EPMEPM: Cover Stories

Never Give Up: Branka Stankovic

In 1996, Branka Stankovic flew from war-torn Bosnia to Australia as a refugee with little more than her courage and a will to succeed. She couldn’t even speak English. Now, 22 years later, the Novak Properties Head of Property Management has been named 2018’s Property Manager of the Year at the Annual REA Excellence Awards. Here she tells Kylie Dulhunty of the changes she’s making in the industry and the philosophy underpinning her success.

Branka Stankovic’s motto in life is simple: never give up. It’s a phrase many a person touts but few truly live by, yet Branka has the evidence and life experience to back it up.

The then 21-year-old didn’t give up when civil unrest broke out in her home country of Bosnia and Herzegovina following the declaration of independence in 1992.

She wasn’t deterred when her visa for entry into Australia was denied nine times. Nor was she willing to let being a refugee in a foreign country, without knowing a lick of English, keep her from pursuing a passionate and purposeful life.

It’s this same passion and determination that led to Branka, now 47, being named Property Manager of the Year at the 2018 Annual REA Excellence Awards in November.

A TOUGH START

It’s fitting recognition for the former primary school teacher, who had to find a new vocation when her qualifications from home were not recognised in her adopted country.

“You cannot give up,” Branka says. “My motto in life is to never give up. If you don’t try how do you know what you are capable of? Nine times my application for a visa into Australia was rejected, but I never gave up; I just kept applying.

“When I came to Australia as a refugee on 27 April 1996, the only English words I knew were ‘hi’, ‘bye’ and ‘Coca-Cola’.

“I had to go to immigrant classes to learn English and, while I thought I could work here as a teacher like I did at home, my diploma wasn’t recognised.”

With more than 500 hours of English lessons under her belt, Branka studied early childhood education at TAFE in Crows Nest before securing work at a childcare centre.

After 18 months she and her husband Peter opened a fish and chip shop at Dee Why Beach. Two years after that they launched a coffee shop they named Tiffani’s Gourmet, after their first child.

A NEW PASSION

It wasn’t until seven years later, armed with a resume that simply said, ‘I have a big heart and a lot of common sense,’ that Branka joined Mark and Lisa Novak’s real estate team at Novak Properties in Dee Why. She’s been there for more than a decade.

“I was scared in the beginning,” Branka says. “I kept thinking I didn’t know anything about real estate, that I couldn’t possibly work in real estate, but Mark and Lisa believed in me.

When I came to Australia as a refugee on 27 April 1996, the only English words I knew were ‘hi’, ‘bye’ and ‘Coca-Cola’.

“Now I’ve realised that being a hard worker counts for a lot, because when people see the hard work you put in they see you’re dedicated, they see you’re focused and they give you a chance.

“All I need is a chance and I don’t give up easily.”

Branka started work in the leasing department before moving to property management, then accounts. She became the office manager then, finally, returned to be the head of the property management arm of the business.

“You cannot survive without fighting and thinking positively,” she says. “You have to be focused and you have to look forward, not backward.”

Two of the driving factors behind Branka being awarded this year’s Property Manager of the Year were her innovative introduction of a super-pod working structure and managing the investment properties of emergency service workers for up to a year for free.

The award judges said Branka’s submission deserved a great score.

“The innovation with super-pods and the emotive storytelling made this a great submission. Your contribution to
the community is beyond any event and recognising emergency services is terrific. Your use of social media, digital avenues and technological solutions were well structured for your business.”

A SUPER WAY TO WORK

Branka introduced the super-pods to beat the long-standing problem of property manager burnout, high staff turnover and frustrated landlords and tenants who were disappointed at always having to liaise with a different person about their property.

Under the scheme the agency’s 1,500-plus properties are managed by three senior property managers who work in a team, or pod, with designated assistants.

Now I’ve realised that being a hard worker counts for a lot, because when people see the hard work you put in they see you’re dedicated, they see you’re focused and they give you a chance.

Each person knows every property in their pod inside out, so if someone is on holiday or away sick there’s always a teammate to take the reins.

“Property management is a serious job as people are giving you an important asset, often their most important asset, to look after,” Branka says.

“A lot of people have a mortgage of $1 million or more, so they’re asking you to take care of a lot. If you’re not available you don’t want to leave that asset floating around, being passed from one person to another like a hot potato.

“The super-pod structure makes sure that there is always someone who knows the property inside out looking after it; you feel comfortable taking leave so it reduces burnout, increases job satisfaction and your clients are happy because they know their asset is being looked after.”

Branka says since the introduction of the super-pods there have been no resignations and the number of properties managed has increased 10 per cent in the past year.

Other initiatives introduced in recent times include digital lease signing combined with video conferencing, where tenants and property managers can come together from the comfort of their home or office, as well as video routine inspections, which are sent to landlords every six months.

“Our owners receive a three- to five-minute video from us, going through the property and showing the floors, the walls, the carpets, windows and blinds,” Branka says.

“We focus on the asset, not the tenants’ belongings, and it really helps us communicate well with our landlords.”
Among the landlords Branka and her colleagues look after are highly revered emergency service personnel.

Inspired by the team’s personal connection to emergency services, Novak Properties introduced 12 months’ free property management for emergency service workers about a year ago. They now manage more than 50 of their properties.

“This was one way we could give back to those in our community who selflessly help others every single day,” Branka says.

Now I’ve realised that being a hard worker counts for a lot, because when people see the hard work you put in they see you’re dedicated, they see you’re focused and they give you a chance.

POTENTIAL IN PEOPLE

Over the past year Novak Properties has also introduced a three-minute property appraisal, where homeowners can message their property address to the agency and, through a range of online sources, receive a comprehensive estimation in return.

The agency’s take-up of digital technology has also dramatically increased, with daily podcasts and social media posts.

Branka says winning Property Manager of the Year was an amazing personal achievement, but one that was also attributable to her property management colleagues and the agency as a whole.

“I wouldn’t be able to achieve anything without my team,” she says. “Our focus has always and will always be on cooperation and customer service.

“It is wonderful to receive this recognition publicly and [know] that people will hear about us, but now we have to work to maintain this level and do even better.

“Next year we want to create another super-pod in property management, as the girls that are with me deserve to step up into a senior role and have their own portfolio.

“Mark and Lisa have always been fantastic at seeing the potential in people.”

Branka was one of those people, and she hasn’t let them down.

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