During Transform Masters 2017, Elite Agent Editor Samantha McLean spoke to one of our top industry leaders, CEO of REA Group Tracey Fellows. Here, Tracey shares some of her career and leadership journey, including why being a great leader does not need to be complicated.
The Beatles sang All You Need Is Love and Tracey Fellows’ leadership philosophy doesn’t deviate too much from the Fab Four’s chart-topper.
A little cryptic? Perhaps. Eternally simple once you understand what the REA Group Chief Executive Officer is alluding to? Definitely.
“Be authentic,” Tracey says.
“Be who you are, own good things and bad things, but let people really know what you stand for and what you believe in.”
It’s advice Tracey has adhered to since early in her career, when she was Managing Director of Microsoft Australia and her Italian mentor shared his observations about leadership, saying, “Tracey, it’s all about love”.
“I can remember I was going, ‘What the hell is that supposed to mean?’” she says.
“And then he said, ‘It’s not about big words and it’s not about pretty pictures. It’s about what’s in your heart. And only when your people know what’s in your heart can they follow you.’
“I think that for me, that’s been the hallmark of my leadership.”
Tracey is the first to admit the real estate industry is, unfairly, maligned for its apparent lack of credibility and honesty. It’s why she believes being authentic, as an agent to clients and as a leader within a business, has the power to take you places.
“I think people can spot falseness, they really can. People want real people; they want to trust them, they want to feel like there’s a connection.
“They care about what they’re doing for them, and that they’ve got their interest at heart. I think everybody wants that, whether it’s from their manager or from someone they’ve got a commercial dealing with.
“You want to feel good at the end of each of those discussions, and if the outcome of the discussion is still tough, on whatever commercial terms, but you feel you’re sitting across the table from someone who is accountable and authentic, I think it’s a much easier conversation.”
It’s sage advice from the former Microsoft vice president for the Asia-Pacific region and Executive General Manager of Communication Management Services at Australia Post.
Surprisingly, Tracey had to take a ‘bold leap’ to take both of those positions, entering them when she feared she didn’t have all the skills to get the job done.
“That was a job [Microsoft Australia] that when I was first asked if I wanted to be considered, I said no. And I said no because there were a couple of things I thought the job needed that I couldn’t do.
“The biggest one, the one that scared me the most, was inspiring a large group of people. At that stage Microsoft Australia was 1,000 people and the thought of inspiring 1,000 people truly intimidated me.”
Born in a garage in Doncaster, Melbourne, in 1995, REA Group is now a multinational digital advertising company specialising in property. It has digital real estate sites and investments in Australia, Asia and North America, including the market-leading realestate.com.au
Tracey has been at the helm since August 2014 and says one of the key ways to develop a team passionate about what they do is to hire self-starters.
“I don’t mean that that abdicates me hopefully inspiring and motivating them, but you want people who have a level of ambition. People who have a level of drive – but I also want people who care about the purpose that we have embarked on.
“I think there’s something about hiring a group of people who play to each other’s strengths and weaknesses. You want that diversity of thinking around the table and I think that makes us better.
“I think that helps keep everybody energised and excited about what we do.”
This year the REA Group was named in LinkedIn’s Top Companies in Australia, coming in at No.16.
With 930 employees across the country, REA Group rolled out its generous parental leave scheme in 2016, giving primary carers six months’ leave at full pay and secondary carers 13 weeks. This is in addition to continued superannuation payments for up to 12 months.
Other benefits of working at REA Group include four ‘hack days’ a year, where employees can experiment with tasks and products outside their day-to-day role, and being able to bring your dog to work at the Group’s Melbourne headquarters.
That’s not to mention exercise and wellness programs, including yoga and boxing, prayer rooms, meditation rooms and monthly social get-togethers.
Tracey says the LinkedIn accolade was not something the Group set out to achieve but was recognition of its organic focus on creating a desirable workplace.
“Ultimately I want it to be the place where people can do their best. Where they can be their best because we create an environment that lets them do that. There’s a lot of energy within us as a leadership team and me as a leader to try and do that.
I want to attract the best people and I want them to stay.
“The reason we do it is because I want to attract the best people and I want them to stay. I want them to love it so much that they want to stay.”
Tracey says it’s that drive and desire to succeed and better themselves, along with a vibrant team culture, that helps the REA Group stay ahead of the curve in a swiftly changing, high-tech world.
She says it’s a team effort, rather than her flying solo, that predicts trends and maintains the Group’s position as a market leader in the property marketing sector.
“I don’t think I’m going to be the one who is going to spot that new thing. I think it will be the collective of things that different people see, and that one thing will spark another idea that will spark something else.
“So we dedicate time for us as a Group to talk about things, things we’re seeing, things we’re wondering about.”
Tracey says a key element in the Group staying on its toes is tapping into the knowledge of its employees.
“I don’t think any company should be reliant on one person to have it and certainly not a company like ours in the fast-paced, moving, digital world that we’re in. What you want is smart people understanding what’s important to us, and what we do within our strategy. Thinking about all the different ways we could do it.”
The result is a vibrant workplace with camaraderie and an ever-evolving culture, with six employee-created values woven into everything they do.
One such initiative is the Group’s support of Launch Housing, a housing and homelessness support service provider.
Since 2014 the Group has helped 1,367 women and children from 483 houses with financial assistance through the National Rapid Rehousing Fund, which gives financial assistance to women and children at risk of, or who are experiencing, homelessness as a result of domestic violence.
Orange Sky Laundry, which runs a fleet of vehicles with free showers and laundry services for the homeless, is another charity the Group supports.
“Initially, when we decided we wanted to do something in the community, we asked our employees what causes were important to them and homelessness rated very highly.
“I think one of the reasons it rates very highly is because of our purpose and people. We are a bunch of people who are passionate about property, but we also recognise we are very privileged that, for many of us, property is something that we can aspire to.
“Some of us are fortunate to have a house, but we know for many that’s not the case.”
It should come as no surprise, then, that the overarching value the REA Group teams developed to embody them is ‘Do it with heart’.
Click here to listen to the full Tracey Fellows interview with Samantha McLean on the official Elite Agent podcast “Elevate”. Also available on iTunes.