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Real estate leaders on King’s Birthday Honours List

A trio of businessmen and philanthropists connected to the real estate industry have received King’s birthday honours.

Pennisi Real Estate Founder, Sam Pennisi, Gartland Real Estate Founder, Bob Gartland, and Honeycombes Real Estate Founder, John Honeycombe, all received the Medal of the Order of Australia for either service to their community, the real estate industry or both.

Sam Pennisi OAM

Pennisi Real Estate’s Former Managing Director, Sam Pennisi, received at OAM for his service to the real estate industry and the Essendon community.

He started Pennisi Real Estate in 1973 with just two team members, while today it employs a team of more than 20 and is the oldest agency in the City of Moonee Valley, having celebrated its 50th anniversary last year.

Mr Pennisi, who retired in 2023, said he was sceptical when he first heard about the honour.

“When I got the initial email, to be honest, I thought it might have been a hoax, because we get a few of those through email,” he laughed.

“But it was real and I was obviously very surprised and very pleased, and I couldn’t wait for the King’s birthday weekend to arrive.”

Mr Pennisi’s achievements include being a member of the Real Estate Industry of Victoria since 1973, including being a former member of the ethics committee, a former member of the education and legislation committee and a former member of the disputes and arbitration division committee.

But he said it was fostering dedicated team members that was his greatest achievement in real estate.

“I’m very proud of the team that worked with me throughout my time in the business, which was 50 years,” Mr Pennisi said.

“Obviously teams turn over and so on, but one of the girls, our receptionist Layla, started with us 38 years ago.

“We started a 10-year honour board, because (at the time) I thought 10 years was pretty enormous, and it started with four or five on it, but now we have 14 or 15 people on that list.

“So I’m very proud that I’ve been able to build a team of people that were constantly loyal, hardworking and that looked after our customers and clients.”

Mr Pennisi said the secret to growing a loyal team was to treat them well.

“Treat them as you, yourself, would want to be treated,” he said.

“As an example, I’ve always bought my staff a birthday cake when their birthday comes around.

“It’s little things like that which can mean a lot.

“What you’ve got to do is create a safe and happy workplace. 

“And while no business can achieve that 100 per cent of the time… if you can achieve that 90 per cent of the time then you’re doing pretty well, I reckon.

“And if things get a bit rocky, you deal with it head on.”

Mr Pennisi said he was also proud of his time with the First National Real Estate Group, including serving as chairman from 1988 to 1990. 

“One of the other achievements that I am proud of is that I was one of the group of real estate agents that started the First National Real Estate Group,” he said.

“I served on the board for 10 years and was chairman for a couple of years.

“I can look back on that era and the amount of time spent and think to myself, ‘It’s a thriving network and I can hang my hat and say, I was a part of that’.”

Mr Pennisi’s community contributions include presidencies at the Rotary Club of Essendon North and the Essendon Jaycee, along with significant roles in local educational institutions and the YMCA Essendon. 

His exemplary service has been recognised with prestigious awards, including the Leader of the Year from the Australian Real Estate Industry and the Kaye Heath Memorial Award from the First National Real Estate Group.

Mr Pennisi said his son, Andrew, was now leading Pennisi Real Estate, but he still served on the board and mentored some of the younger sales agents from time to time.

He said retirement had also afforded him the time to finish his autobiography, which he started during the pandemic but hadn’t completed.

While it’s not for sale in bookstores, Mr Pennisi said he mainly wrote the book for his family and as a record of the business as well.

“When the reprint comes I’m going to have to add another chapter now – OAM,” he joked.

Bob Gartland OAM

Bob Gartland with Diana Taylor AM, Chair of Anam Cara House Geelong. Photo: Hutchinson Photography.

Mr Gartland, who retired in 2015, but whose agency is still going strong, was recognised for his service to the community of Geelong, including his work as the vice president of the Geelong Football Club between 2014 and2019, as well as his 18 years of service to Anam Cara House, which is a palliative care hospital.

He said he was both surprised and humbled to receive the OAM.

“When I first got the letter from the Governor General’s office, I was speechless,” Mr Gartland said.

“I read it a couple of times to make sure I wasn’t misreading things.

“I’m very happy to have received the letter, and this honour, it’s enjoyable but very humbling.”

Mr Gartland said he was incredibly proud of the work he had done with Anam Cara House Geelong, which blends hospital standards with the comforts of home to help provide guests with a serene backdrop for their end of life journey and that of their loved ones.

“Anam Cara is something I started working on with Frank Costa, Father Kevin Dillon and the founder of Anam Cara, Diane Wright, back in 2006,” he said.

“This is my 18th year working for Anam Cara as I started as the founding ambassador for Anam Cara when we were located in the presbytery at St Mary’s.

“I’m now the patron of Anam Cara House in Geelong and we have a new facility on 2ha of land at Deakin University, a new building, that will provide 20 beds for people with life limiting illnesses and end of life care.

“That will be a great asset to Geelong people for many years to come.

“Our children and our grandchildren will all benefit from the fact that Anam Cara is there.”

Mr Gartland has also dedicated an extensive amount of time to the Geelong Football Club (GFC) as vice president, as a board member between 2007 and 2019, as a life member since 2017 and as a member since 1972.

He was the founder and inaugural chair of the GFC History Society, the former chair of the Honouring the Past Committee, and a former chair of the History and Tradition Committee.

Mr Gartland also received the RJ Hickey Award for Outstanding Service to Australian Football, Geelong Football Club, in 2022.

“The football club has been a big part of my life and it’s been a lifelong passion of mine,” he said.

He has also been instrumental in the foundation of the Geelong Sports Museum, which is due to open in the coming weeks.

“About 2015 I started lobbying local politicians for funding for the Geelong Sports Museum, which has just been completed,” he said.

“That was $2.6 million and it’s a museum for all sports, that celebrates Geelong’s local sports people who have achieved wonderful achievements on the international stage.

“It’s certainly going to be an engaging and interactive experience for young people and hopefully it will be an aspirational thing for them as well. 

“They will see local kids who have done things on the international stage and think that ‘If those kids can do it, I can do it too’.”

Mr Gartland also founded Gartland Real Estate in 1999, specialising in residential sales and property management, as well as commercial sales and leasing. 

The agency grew from a small office in Gheringhap St to its modern, architecturally designed space in Little Malop St.

Mr Gartland said the agency had helped connect him with many long-lasting relationships in Geelong, a city he’s incredibly proud to call home.

“There’s great people in Geelong,” he said.

“There’s a great group of volunteers who work for a whole range of philanthropic organisations and they really are the backbone of why this is such a great place to live.

“I love Geelong people, I love living here, and I love doing my community work.

“My wish is to give back for as long as I’m able to because this community has afforded me so much.”

John Honeycombe OAM

John Honeycombe OAM. Photo: Honeycombe Property Group.

Prominent Burdekin businessman John Honeycombe was also awarded an Order of Australia Medal (OAM) for his service to the North Queensland community through various organisations, including real estate.

According to the Cairns Post, Mr Honeycombe started his career at 16 in his grandmother’s grocery shop, quickly showing a knack for business and becoming a tractor salesman by 21 and later taking over his uncle’s business in 1967. 

He founded Honeycombes Real Estate in Ayr in 1975 and expanded to Townsville in 1979, alongside establishing Honeycombes Truck Centre in 1975.

Beyond business, his leadership extended to community roles such as chairman of the North Queensland Area Consultative Committee and chair of The Salvation Army’s Red Shield Appeal Committee. 

Mr Honeycombe’s dedication to community service also included significant roles within the Anglican Church of Australia and contributions to local sports and development councils. 

His legacy is carried on by his son, Peter Honeycombe, who leads Honeycombes Property Group, continuing the family’s presence in Queensland.

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Kylie Dulhunty

Kylie Dulhunty is the Editor at Elite Agent.