Collaborating for a caring community

Collaborating for a caring community

24 February 2020

By Tina Liptai

Chris Hanley has built an award-winning business that thrives under his ethical and sustainable principles of leadership. Here he explains why collaboration, consideration and caring for your community are central to doing good work that benefits everyone.

Sampo Yoshi.

It’s a Japanese philosophy that roughly translates to: “What is good for the seller, should be good for the buyer and good for society.”

For Chris Hanley, Sampo Yoshi is a valuable philosophy about harmony, balance and being considerate of others and one that he incorporates into all aspects of his life.

“When you give just to give – not to get something in return – you benefit. It’s about how it makes you feel. Things you do for others and the community have a long-lasting impact.”

As Principal of First National Byron Bay for the past 20 years, Chris has built an award-winning business with one of the best sales records in the region. Most importantly for Chris, his business is run ethically and sustainably, and not only attracts, but also retains, the best local employees. Not bad for a man who is open about the fact that he’s stayed in the real estate industry for the past 39 years “by accident”.

A happy accident

Chris grew up in the Sutherland Shire in southern Sydney and while the area still has a special place in his heart, he knew from a young age that he wanted to see and experience what the world had to offer.

After completing his university studies in political science, history and teaching, Chris embarked on a European adventure before returning to Sydney to look for work.

“When you’re in your 20s, there’s no rule book,” he smiled. “I saw an ad for a sales position in real estate and I went for it. I have what people used to call the ‘gift of the gab’. I like talking to people and that really helped me in sales.

“I went into real estate and stayed by accident. I wouldn’t say I’m passionate about the work, but it gives me a lot of opportunities to help people, which is important to me.

“What I enjoy most about what I do is talking to people. I love it. I’ve loved it since I was a kid. Basically, I get paid to talk to people and I’m still surprised I can make a living doing that.”

His love of the arts and writing has led Chris to play an important part in cultural initiatives and groups in his community, including as President of the Northern Rivers Writers’ Centre and founding the world-renowned Byron Writers’ Festival, which he directed for 22 years. And he’s managed to do all this while running a successful business.

But don’t accuse Chris of being someone who’s prepared to put in the ‘hard work’.

“It’s just work; hard work is a choice,” he explained. “Work is a verb. You do it. Most of the time I enjoy what I do, but sometimes there is work you just have to do. There are lots of people in our industry always saying how hard they work, which seems quite strange to me.”


Go your own way

When it comes to talking about success, Chris is very clear on the point that there’s no one path that everyone should follow.

“I’m not good at giving or receiving advice at all,” he laughed. “I’ve never had mentors and I didn’t really listen to anyone, but it all still worked out for me.

“I realised early on in my life that I’m the sort of person who needs to work things out for myself. Doing things this way meant that I made mistakes – and some of them have been shockers! But I like my life like that. I make a mistake once, but never again. There’s no wisdom in the second kick from a mule.

“One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made, and I think a lot of people do this, is not following my gut, especially when it comes to recruitment. Hiring someone I know doesn’t quite fit with the business’ values never works out.

“I believe that 99 per cent of people have a good gut instinct, but you have to be prepared to trust it – and that’s the challenging part.

“The best advice I can give anyone about anything is to do it your own way. Don’t imitate people. Find your own way of doing things and find your own voice.”

“I also suggest hanging around with good people, because that will help to keep you on track.”

Chris believes his love of learning is one of the reasons for his ongoing success.

“I still learn as much today as ever, I love it,” he said. “I love new technology and finding ways we can implement it into our business.

“As you get older, you see where your skills and strengths lie and you realise what’s important to you. For me, I like bringing groups of different people together to collaborate on projects. Sometimes this is related to real estate, but most of the time it’s community projects.”

Food for the soul

Byron Bay has been Chris’s home for half his life, having moved there 30 years ago. It’s where he met his wife and raised his family, and taking an active role in the local community is what nourishes his soul.

“Community work is where I find happiness, contentment and connection,” Chris explained. “You’re not paid, but it’s work that really matters.

“There’s a very different dynamic with a group of people who are giving their time and aren’t getting paid for it. You learn what it really means to be a good leader.

“So many people in the real estate industry are focused on money as an indicator of success and that’s what drives them. For me, real estate is a vehicle that enables me to do good community work.”

Chris has been honoured with an Order of Australia Medal for service to literature and to Indigenous education, and has also been recognised as Byron Shire’s Citizen of the Year. Both awards recognise the positive impact Chris has had on the community as the founder of the Byron Writers’ Festival and his involvement with numerous organisations and initiatives, including the Byron Bay Masterplan Group.

Collaboration for good

Most recently, Chris’s focus has been as a director of the RISE Conference. Led by a real estate industry collective, RISE is described as a ‘movement for good’ and creates an opportunity for people to work together to raise money for important causes.

The first conference was held in 2019 in Christchurch, New Zealand, as a fundraising initiative for the families of the victims of the Christchurch mosque shootings. Raising NZD $150,000, RISE2019 achieved its goals of bringing the industry together, raising money for a great cause and creating a renewed sense of collaboration and community.

In 2020, the RISE Conference will be held in Melbourne to raise money for mental health education and intervention services for people in the real estate industry across Australia and New Zealand.

“I’m heavily involved in RISE,” Chris said. “I’m excited to be part of this new way for people to come together to do good work.

“My view is collaboration is a thing that we’ve lacked in our profession. I think people have forgotten how to get along, how to solve issues and how to put issues aside and work together.

“There are 100,000 agents in Australia and New Zealand, and nobody knows the community better than we do. We have a real opportunity to be leaders in building community through collaboration.”

“We need to find projects where we can collaborate and use the resources we have to bring our communities together.”

“I feel our profession is at a really interesting point, where good people are coming together more than ever before to collaborate and do good work.”

REINSW’s highest accolade

This year, Chris’s years of dedication to community work and industry service were formally recognised when he was named as the Woodrow Weight Award recipient – REINSW’s highest accolade for outstanding contribution and service to the industry and REINSW.

When presenting the award, REINSW CEO Leanne Pilkington described Chris as the “go-to man for all things real estate.”

“He prides himself on running an ethical, sustainable business that employs, trains and retains the best local staff,” she said. “His achievements are built on a foundation of honesty, transparency and a results-driven strategy.

“Since 2005, Chris has been engaged by some of Australia’s top companies to develop positive organisational cultures. It’s no wonder his own agency has the best sales record in the region and has consistently been awarded as the top First National office in New South Wales.

“He’s one of the most inspiring, valued and respected members of the profession that we’re all privileged to work in.”

Chris admitted that talking about receiving awards doesn’t come easily to him.

“I get a little embarrassed,” he said. “But what’s incredible about an award like this is that it spurs me on to do other great stuff. Being recognised by the real estate industry, or the community, for work you’ve done is wonderful.

“But, importantly, what it really does is give me the impetus to do even more for the profession.”

Creating culture

“Culture is the single most important thing in your business,” Chris said. “It’s the only thing that can’t be copied by your competitors – and yet its value is something so many people still underestimate.

“The culture in your business is like the soil in a garden. You could have a business full of wonderful people, but if the culture is not good, they won’t grow and your business won’t thrive.”

Chris said it’s hard to teach someone how to create a good culture.

“It really is a form of alchemy and without it you have nothing,” he said.

“Besides recruiting and keeping good people, care, communication and community are the key things you need to have a good culture in your business. Care really is the magic ingredient in organisations. If the management and leadership team show they truly care for their employees, then the employees will in turn care for the customers.

According to Chris, building a good community is also important for building a strong culture.

“I believe we have the best community database anywhere in the country and I’ve built it over 16 years,” he said. “It goes beyond having a database of contacts to do business with. You have to build a community that shares your values or you won’t have a lasting or meaningful connection.

“We communicate to our community on a weekly basis, and we’re always bringing them information that’s valuable and that’s going to make them smarter.”

Leadership insights

Chris believes the job of developing into a great leader is never done, but over the past 39 years he has learnt a lot about leadership. Here are his key insights about how to become a great leader.

  1. Great leaders never stop learning.
  2. You can’t be a leader if you always want to be the smartest person in the room.
  3. Great leaders use the words “sorry”, “please”, “thank you” and “why?”.
  4. You won’t lead well unless you are prepared to take a few punches along the way.
  5. Being a leader is about influence, not telling people what to do. Learn the difference.
  6. Example is leadership.
  7. Not everything is important for a leader, but everyone is important.
  8. If you want to be a better leader, work on being a better person.
  9. Leading is lonely.
  10. The soft stuff is the hard stuff and there’s no course where you learn caring.
  11. Do the unnecessary.

Chris Hanley is a speaker at this year’s Women In Real Estate WIRE conference which takes place in Sydney on 24 March 2020. Click here to buy tickets for WIRE.

Chris is also speaking at the RISE2020 conference in Melbourne on 28 April 2020. Find out more here.

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