone else in the industry. It could mean supporting a professional in another category, or giving to the local Rotary Club or community group. Always be giving.”

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Iolanthe Gabrie

Iolanthe Gabrie is a Director of Ruby Slipper Consultants, providing written content for the real estate industry. For more information visit rubyslipper.com.au.