So the first thought that popped into my head when Dien asked me to post as a “Human of Finance” was… Me? Really?? The second thought was… it’s been a busy 6 weeks… I’m not even sure I feel “human” right now – Braindead Zombies of Finance for sure… But here goes, and thank you Dien for asking me – I’m flattered.
So my story begins, way back as a young child. I decide I want to be… in super nerdy fashion… just like my parents when I grow up. They have investment properties, they leave their steady day to day jobs and become super micro-entrepreneurial with a mass of small businesses which I work in (biscuit making, laundromat, roadhouse) that totally helps me develop a work ethic a young age, and then they retire (modestly) to this sunny island of Tasmania I now call home in their 30’s. Despite the fact that they made us all wear matching blue knitted cardigans as a family and my dad had a beard so wild that it could house small farm animals without anyone being aware, they were my heroes and I wanted to follow the path they’d travelled.
So as a young child I started my own “businesses”. I made pirate videos – Back to the Future was a big seller (my school vice principal, less than impressed). I set up my own birthday party in October, invited hundreds of children at my school and sat back to reap the rewards… I neglected to tell my Mum and my birthday is in March (minor details). I tried to melt scrap metal in a saucepan at home to make my own money (Mum needed new pans after this). Basically I was headed for the top at an early age… or jail… understandly my poor parents were grey before their time a fact my Mum doesn’t let me forget. Nonetheless my passion for entrepreneurialism was strong.
But then when I was in my mid teens, things started to get quite tough for us as a family. My parents had left a not so scrupulous business partner in charge of things, interest rates were high and there were some not so great decisions made overall. Over the course of a few years things got very tough, my parents divorced and both individually went bankrupt. We lost our house, our car was repossessed and things were not so peachy.
Understandably the entrepreneurial lifestyle no longer seemed as appealing, so I got two jobs at age 15 – one working in an ice cream shop (for the obvious benefits) and one working as a filing and coffee slave at a local real estate agency (not for any particular reason other than that they’d give me a job as my Mum was working there). I saved hard and put aside $1,000 for my first car.
It was then that I was visiting my grandmother in Victoria one day and stumbled across a jewellery store. Their wares were sterling silver, really cool and totally in the price range of an excited 15 year old. I must have walked into that shop 10 times that day, the owner probably thought I was casing the joint, but my mind couldn’t stop ticking over. I went home and had a “life moment” discussion with my Mum where she helped me realise that I could be a victim of my parent’s bankruptcy for the rest of my life or I could see it as a gift. What other 15 year old had seen both what had worked and what to avoid like I had? I went back into the shop the next day and had a stunted and awkward conversation with the kind store owner who agreed to wholesale me my first lot of jewellery and off I went selling it at markets, at school and basically hustling wherever I could. It got to a point in high school where I was employing others to work at markets for me and importing jewellery in the thousands of dollars direct from Thailand. I’m extremely grateful that my Mum helped me realise at a young age how to turn a negative into a positive and, despite being terrified for me (as she is every time I do something new), she supported me in my first “real” business.
Over the next couple of years I had a small web design business, went to uni in Victoria, dropped out of uni (graduating a mere 12 years later with an MBA), waitressed (poorly but enthusiastically) and ended up back working in a real estate agency. I also ended up back home in Tassie working at the same real estate agency I had started in at 15. I was selling real estate at 19 (with mediocre success) and working in property management and basically any other area of the company I could. I’ve always been keen to learn, so while I did that I also set about getting my real estate manager’s license.
That one decision to study without need was really pivotal. I was in the right place at the right time when two very successful sales consultants (whose figures blew mine out of the water) wanted to open up an agency and brought me along as I had the license. We started that real estate agency when I was 21 and I was a 1/3 owner.
Over the next few years, I ended up owning a 50% share, we were named the 24th fastest growing company in Australia, we brought the Harcourts real estate brand down to Tassie and were the state franchisors and I was fortunate enough at age 22 to be named Australian Telstra Young Business Woman of the Year – to this date still the youngest ever awarded. I also built up a great little property portfolio and become absolutely passionate about investing in property.
It was a wild ride of 6 years at one stage we had over 50 staff members and it was challenging and amazing and a huge learning curve. I learned how to lead and not obsessively micromanage (well I’m still a work in progress there) and I grew up there spending my 20’s surrounded by amazing people in an phenomenal organisation. When I sold that business I went into a deep mourning period and still showed up at the office every day for about 6 months, no doubt very annoying to the new owners!
I had the opportunity to pursue some public speaking opportunities which saw me speak in every state in Australia, all over Kiwiland and even in Las Vegas at the world’s biggest real estate conference with over 50,000 attendees (in fairness though, only about 200 of them came to my presentation – but still, Vegas baby!).
Property is in my blood however and after less than 2 years out of the game, I went back into real estate opening a boutique property management agency with 2 great hands on property managers. We too had another wild ride for 6 years with Elephant Property and built a small record-breaking team of 8. During my time in real estate – 20 years all up, 12 of my former staff members have gone on to own their own agencies and that is something I’m incredibly proud of.
While at Elephant I had property owners who would come to me stating that they were really happy with our management of their properties, but they were going to sell their investments because it just wasn’t “working out for them at tax time”. When realising that most of them had not considered going to a mortgage broker, and given the fact that I love to learn – one of my team members and I both decided to become accredited as brokers to service our existing clients… because, after all – how hard could it be? I’d worked in real estate for 20 years, I’d had numerous mortgages, it should be a piece of pie. Oh my how I was wrong.
Carrie Twine and I started Up Loans 3 years ago and while I will admit that getting accredited was sweet and easy, since then I’ve been on the steepest learning curve of my entire life. Firstly – we got an amazing opportunity to sell our property management business about 6 weeks after we were up and running – that involved my entire team going to the new business, so there went my amazing support staff, my office, my clients, my comfort zone. Then to add to that, changes in the investment lending space, policy, wrapping my head around niches and assessors and trying to understand why every assessor didn’t see my teeny tiny deals as their number one priority was… hard. That’s the only word for it. It’s been a hard introduction to the industry and I’m not sure looking back I’d recommend anyone do it the way we did it (going it alone with no previous experience).
That said… I love where we are now, so maybe it’s good that I didn’t know the full gory details of the epic journey we were about to embark upon. In my first full financial year of broking I settled over a hundred loans and this year I was stoked to be announced as Australian Regional Broker of the Year in the Adviser awards and 2016 and 17 FBAA VIC/TAS broker of the year.
This would not have been possible without the amazing support from our aggregator Choice and our BDMs Tim Schneider and Daniel Scollo. My lender BDMs well.. they know me. I’m the annoying one from Tassie who asks a loooot of questions. Those BDMs who have taken us under their wing and looked after us will never know how grateful we truly are – like Ruth Cresswell from MyState who sat down with us in our first few weeks of broking and basically gave us the pump up we needed to stay on track, Mary Mase from ALI who I now affectionately call “Mamma” cos she’s so darn helpful (and of course way too young and fabulous to be my “Mamma”). I’m also the first to say that support from the broker community is something we’ve never experienced to the same degree in any other industry. Huge shout outs must go to Costas Louras my first mentor (for putting up with my incessant impatience) and Narelle Kerstanalso my mentor who sets an amazing example for me to follow. Special mentions to every other broker who has answered my numerous questions especially Sam Wong, Wai Cheung, Chris Huynh, Peita Davies, Debbie Worthington – you have no reason to help other than that you’re all rock stars. Also to Rob Cummings who with his team at Mortgage Broker Enhancement Services saves my butt on a daily basis. And our team are amazing – thank you thank you thank you to amazing Carrie Twine (except that part where you got pregnant 4 seconds after we started the company… joking!), Meika, Karl, Kyra and Belinda.
Outside of this crazy broking life – I’m a mum to two amazing daughters 4 and 6 years old (who, of course, started their own business last year selling flashing shoelaces). I’m travel obsessed and have been to 10 countries this year (5 newbies, 5 repeats) and I’m still figuring out how to do that without sleepless nights manning my emails while my kids sleep. The makeshift office I had for three weeks in September – October perched on the toilet with my computer hard up against the mirror and sink in my tiny cruise ship cabin bathroom was… not so glamorous. But I got to work while taking my daughters through Japan, South Korea and China, going to 3 Disneyland parks, eating shabu-shabu while watching a Geiko show in Kyoto, seeing Mt Fuji, drinking all the tea I could handle, listening to my babies speak three other languages (hello, thank you, please, how much is that) and I’ve basically never been happier.
I visited a house designed by famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright once and inscribed above a door was the latin quote: Memento Vivere – “Remember to Live”. This has been my personal motto ever since. So many people exist. Exist, not truly live. I want to live a life that is full on, and challenging and exhilarating – I want to remember to live.
Thanks for letting me share my story (or novella!) and thanks to everyone else who has shared theirs. I take so much away from this group and the generosity of members who take the time to share.