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Michael Conolly joins Stone Real Estate 

Industry expert Michael Conolly has joined Stone Real Estate with a view to strengthen franchisee’s property management businesses as the sector heads towards what he terms the “GFC 2.0”.

Mr Conolly had his first day as Head of Network Property Management last week and said his role would involve guiding franchisees on business areas such as staff retention and reward, culture, business structure and operating in a manner that embraced change and opportunity in a nimble environment.

“We’re heading into some uncharted waters again, so businesses do really need to shore up and be ready,” Mr Conolly said.

“This is the GFC 2.0 we’re coming into.

“Those businesses during the GFC that had strong, well run property management businesses when we went through the GFC, they survived.

“They came out the other side and thrived, while those that had not concentrated on their property management businesses and just let them sit in a corner, a lot of them closed.”

Mr Conolly said one of the key areas he’d be helping Stone franchisees tackle is the age-old issue of property management staff retention.

He said two years of Covid-induced challenges meant many quality property managers were leaving the industry and staff retention was a critical ingredient of building a resilient business.

“The first part of business growth is retention, and not just the retention of clients,” Mr Conolly said.

“The first part of retaining your clients is retaining your team.

“As soon as you start having an unstable team, you start losing clients. You can be out there looking for as much new business as you like, but if you’ve got a hole in your bucket it’s not going to help you.”

Mr Conolly said agencies should be focusing on ensuring every team member felt recognised and amply rewarded for their hard work.

He said today was “a new world” and the time had come to look at real estate and property management differently, with the days of 9am-5pm office work well and truly over.

“When they (team members) ask for flexible hours, or they ask for something different that’s a little bit outside the box, you need to start listening,” Mr Conolly said.

“If you are going to be the same old leader or principal that said, ‘No you’re five days a week, you sit in the office and you do this 9am to 5pm,’ they’re gone, they will move on to that new exciting opportunity where they’re going to get paid more, they’re going to get flexible hours and possibly different sorts of incentives and recognition.”

Mr Conolly has been in the real estate industry for 30 years, most recently as McGrath’s Head of Network Property Management Franchise Services, and he has worked with Stone Chief Executive Officer Peter Mumford, Head of Franchise Luke Cameron and Head of Training and Auctions Peter Malouf, previously.

He said along with Stone Real Estate having great people and a great culture that aligned with his own values, the network embraced the Steve Jobs’ acumen of asking the question, “Why?” and embodied a nimble model of franchising.

“The question, ‘Why?’ is about two things,” Mr Conolly said.

“It’s about why are you doing what you’re doing and why are you doing it that way?”

Mr Conolly said the networks that answered “because that’s how we do it” could struggle as more nimble agencies adapted to and embraced change.

“Stone is 100 per cent focused on franchisees, on their businesses and obviously getting them from good to great,” he said.

“Every day, every meeting, every conversation is about how can we make it better and easier for our franchisees?”

Stone CEO Peter Mumford said Mr Conolly’s appointment had been in the pipeline for a couple of years and he was delighted to have him join the team.

“It’s one of the last pieces of the puzzle as we keep improving our offering for our franchisees,” he said.

“Michael liked our culture from day one, and what we were doing, we just weren’t of the size to bring someone like Michael on until now.”

Mr Mumford said Mr Conolly would be instrumental in coaching and training Stone franchisees on developing and growing resilient businesses. 

“As our franchise network has evolved, we’ve had a lot more established offices join us with larger rent rolls,” he said.

“One of the things I saw, having owned seven offices myself at one point, was they needed that guidance to grow their rent roll further and to manage day-to-day issues in running a rent roll. 

“So as our business has evolved to larger rent rolls in our group, and our younger franchisees are establishing rent rolls, we needed this higher level of coaching to teach these guys how to grow a large business. 

“That’s why we’ve brought Michael on and he’s such a lovely guy to work with and very respected in the industry.”

Mr Mumford said there was a lot happening at Stone Real Estate and Mr Conolly would be instrumental in assisting offices with personalised coaching, growth structures, management structures, recruiting, managing personnel, and rewarding team members.

He said the group had a great online training platform and part of Mr Conolly’s role would be creating and capturing content for this purpose.

“Part of Michael’s role will be capturing a whole lot of content that will be in our system so that if I join the business today as a new PM I can watch a whole lot of video content,” Mr Mumford said.

“So the principal doesn’t have to sit down every time a new person starts. We’re building this into a system for them.

“People can go through these courses before they start with us and hopefully we upskill the quality of services and professionalism across our group.”

The training system will form part of The Shed, which also includes forms, templates, marketing and social media tools. 

Stone Real Estate has also just employed a full-time digital videographer, purchased Red cinematic cameras and are building a podcast, filming and creative studio at Warriewood.

“We can bring our franchisees in and say, ‘Here’s the marketing we’re creating for people, would you like to use some of this?’,” Mr Mumford said.

“Or, ‘How can we make a strategy for you, that’s going to make you stand out?’

“That’s why we’re building it, to bring people in and to get them thinking differently and expose them to what we have.”

Mr Mumford said the studio would likely be completed in October. 

“I want it to have the feel of an advertising studio so our creative guys love being there,” he said.

“It’s about helping create content and brand story videos that are going to be very different. 

“That’s why we’ve invested a lot into film production cameras and lenses to create a cinematic feel.

“This is not about showcasing a property, it’s more about creating a brand story and localised brand stories for offices.”

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Kylie Dulhunty

Kylie Dulhunty is the Editor at Elite Agent.