If property investment is a numbers game, Michael Cimino is superbly positioned to lead the field.
Having spent much of his career as a financial service professional with ‘big four’ practices, he was persuaded to leave his high-profile role at a nationally recognised superannuation consultancy just under 12 months ago to head the property management division of burgeoning Melbourne business Inner Real Estate (IRE).
The move to join parents Joe and Sandra and brother Anthony at IRE was a natural fit for the qualified chartered accountant, who purchased his first property fresh out of university and who still maintains an active sideline in small business accountancy and auditing.
The seat in his new office had barely been warmed when the busy 30-year-old and his wife Amal, together with three-year-old fur baby Milo, welcomed their first child – daughter Abigail, now aged seven months.
“Unfortunately, now the dog plays second fiddle,” he admits.
Cimino’s reasons for entering the family business were twofold. Not only did he want to ensure that Joe’s succession plan was played out, but he was also looking to help IRE achieve better operational efficiencies by way of a new technology-focused growth strategy.
He credits his background in change transformation as the reason he has adapted quicker than most to the new professional (and perhaps even the personal) responsibilities expected of him.
Cimino first entered the workforce as a 14-year-old when he secured a role as a ‘checkout chick’ at Coles supermarkets, a position that sustained him from his second year at high school right through to the end of his tertiary studies. He credits this with also playing a significant part in the way in which he approaches his work.
“At Coles it was very much about the process and the way you think. It’s a very repetitive role by nature, so for me it became about doing it the most efficient way I possibly could, but also about making the experience as enjoyable as possible. You don’t get paid a lot of money and it’s not an easy job to do, but you’re exposed to all sorts of people. At times it can be quite enjoyable, but at other times it’s pretty demanding.”
In many ways, he argues, this mirrors the challenges his father initially faced in getting the IRE business off the ground.
My brother and I have always had a pretty close relationship. I can call him all sorts of names and then five minutes later it will all be forgotten and we can go and get a coffee.
Having founded several start-ups previously, Joe Cimino launched IRE by renting a small space in Noble Park in Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs before recruiting a part-time receptionist and moving into the city – a 25-square metre third-floor office in St Kilda Road.
About to celebrate its 10th birthday, IRE is now considered one of the most successful boutique real estate agencies in Melbourne, with a team of around 16 management, sales and administration staff, around 750 properties under management and an average of 60 sales per year.
But while Michael Cimino credits his father’s “business nous and skill at identifying gaps in the market” for their firm’s success, it is made all the more remarkable given the amount of time the Ciminos must spend in each other’s company.
“The four of us sit in different parts of the business and have very defined responsibilities, so there’s very little crossover,” he says. “I think that’s what makes [our dynamic] work. The way we operate is that Joe, as the founder, is the managing director of the business and the go-to person for any problems. I look after the PM [property management] part of the business, my younger brother Anthony looks after real estate sales and Mum is in charge of accounts.”
Cimino says the family has always been close-knit, with the bond between the brothers particularly close.
Always having someone to bounce ideas off is something he relishes, while knowing there is less room for misunderstandings also helps foster a stronger team culture, he says.
“My brother and I have always had a pretty close relationship. We’re happy to give each other feedback and speak our minds, however brutal that may be, because we know that it’s not going to be taken personally. I can call him all sorts of names and then five minutes later it will all be forgotten and we can go and get a coffee. It’s definitely a different environment when your colleagues aren’t related to you and you’re forced to bite your tongue a little more.”
Cimino, who also runs a second business providing mentoring and financial services to small businesses, says while there are numerous differences between the demands of the financial and real estate sectors – particularly when it comes to the time spent training and “knowledge building” – his experience also means he is able to bring a new approach when it comes to the level of service offered to IRE’s clients.
“Obviously we tick the service box because Joe’s mantra is ‘above all else service the client, because they are the most important thing’, which they are. But I’ve been able to bring in that next layer and that’s by looking after [our clients’] investments in the best way that we possibly can, whether that be offering them the best returns, maximising their investment or helping them make better decisions in terms of the choices they make with their investments.”
Above all else service the client, because they are the most important thing
He has also extended this focus to incorporate the company’s best asset, its staff, by making it easier for employees across all areas of the business to work remotely.
Cimino says that while Joe built a brilliant business, it was built “the way he knows, and technology-wise that wasn’t necessarily the way things would be built today”.
While Joe and Sandra have utilised Rockend’s REST product for more than two decades, Cimino says recent months have seen the company invest significantly in its software architecture, including incorporating PropertyTree into its backend operations.
“We decided to make the change because it suited the mobile build, but also because it’s a trusted brand and, in my opinion, it has the best quality product offering when it came to trust accounting software that was cloud-based. We’ve also changed over to one of its connected property apps called Inspection Manager. Again, it was just about efficiency and replicating the desktop on their mobiles. It now allows, for example, our property managers to do inspections properly and update as they’re doing them.”
With the first of his major tasks now implemented, Cimino, who concedes to spending a lot of time on the road, says he likes to spend his weekends prioritising his family and enjoying the new arrival.
Having added the purchase of a new home to his recent list of accomplishments, Cimino has also discovered a new skill to add to his CV – that of would-be builder.
While he and Amal received some help from specialised tradies, they completed much of the renovation work themselves, helping him develop a new passion in the process. Cimino says he now celebrates the end of his working week by strapping on a tool bag and going out to build up a frame or redo a bathroom.
“Unfortunately, property management is a little like accounting in that you never get the opportunity to stand back at the end of the day like a carpenter would and say, ‘I created that’. It can sometimes be a very thankless job. But I find that through building things, painting a pergola or building a dog kennel, that’s my release.”