Morton & Morton arean independent, family-owned and managed real estate firm, specialising predominantly in sales and property management of waterfront and city apartments and houses. Having been recognised as one of BRW’s “50 Best Places to Work”, we asked Kevin Turner to find out from Managing Director Ewan Morton more about their philosophies on property management, and how employees are empowered to be leaders.
Kevin Turner: Let’s start with some of the basics. Tell me how your department actually works. What’s the structure like? Is it portfolio or task-based?
Ewan Morton: It’s portfolio-based. We have four offices in each office that runs a portfolio. We call it a pod. So, within that pod we have a property manager and a system property manager and they do all the day-to-day management of the portfolio. All the trust accounting functions are centralised in our head office at Crow’s Nest, supported by leasing consultants and new business consultants. So, in terms of the leasing it’s all done by separate teams.
So you’ve got a very strong focus on growth.
Yes, very much. Getting organic growth is really important to us and can be quite difficult at times.
How do you go about that?
All sorts of things really. Through new developments – that’s been a key strategy for us, although in the last couple of years we haven’t had that benefit. We have leasing consultants and new business consultants: two different roles, although they do interchange a little bit.
Do the business development people ever get involved in leasing? Or are they totally focused on finding new business?
They do their own leasing on any new business they bring in. We find that the landlord’s relationship with us is at its most anxious in the beginning, so having the same person handle the leasing is very reassuring.
Are you constantly looking at your business and ways to improve it? Are you doing business differently now from the way you were doing it 12 months ago?
Well, I think the new business starters are getting a lot of focus. We are trying to grow a team of new business people very much like a sales team. Getting that to work is a little complex because, from the money point of view, they’ve got to bring in enough fees to cover their costs. And you also have the factor of churn. Sometimes we can pull in 28 managements only to lose 28 managements. So you’re not actually moving forward but you need to have somebody to service that new business. Getting in front of the churn is really quite difficult and that’s been our challenge. We’re getting there.
The two sectors of the business that you’re talking about, business development – that is, bringing in new landlords – and leasing existing properties or leasing new properties: that hanges with the market, doesn’t it? When you find that vacancies increase you need to have more focus on letting?
Yes, indeed. We’ve been through a period where the rental market has been quite strong, so we didn’t need many leasing consultants in order to lease the properties, but that has actually changed in the last six months. I think the leasing market in Sydney has overshot itself somewhat; vacancies have actually gone up and rents have come back a little bit. In that situation they can’t lease as many as they were before, as from a productivity point of view it takes them longer to get properties leased and they have to negotiate harder. So we’re actually building up our leasing resource. The new business people do their own leasing, and the leasing people actually do new business as well because doing 20 leases a month, they meet people along the way.
Operating four offices in different areas of Sydney would require a good deal of technology. What do you use?
We are running a Citrix environment, so anybody can log on in any one of the offices and you can also log on remotely – basically, anywhere you can find an Internet connection. Because of that, we run one version of REST Professional. So we have one database running across the whole team, allowing us to be able to centralise all the administration functions. We also do electronic scanning, so all our documents are scanned in Crow’s Nest, where the trust accounting function is; it’s all been taken away from the frontline people.
How do you keep your team members motivated?
Well, there are a couple of ways that we do it. Obviously, caring about them is one thing. We’re also trying to challenge our team. I think that’s a key thing, so that people don’t have an opportunity to get bored. You know, on some levels that tends to be a bit scary for the individual, and you don’t want people out of their comfort zone all the time. I think people feel that they’re challenged, that their skills are growing, that they are getting better at doing their job. That keeps them motivated in what they are doing and also keeps them engaged with Morton & Morton, the company.
We’re very focused on leadership training, so we do quite a lot of work on building people’s leadership skills, whether they are a junior assistant, a leasing consultant or a property manager. We look at everybody in the business as being a leader. That empowers people, I think; employees at Morton & Morton are probably more empowered than those at other organisations, from what I can tell. At first they can find that a bit intimidating, but once they get used to it they love it. That helps our staff remain engaged with Morton & Morton, which I think is reallyimportant at a time when people change positions.
It’s a bit like giving them the feeling they are very much a part of the business and that they’ve got a future.
Yes, and that’s part of why we grow our business, because as your people get better and they increase their skills, they improve. So you almost need the business to be growing so that they can actually take on greater opportunities.
You mentioned KPIs. How many do you monitor and which KPIs are important to you?
We’ve got so many of them, but every KPI is there for a reason and tells us something about the business, so they are all important. Obviously one of the most important ones is arrears. Vacant stock is an important one too. At the moment we are really focused on days on market because the rental market is tight. I can look at a set of KPIs and I can tell without even talking to the portfolio manager whether it’s out of control or not.
Tell me how you foster existing clients in your business. Do you do that through good communication? Do you conduct surveys among them?
Obviously communication is really important. We do run surveys. We use Survey Monkey. It’s quite a lot of work and if you’re going to survey people you’ve got to make sure you do something with the results, and that’s the big challenge.
Are you surveying landlords and tenants?
Yes, every six months there’s a survey of how they find us, and then we have surveys for tenants moving in, how they found the process. We ask landlords about the tenant changeover and also ask new landlords coming in how they found the whole process.
I suppose there are several parts here. Getting back to the person who is giving you the feedback and acknowledging it, then meeting with your team members to see which parts of the results you can adapt and bring into the business and then implementing it.
Yes. I think if you’re going to make the survey thing work you need to be able to demonstrate to the clients that you did something with the information that they gave you. We are having a big debate about whether we need to be as regular with our surveys or if we can just do them every six months.
Ewan, we thank you for your time and wish you continued success in the future.