From chef to agent: How Michael Fenn gives back

He started his professional life as a chef, but these days Michael Fenn is the selling principal of multiple LJ Hooker offices and a corporate auctioneer. And, as he tells Nicole Madigan, he’s just been awarded the Sir Leslie Hooker award for his outstanding contribution to both his team, and his community.

LJ Hooker Property Specialists Principal Michael Fenn is nothing if not loyal.

His first real estate job was with LJ Hooker in 2002, where he doorknocked his way to success, remaining with the same office for the next five years.

“Then I got married,” Michael says.

“And we opened LJ Hooker Greenwith in February 2008.”

They’ve since opened two more offices, and if that’s not enough, Michael keeps himself busy running up to 200 auctions per year.

“We had LJ Hooker Greenwith, then we bought out the LJ Hooker office next door, so it became Greenwith Golden Grove.

“Then we bought the Mawson Lakes office, which was down the road, and it became LJ Hooker Greenwith Golden Grove Mawson Lakes.

“Aubrey moved out, and so we took over that area, and so we had the four suburbs.

“And then in more recent times, we bought LJ Hooker Gawler.”

Due to the resulting tongue twisters, the offices now fall under a group name: LJ Hooker Property Specialists.

“We’re the first ones in South Australia to do it, which has worked great,” Michael says.

Despite his professional success, it’s Michael’s commitment to giving back that has earned him his most recent award – the Sir Leslie Hooker Award.

“We do a lot of work with the community,” Michael explains.

“We’ve got a lot of people within our office who have kids, so we do a lot of support for any charity relating to children.”

One of the ways he does this is with a purpose-bought coffee van, affectionately dubbed LJ, who makes a welcome appearance at many local community events.

“So, whether it’s sports days or other events, we’ll go and sell coffee, but then all of the money in its entirety, we’ll give back to the school for kids’ equipment or whatever it may be,” Michael says.

He also encourages his team of almost 40 staff to get on board too, with most committing to one or two events every year.

“Not only is that what we should be doing as real estate agents, as the community is pretty good to us, but to have nearly 40 staff commit to annual events, by the time you get to the end of the year, it’s a lot of coffee,” he says.

“We’re very lucky to get rewarded for what we do from the community, so I think to be seen to be doing the right thing for the community is a good thing as well, it works both ways.”

But the Sir Leslie Hooker Award goes even further than community support, it’s also about how you treat your own staff, and your contribution to the industry as a whole.  

“I was at the point, just before COVID-19 where I was transitioning out of sales to spend more time mentoring my team, and then obviously COVID-19 came along, and the market went crazy,” Michael says.

“I do a lot of training with my sales and property management teams.

“It’s about doing your bit and I guess not only corporate auctioneering, but maybe assisting other franchise owners to build their business, is something that has been recognised, which is nice.

“The awardees are obviously giving back to the brand as well.”

Giving back to the brand is something Michael has been doing in spades. As well as being a successful selling principal and corporate auctioneer, Michael has spent the past 15 years participating in auctioneering competitions that are almost exclusive to LJ Hooker franchises.

“There are only two independents I do it for, who are actually friends of mine who used to work for LJ Hooker,” he says.

These days, he’s the Real Estate Institute of South Australia representative, and a judge at the Australasian level.

“Anyone who does well in real estate has to be addicted to the thrill of the chase and bringing a deal together,” Michael says.

“And I guess with auctioning, it’s not behind closed doors, it’s done in a very public arena where you have a vendor inside and a buyer sometimes 10 metres away.

“So, to be able to put deals together, with that public high-intensity arena, is that adrenaline rush that we all straddle.”

But for Michael, nothing is more important than his team, and ensuring they work in a positive culture, so they love coming to work every day.  

“We started off in 2008 with three people, and as we bought Golden Grove, and then Mawson Lakes and Aubrey and then Gawler, it’s grown now to a reasonable size,” Michael notes.

“But there’s one thing that hasn’t changed, and that is we’ve made sure those core family values have stayed in place.

“We do try to look after each other. We try to make it a real family environment and somewhere where people would choose to work, not that they have to work.

“And so I think when people get that right, that’s when you do get longevity.”

Michael remembers a good friend and franchise owner telling him many years ago that if you get to the end of your career, and you end up paying 80 per cent of your staff long service leave, then you’ve done a good job.

“And I think that’s very true,” says Michael.

“If you can look after your staff, and they look at their workmates as if they’re a second family, I think that’s really important.”

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Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a freelance journalist for Elite Agent.