James Baker and Adrian Venturi of McGrath Avalon on leadership and resilience

Former competitors in the Northern Beaches of Sydney, James Baker and Adrian Venturi joined forces as principals of McGrath Avalon in February this year, bringing with them a wealth of experience from the worlds of tennis, architecture and recruitment.

After studying architecture and structural engineering in Manchester, James practiced or a year before spending 15 years in recruitment, which included running the Asia Pacific rim for a business with a $50 million turnover.

Real estate combined his passion of structure, architecture, sales and people, and he started his real estate experience during the GFC selling prestige property in Palm Beach and Avalon.

“I couldn’t have asked for a tougher start. It taught me all the skills to sell property in the worst possible market you can see. I built up my profile and was in top 5 agents quite regularly for Raine & Horne, then came first in 2016. In the last 12 months I’ve sold close to $100 million in property. I learnt how to do real estate in this area, but I didn’t grow up in Avalon, didn’t have kids in local schools, it  was a complete cold start to learn the trade and trying to establish a reputation when you don’t know anyone.

A former professional tennis player, Adrian has been in real estate since 2008. He won a tennis scholarship for the US in 1999 where he completed a business degree and went onto the tennis circuit for three and a half years. An injury forced him to return to Australia where he worked for his parents’ IT business. “Plenty of ups and downs and learning curves, but I wouldn’t change anything”

Adrian worked at LJ Hooker for six years specialising in the Avalon and Bilgola area before moving to Century 21 for two years until he decided with James to take on the area together.

Leadership and recruiting a team

A great team starts with great recruitment, says James, who leads a team of 3 others while Adrian has one.

“It’s not about having right skills set but the right attitude. I hire for attitude and the right morals, for me that’s what is most important because you can teach skill set.”

James instils the importance of long-term thinking and delayed gratification to his team; values that are important to him personally.

“We are never chasing short-term deal. We are about doing the right thing by vendor and purchaser. So that both parties throughout campaign will use us in five, six, seven years time. I’m educating my team that the good energy they are putting into the local market will come back to us in 5-10 years time.”

Another recruitment strategy James uses is to ensure everyone is different. His team come from various backgrounds like hotel management and styling, which offers more services to a client.

“If you have team to people facing the same direction then you’re going to be very one dimensional.”

Patience is part of James’ success philosophy.

“It takes time to get momentum. Don’t take shortcuts because they will ultimately backfire on you. Be patient. It takes 5-6 years to get momentum. Once it’s there, you’re unstoppable.”


Skilled in the art of negotiation, James says the negotiation starts from the day you meet potential buyers.

“If I walk into a shop to buy clothes and if someone jumps all over me with questions, I want to walk out. In this day and age, most people don’t want to be oversold. They want an informative approach and the information to make a decision. Every home has a character and aura and people need the opportunity to discover it.

Developing a relationship with the buyer means James and his team will have an understanding of properties they like, their wish list and budget, so that when a buyer walks through a property and falls in love, James knows what buttons to press.

“There is so much dialogue and scripts out there in terms of what to say, But I’m not a scripted person, I’m very intuitive. That’s my biggest strength. I can pick up where people are at and if they are close to their breaking point. I would never lie to a buyer and say there’s another buyer when there isn’t.

James’ passion for architecture is reflected in his work, and he has created his business around the streets and houses he likes because he genuinely likes those locations.

“I’m a very honest and open person so that makes it easier for me to sell them, because people know I mean it when I say I love the property.”

On resilience

Adrian has a reputation for hard work and is always “on” and accessible to his clients. His background in professional tennis means pressure doesn’t bother him.

“I’m a bit desensitised when things go really bad. I’ve been in meetings when a husband says snide remark and the ex-wife throw a phone at his head which gets smashed on a wall. There’s a lot of stress on your shoulders, it’s almost like you’re a counsellor when selling property. But I am used to huge amounts of pressure so I have a good ability in switching to problem-solving mode.”

Having been through pressure and coming out the other end stronger means Adrian is optimistic when things get tough.

“About four weeks ago, everything fell apart. A vendor who had been referring to me for nine years bought a house from my competitor. Another property was about to come on the market but they decided not to sell. It was a trainwreck week. But I said to James, you can’t take anything seriously, keep pushing, it’ll all turn around, and everything changes.”

The following week, Adrian turned two properties around that were planning to go with another agent.

“It all works out, as long as you stay active, and you don’t let things crowd your mind and you put in time to help people.”


High performance means constant self-development and motivation.

“It’s a full-on contact sport, this industry,” Adrian says.

During his morning walks, Adrian is listening to motivational talks from Niik Stewart, while playing tennis and surfing a few times a week helps in maintaining a work-life balance. He re-reads Napoleon Hill’s ‘Think and Grow Rich” once every two months to keep his mind strong and listens to motivational speakers “otherwise your brain gets dark”.

“You get so much people dumping on you, vendors, buyers, other agents.  it f you stay in it long enough, you’re either going to get burnt out and the industry will spit you out, or you will get jaded. And you’re wanting to get revenge on the world because of all people who have finally pushed all your buttons.

“The only way you can stay pure is work on your mind so you’re constantly remembering that it’s a lucrative industry, you’re going to do well, it’s actually about helping others. You’re here so hopefully other people can have a better experience and you can help buyers.”

What’s next for McGrath Avalon

James and Adrian have a the same goals – to nurture the team culture and working environment so it continues to be open and honest.

“We want to get to the next level and the next phase is to push twice as hard and expand on the Beaches,” said Adrian.


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Azal Khan

Azal Khan was a in-house features writer for Elite Agent Magazine.