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I’m grateful when I don’t make it. I’m grateful for what I can learn from failure. That gratefulness allows me to be more at peace. Now, Crown Group is at a level where it needs to be, I’m grateful.

Episode 22

How to create your own market segment, establish genuine brand equity & the power of perseverance

Iwan Sunito | Chairman and Group CEO | Crown Group

Iwan Sunito’s story is one of resilience and success. Born in Surabaya, East Java, Iwan spent many childhood years in the small town of Pangkalan Bun in Kalimantan, known also as Borneo, before moving to Australia as a teenager. Iwan completed a Bachelor of Architecture with Honours and a Masters of Construction Management at UNSW and in 1994 he started his own architectural firm.

In 1996 Iwan formed Crown Group with business partner Paul Sathio. In the years following Crown Group completed a string of successful projects, weathering the storms of the 2008 global financial crisis and the company is now set to be one of the largest private property developers in Australia with over $5B with of projects in the pipeline world wide.

Iwan was the chairman of Indonesia’s Tsunami Corporate appeal in 2006 and has been actively involved in fundraising for the Sydney Children’s Hospital, the John Fawcett Eye Foundation in Bali and orphanages in Indonesia.

Iwan was named 2015 Urban Taskforce Australia Property Person of the Year, one of the highest industry accolades in Australia. He was also a winner in the 2013 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year awards and awarded the 2013 Congress of Indonesian Diaspora Entrepreneur award. Iwan was appointed to the Global Indonesian Diaspora Board in 2013 and recently spoke at the 2017 Indonesian Diaspora Congress. Iwan is the chairman of the Sydney Christian Worship Centre and B2B, a mentoring programme for young professionals. His first book ‘From Borneo to Bloomberg, A Comeback Story and 13 Principles of Success’ was published in 2014. Iwan’s top- selling biography ‘Without Borders’ by Teguh Sri Pambudi was published in 2016. Iwan lives in Sydney with his wife and three children.

In this episode Iwan explain’s what is what like growing up in remote Indonesia, how to create your own market segment, establish genuine brand equity & the power of perseverance.

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Transcript

Anthony Denman:
No. I know it’s after 11:00, but Iwan, Selemat Pagi, and welcome to the Property Marketing Podcast.

Iwan Sunito:
Selemat Pagi. Very impressed with your Indonesian

Anthony Denman:
It doesn’t go much further than that, unfortunately.

Iwan Sunito:
We’re kind of a… I think the two countries are so close and so far away, to some extent. Right. I mean so close geographically, but also quite far away in terms of culture. But I think what’s wonderful and I think Australians and Indonesians on, beyond the politics, really love one another.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, totally. You know I’ve spent a lot of time in Indonesia and I definitely feel that way. That’s for sure. Now, listen, I believe you were pretty handy around the kitchen. In fact, you’re a good man to have around because you always cleaning up after yourself.

Iwan Sunito:
Yeah. Well, I’m very handy, I’m in this… I think I’m handy when you wanted me to make Satay. I’m very handy to clean up the dishes. And I think it’s… I’ve thought about it which is unique even in the office when we eat. I’ve always just doesn’t really like seeing dishes being dirty. So I always just wash it before I put it into the dish washing machine. Then my staff’s kind of asked me, “Why, Iwan? Don’t you have the dish washing machine?” And I said, “Yeah, but I don’t know why. I just don’t like dirty things going into that thing.” But I guess now I’m going to look back maybe then it was part of that two weeks of intensive 10 hours a day, cleaning up as a kitchen hand in one of the Indonesian restaurant in Oxford Street that was run by somebody from Hong Kong. I worked there for two weeks. So thought maybe that habit doesn’t die.

Anthony Denman:
Your book, by the way, I really enjoyed it. It was Borneo to Bloomberg. It was a really easy read and I liked the way it was constructed, put together. It felt really nice in your hand and some really inspirational quotes in there and stories in there. So thanks for sharing that with me. One thing that really stood out for me was when looking through that book, and it’s also something that I’ve noticed in my travels throughout remote Indonesia and Africa, is that and in that book, there’s a lot of photographs of you and your siblings and your parents and your friends.

Iwan Sunito:
Mm-hmm .

Anthony Denman:
Growing up and in remote Indonesia and Africa and where you grew up in Kalimantan, there weren’t a lot of, kind of what you call Western privileges. You know, there wasn’t a lot of… Nobody had any iPads or big screen TVs-

Iwan Sunito:
Well we don’t electricity when I grew up.

Anthony Denman:
Why do you think though that… Because the point I’m making is that all of the children in those places, they just seem so happy all the time. And I was just… I’m kind of curious. Well, two questions, I guess, what was it like growing up in that environment and why do you think that underprivileged, if you want to use that word, because I’m not sure if it’s right, children in those countries do have such happy childhoods?

Iwan Sunito:
That’s interesting, isn’t it. Like if there is a memory in my life that I thought it was just amazing, it is about that growing up in Kalimantan. I thought, not at the time when I grew up in Surabaya, playing Nintendo, not really driving the car and it was really that beautiful, pure place that we grew up there. And what’s funny is Anthony that we actually don’t feel underprivileged. We actually feel like we’re so blessed. But of course today when you look back, you said, “Wow, you can’t even have Coca-Cola”, because you just don’t have the money for it. That’s really the underprivileged for Western world standard or modern world standard. But it was really that purity of this playing with nature and playing with crickets and just digging and hunting for snakes in the river and going into the swimming against the currents.

Iwan Sunito:
And you know, that someone normally died every once in a year because they get a cramp and the rivers current are so strong and they’ll take them up with… In the bottom of the rivers about maybe three to four meters deep. So there’s no way you’re going to survive there, right? Once you have taken by the current and you’re gone. You know, and we used to go across the river and I could almost see that if I go this way, I’ll end up at about 45 degree angle by the time I crossed that 50, 60 meters river. Because the current was so strong. But yeah, I thought it was beautiful, you know. This is the time when we grow up and we have not much things to do, we cycle, we go and hunt for the animals and… Are we always happy? Probably not, like any kids out there. Sure we have good moment. We have moments of unhappiness, but I have to say… I don’t know.

Iwan Sunito:
I mean, it’s just like one of the most memorable memory. But maybe also partly mom and dad is always teaching us to be grateful about life. That money is not always the driving thing in life. And it’s more about happiness and one of the personal story that I only discovered about when I was about 45, when somebody wrote a book about me. And this writer took about three years to compile a story about me and he wrote it in Indonesian, might be 300 pages book. He actually asked my mother about, “What is my Chinese name?” Which is… There’s a Chinese name of my name that becomes Iwan, right? There’s a word, “Huan” in my Chinese name. And what did you give the name to Iwan with that name?

Iwan Sunito:
And my mom responded was… Mom and dad respond was, when they were giving birth to me, when mum was giving birth to me, dad lost his business. Dad also become sick of something and he couldn’t … And he’s business collapsed. And so they were living in the mom and dad’s house. They didn’t have money. Didn’t never have their own house. And what they said is that, “Your name happy…” I mean, it really… “The reason why we give you that name is simply because we believe that there is happiness, even in your most difficult moment or time in your life.” And I thought, “Wow, that was just beautiful.” And I thought that was, “You can still be happy even when you don’t have anything and you can still be happy when you have nothing there.” And yeah, I mean, flying to Surabaya was a luxury because airplane… We don’t have plane flying.

Iwan Sunito:
We don’t have electricity until about when I was in year three and dad’s starting the generator and he build generators at night. He pump up generators. Oh, I’m sure you remember that Anthony when you go to Africa. And at six or seven o’clock at night and you know that he’s going to have to turn off the generators because it’s can’t really operate 24 hours. He turned it off and then we all live on candles. And then I think only many, many years later after that, we started to see electricity that are being brought by the government, to our villages. And our village was actually across the river. Across the main trading island. And we got cross the river to get to that place. And our house was on top of the timber pole, but it’s riverfront. It’s actually not really. It was actually on the water.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah.

Iwan Sunito:
People said Anthony that. I mean, when the Western world, like our world here was, “Oh, my house waterfront, it’s nothing. My house on the water.” Sometimes it’s in the water. You know and it’s not nice to have your house in the water. But it’s beautiful. I mean it’s just like… I mean it’s… I don’t know. It’s just amazing. And you can just celebrate everything in life. Yeah. And like I said, the funny thing is that we often go to that country and thinking that we’re the privilege and they are the underprivileged. But they do not feel that they are underprivileged. We do not feel we are underprivileged. We feel we have the whole world with us.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, no, it’s really noticeable. You know, some of my travels through… I think particularly Southern Sumatra. And just driving along in a car and all the kids racing out to the sidewalk to wave at you as you as you drive by because that’s such a special event to see these white people coming through with their surfboards on top of their cars and you know, how interesting that is and just full of joy. And I think that it was really interesting, those insights. I think that being surrounded by nature and having those kind of life and death experience… Like real experiences, you got the young kids today playing life and death experiences on their video games, right.

Iwan Sunito:
Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
But not quite the real life and death-

Iwan Sunito:
Yeah. We had to survive the crocodile.

Anthony Denman:
I’ve spoken to a few, and we’re going to get into you’re obviously an incredibly successful property developer but before that you’re an architect and more, we’ll get into that later on. But was there a moment in your time… Sorry. And I had spoken to other architects on the podcast that have told me that in their adolescent years there was kind of something that they did, that their parents recognized, that they thought, “Well, this is really interesting.” This particularly… “He seems to be spending a lot of time….”, I think it was Nick Turner, spent a lot of time building things when he was a young child. Getting old bricks from building sites and he constantly building things and it was pretty obvious to him and to his parents that at some point in his life, he was destined to become an architect. Was there any, are there any stories like that in your adolescent life that you can recall or that you’re aware of…?

Iwan Sunito:
I don’t think then they’re aware of my capacity or what I’d good at really. I think that they’re aware of my struggle with mathematics, chemistry, biology with my early childhood education. I think they kind of see that there was a battle for me to even pass the school. I’m focussed later on. I mean, but I mean later on I managed to overcome that, right. But it was… Every year it was a constant encouragement from mom who says, “You can do better next year.” It’s like, you’re on the border of failing. And mom says, “You can do better next year.” But if I look back, it was… And in fact that when I was choosing my architecture, mum and dad did not say, “I think you should do this or that one there.” In fact, that they’re actually never tell us to do anything.

Iwan Sunito:
They’re not that sort of the older traditional Asian parents who say, “You got to do what mom and dad do.” They kind of let me do whatever I want to do and in fact that I am the only child out of the three that they had that didn’t do what they do. They run a trading business. They are in the shipping business. But talking about shipping is really from Kalimantan, Surabaya. Like a small boat, probably about 20 meters, 30 meters long boat, it’s just that sort of inter-island boat.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah.

Iwan Sunito:
Nothing fancy about that. But-

Anthony Denman:
Yeah.

Iwan Sunito:
But when I look back, it was almost a path of my life that I thought kind of slowly defined my shape. What I am supposed to be in my life. And somehow naturally it slits into more and more into architecture. I like drawing, I like Airplane drawing, I like Superman drawing. Funny thing is actually don’t draw house, I don’t draw a building. I drew aeroplane and I drew architect… I don’t draw the architecture. I don’t draw perspective, but I love drawing… But I guess in a way, that dad was in the trading of shingles for the roof, for the house roofs in Kalimantan. And then when I moved to Surabaya, we grew up with my grandfather and my grandfather who are in this beautiful antique Chinese furniture, manufacturing, handmade. So you got to do this, you know… Remember they all have furniture with these pockets after pockets that you slot in inside.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah.

Iwan Sunito:
And I grew up with that and I did remember that I was doing really well in anything you do with handcuffs, like anything to do with cutting timbers, plywood and making this beautiful tags out of plywood, making it colour. I was really… I was one of the better one there. So I think and I liked drawing. So I think that then when I did my school here in Ranwick Tafe, I was still not sure what I want to become. And I thought I want to become an aeronautical engineer. I love airplane. And I love-

Anthony Denman:
Well, that explains the wanting to draw the airplane.

Iwan Sunito:
Yeah. Yeah, I love that so much and I just got so upset the other day when my friend the Ambassador of Indonesia got invited by Minister for Defence, Peter Dutton. Dutton right?

Anthony Denman:
Yeah. Yeah.

Iwan Sunito:
And he said, “Oh”, he said, ” But Iwan, look at this plane.” I said, “What, F-34.” Oh, I said, “You’ve committed the biggest sin in your life you should take me there.” I said, “I want to see that F-35.” I said, “I want to see that plane.” He said, “That’s an amazing plane. They can’t even see the missiles outside of the body.” I said, “Oh my God, can you take me there, please?” So I still enjoy that passion. But really…

Anthony Denman:
Did he take you there?

Iwan Sunito:
No, he didn’t. He just sent me the photo.

Anthony Denman:
Okay.

Iwan Sunito:
That’s what I thought, I was so annoyed with him. I said, “You should take me there. You make me the ambassador or whatever that maybe be. Right.” But, what I have to just be good architecture or aeronautical engineer. And I made a choice at that. You know what, I’m going to do architecture, because I can run my own business, I can do small job, houses and slowly build up my career. But I mean on the hindsight, maybe I should’ve done aeronautical engineer and start selling F-35 to be Government.

Anthony Denman:
Well, indeed. It will maybe, yeah-

Iwan Sunito:
Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
With those sorts of numbers.

Iwan Sunito:
That’s right.

Anthony Denman:
But the numbers you’re doing… Aren’t too bad either. I got to say the other thing you liked drawing is superheroes, right? So you’ve actually become one of those. So, it’s okay in that sense too. I’ve got a few quotes here that I’m going to pull out. If you don’t mind, from your book. And one of them here is, “God will never allow difficulty to come to you without a divine purpose.” Now, the reason I mentioned that quote is because when you were 16 years old, had a bit of a motorcycle… I think only everyone who’s been a Bali has had a motorcycle accident, I’d say. I certainly have.

Iwan Sunito:
Oh, no.

Anthony Denman:
Although… Yeah. Although nothing too serious. But certainly yours was. Do you want to just tell us how that happened and how that changed your life?

Iwan Sunito:
Well, it was after I failed my year 11 and I said to mom, “Can I go to Bali? And this is a kid that just failed 11. In Asia, when you fail a class, that’s a big embarrassment, the whole family, all your… Because you’re one of the two or three out of 150 people that fail. And it’s still a lot of stigma there. So I said to mom, “Can I go to Bali?” To just go with my friends and she said, “Why?”. And I said, “Look, you know what I mean. I just want to go.” And with four of us, with friends. Who were my buddy buddy in that time, I said, “Can I go? For the last time.” And she said, “Don’t ever say the last time.” I went there and it almost become my last time because I hit a tanker truck. From my bones were broken in many, many parts of my body-

Anthony Denman:
How did you hit the tanker truck?

Iwan Sunito:
I actually don’t remember Anthony? Because my friend told me that I was on the freeway. I was trying to overtake a car and I didn’t make it and the tanker truck was just coming on the front end-

Anthony Denman:
They just… Because, it’s so hard, isn’t it, to drive in?

Iwan Sunito:
And I hit the tanker truck, I was told that. I was riding the motorbike and my friends on my back, but I hit the tanker truck sideway. And I was just fortunate that I didn’t go into under the wheel of the tanker truck. Right. I mean and I hit that and that was in coma for five days and then. That was in-

Anthony Denman:
In Denpasar hospital?

Iwan Sunito:
In the Denpasar Hospital. Murah Rai Hospital.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah.

Iwan Sunito:
Quite good. But it’s also quite… You have been in Bali and you know what the hospital is like

Anthony Denman:
Oh, mate, I got alcohol poisoning in Bali and from the Arak rice wine. And I… Yeah. Went to the hospital. Denpasar. They gave me a vitamin C tablet. That was the extent of it.

Iwan Sunito:
Yeah. Well, when… So that was me. And then dad kind of heard about the news about the accident. And he was in Kalimantan. He couldn’t get a flight because there’s no flight. There’s only one flight a day in the ’82s. And he flew in the next day, saw me. They couldn’t even recognize my face because the whole bone, the whole face was swollen. So I was in a coma after five days and that’s how… I thought it was almost a mistake that becomes a miracle because from then on I kind of woke up with a thought. If I’m not dead or if I’m not physically affected or disabled, there must be a purpose to this thing here. And that changed to a lot of things about how I think. And to some extent, it’s almost what Stephen Covey talks about. The Eight Habits of Highly Effective People.

Iwan Sunito:
That it’s a change of paradigm. How we see things. The moment we see things differently, the moment the world, our world are starting to change. So that, along that thinking that I must’ve been saved for a greater purpose, changes the way that I look at things. And I begin to come back and to start again, that school year 11, and I was put in this best class of the top five kids in that class. Just the room was full of the best student and I thought the teachers must have made a mistake. I mean, you don’t put the worst of the worst in the best of best class. You put them in somewhere else because. But, I learned about that your environment do change your life, your future, the way they see things or change the way you react. And I also learned that. To learn, not to be insecure, but to be inspired with what other people have achieved and the way they see things. And look it’s easy.

Iwan Sunito:
My old friends was, “Don’t worry. We don’t need it. Oh, the teachers really hopeless.” We kind of blaming everything about why we don’t do well. But these kids were are smart, they just teach you. And I think so much so that… There’s a statement that says that, “Walk with the wise and you would become wise.” That has become kind of the foundation. And when I build up my business, I always want to learn to meet with new bright people out there and just learn. Bright people doesn’t mean that they’re financially better than me, but it could be technologically better, it could be something else that I can learn from them. About their spiritual journey, about their mental journey. So that was almost that. I thought that I failed my year. I had an accident. That’s almost like a bad thing, like bad karma you think that, right.

Iwan Sunito:
But if you think about karma too, this accident must have been bad. You had… You failed and you had an accident, you almost dead. You know what I mean? But it was really not, it was almost… I call them a divine purpose to a life. That I thought I was put in that class and then it changes my game and by the time I finished that year, I was one of, I think, I was matching the school marks or the top five kids. I wasn’t the best, by that time. But the ranking five in that class was I who studied to get my school marks to as good as they are. So then I went to… And then my mom and dad sent me to Sydney. And that’s how I started.

Iwan Sunito:
And again, the journey started again and I become a friend of this refugee boy from Vietnam. His name is Tran. And he does double job in the morning. And he was the top student in that year. I was a good friend of him and I learned so much from him. And by the time I finished year 12, my mathematical mark was one of the best in that year. So it was just… I would get… So I think in a way that now that gives a foundation today, Anthony, that whatever you gets in our life, not everything is good, but all things are good for us.

Anthony Denman:
Beautiful. Can I ask you a question, might sound a bit weird to everyone listening, maybe even yourself, I’ll see if you remember. Okay. So how are you to die? How are you to die?

Iwan Sunito:
Are you meaning, “How you going to die?” That is a great thing, man. You came to this country and everybody speaks so fast. And because you’re nervous, you speak faster and this would make it worse because both of you don’t understand one another. So you came to this country and they said, “How you going to die?” I said, “What? How I’m going to die?” That’s weird, right.

Anthony Denman:
Classic.

Iwan Sunito:
“I’m good. I’m good, sir. I’m really good.”

Anthony Denman:
“I feel pretty healthy, actually, but thank you.”

Iwan Sunito:
Yeah. It’s like when I was trying to work in the pub, in Coogee Pub. They say, “How did you get to this country here?” I said, “By plane, Sir.” They was wanting to know are you illegal or you legal. Oh, that was classic.

Anthony Denman:
So… Yeah. I mean, I can’t imagine actually seriously and you know… Me… Let’s say I had to go to Indonesia and start a brand and marketing business. It must’ve been really challenging, just even conquering that language barrier? And I think I… Actually just sort of segue a bit because, I mean a lot of the most successful people in Australia… I mean, Harry Triguboff for example, right. You know, they’ve come from another country and I see it a lot. I’ve seen a lot of my clients who are kind of started out, come from another country and had enormous challenges and they always, or quite often, they seem to do a lot better than those second and third and fourth, and even sort of fifth generation Australians. Why do you think that is?

Iwan Sunito:
Well, first of all, I think there is a perception of that, but I’m not quite sure if everyone that came to this country has done better. I think there’s a lot of us that are still struggling, even though they come from a underprivileged family. But there’s a saying, isn’t it like, “Opposition resistance makes you stronger.” If anything, resistance makes us stronger. I mean in bodybuilding, we learned that it was not about comfort that makes the body develop, it was the resistance of the weight that you have to develop. And oftentimes that to develop a muscle that you have to get into a breaking point, and that’s where your muscle develop. So I think to some extent that being an underprivileged, you go into this country knowing that you’re the underdog and you run scared. You don’t run thinking that you going to win and you run… You think that, “I run, look, I may potentially lose.” And you kind of puts all your nerves, your system on the go.

Iwan Sunito:
But there’s also people who kind of give into that fear too. Right. Anthony, there are people who are, “You know what, this is a country where there’s a glass ceiling here. I’m not going to make it. It’s alland its either man or thing, like it is gender barrier, it’s a cultural barrier. I’m not good at this one here. Not good at that.” I’ve seen people who are like that too and then they tend to… Instead of to overcome that barrier and they kind of say, “Well this is. They’re not going to like immigrants to this country.” So they attempt to… Then box themselves into where the culture that we came from. So instead of enlarging themselves, to become a friend to everybody, they kind of say, “Oh, let’s just go smaller.”

Iwan Sunito:
And so… But I think it’s that resistant that often overcome that. But I’ve… I guess… But it’s also I really think that… I think we should just celebrate our success, you know Anthony. I mean, I think that money or status, or what we do in our life should not really be the measurement of our success. Because if we do measure ourselves to be successful, because we get more money that somebody else. The problem with that is that somebody else going to have more money than us sooner or later or now. Right. So does that really mean that we’re not successful and I’ve seen people who would just continue to just get frustrated because they’re chasing money and chasing rainbows that never really end. So that’s where we… I think it’s, yeah. That’s my thought-

Anthony Denman:
Yeah. No. Its great. Hey.

Iwan Sunito:
But a lot of people that works for crime group that are coming from a different perspective. Like Ireland, South Africa, like Indonesia and Singapore and the like, and then England. And they come from a wider perspective. That perspective that connectivity often helps them in to move. Seeing things differently to somebody who is just getting comfortable, being a local and thinking that they can do it. So when you look at it Anthony, a lot of immigrants who are coming from China in the latest 10 years, right. With their struggles of being able to speak English. They can’t get a white collar job. They can’t get into managerial job in a very big companies, local companies here.

Iwan Sunito:
But they turn that disadvantage into an advantage because they tap into an incoming immigrants who really don’t speak English and those people oftentimes are the one with the wealth. And so you’re seeing how people kind of grew up. But I’ve also seen people who are local, who just built up an amazing business, amazing products. I mean, I think we’ve seen that a lot at the startup company that they’re quite local. They’re just`… They’re here. So I think you see both what’s a successful yet.

Anthony Denman:
Totally. Really good thanks for that. Why did you call your first company, Joshua International Architects?

Iwan Sunito:
That’s a long time ago. I was 25 years ago. Okay. Without sounding too religious here, Anthony

Anthony Denman:
Oh, okay.

Iwan Sunito:
I always like to find, to use name or to brand my project with a purpose of meaning behind it. Because, I want to find something greater than just nice tack line. The word Joshua is… The name Joshua is a biblical name, it’s a Hebrew name, which means God will save for you. God is your saviour. And that’s really the root word of even today’s word of Jesus, which is really mean that means God will save you. So I was looking at names and I was thinking about what names should I use? Right. Of course at that time there was Joshua Berger, a friend of mine that developed a canoe company. But Joshua there was a… I was… When I built up the company, I knew that I don’t have the network. And I know that I only have a three months pre-graduate and a three months postgraduate experience. Without network, without the experience. I knew that if I could ever make it one day, it would not be because of me.

Iwan Sunito:
I mean, you work hard, but there’s always a limit to what you can do. So I’m trying to find a word that makes me remember that one day. If I ever going to make it’s really for something else that is created in us, in me being a person. So that’s where I choose the name of Joshua International that I thought the Joshua means that God is the saviour, and international because I’ve always wanted to grow a company that are global. Okay, It started so but don’t take it being spiritually. I was just more about finding meaning.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah. No.

Iwan Sunito:
So, it means, right of course when we start creating the brand of Crown Group, you’ll see the word mastery, the word infinity, waterfall. The Crown Group, the new one that I’m setting up, it’s called The One Global Capital. All of them has a meaning. So is our building. Everything has got a meaning of purpose behind it. The, why it exists, yeah.

Anthony Denman:
We’re going to get into that whole naming strategy stuff later on. What I’m most interested in is how do you go from garages to fences, to your first project? Because from a garage to a fence to that first project, which is significant project, called the Crown, by the way. And again, we will get into that later on. And that’s still a beautiful building. Still standing. Still really has a great presence. Doesn’t it?

Iwan Sunito:
Maybe I should make up a new book one day, From the Garage to the Fences, to the Bathroom.”

Anthony Denman:
Yeah.

Iwan Sunito:
To building PTR.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah. How do you do that? Seriously, because that’s quite a quantum leap?

Iwan Sunito:
Because I wanted it to, one day, start my own business one day. Right. So, when I was working for, I was studying architecture. I beginning to offer my services to people. So I start picking up a cousin of mine, who just migrated from Hong Kong back in the… What is that… It would it be the ’90s and pre the 1997. And then needing somebody to do the bathroom. So here I go, “Okay, I’ll do it for free for you.” So I did that, right. And then I did my own bathroom. Which then two or three years later was leaking like hell. And then I realized that I forget to put the waterproofing in.

Iwan Sunito:
That was this classic case. This is where I always am a believer of think big and start small. I thought I was genius at that time. I thought I was clever. But it was a bathroom and then my auntie came from Hong Kong again, said, “Can you do the fences?” And I was looking at bricks everywhere. I was searching for brick, the right tile, the right tiling. So I did that one thing. And then they refer they to a friend who says, “Can you do a garage?” From that garage, I did the garage, and then it’s, “Oh, by the way, my good friend is coming to Sydney from Indonesia and he wants to build a house in Wahroongah.” So, from the garage to a house, to my auntie’s house in Rose Bay, to her friends who built another house. It was that journey.

Iwan Sunito:
And at one time I was doing a job for a friend and I said, “Look…” I’m not a friend. I mean I wouldn’t consider them a friend because they didn’t pay me. It was the lesson than how you get to make sure everything is in writing. Right. I did this job for a couple of them and I designed their houses, the extension, the house extension. And I said, “Look, you know what? I’ll do your design, council approval and overseeing the building of that houses, which is about maybe a hundred square meter house extension there for $300.” I draw all of that, oversee the whole thing. I sent out, “Here’s my fee, $300.” And then they said, “Oh, by the way Iwan, we’re trying to save money to buy Mercedes Benz. We each only have $300.”

Anthony Denman:
Oh, god.

Iwan Sunito:
Oh, my god, “Can we just take you for dinner?” And by that time I’ve already done my design, the approval, right. I didn’t send them the bill at all. And I said, ” You know what, here’s my-

Iwan Sunito:
… all right, I didn’t send them the bill. And I said, you know what? Here’s my drawing. Just take it. Just move on with it. And I moved on. So that’s the lesson about not getting paid.

Anthony Denman:
I would’ve said, okay, let’s go to Aria. That’s fine.

Iwan Sunito:
Maybe you should send them the bill of… But then I did my aunty’s house in Rose Bay and I wasn’t charging any fee, but they were very kind and at the end of the day, I was building a $350,000 house, designing it and overseeing, supervising the building. They paid me $5,000 at the end. So that was good. They were generous enough to do that. Yeah, that’s how the journey started.

Anthony Denman:
Think big and start small.

Iwan Sunito:
Yes.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah. Very good. I’ve get another quote here from your book, and this is by John F. Kennedy, “When written in Chinese, the word crisis is written in two characters. One character represents danger and the other character represents opportunity.” What is the biggest crisis in business you’ve encountered and what did you learn from it?

Iwan Sunito:
I think it must have been on the 8th year of our business. At that time the business has grown from doing 28 million job in 1996 in Bondi Junction. And then by that time, I’ve build up a portfolio of about a billion dollars of project in the pipeline. And then the recession hits New South Wales. Oh my. And then I bought a building in Ashville that I’m going to refurbish the office into residential. The Market just goes down and you run the number, the number just doesn’t work anymore. And then I was doing a job in Parramatta and I was doing the largest job in Parramatta, 235 units. At that time, the value was $117 million and I couldn’t sell the thing. Big overhead, nothing moves, new project can’t take off, the old one can’t sell. And we are just bleeding on interest really. And that was probably one of the biggest lessons about that, there is always opportunity in every crisis in every opposition.

Iwan Sunito:
So during that time was like, wow. I mean, how do you deal with that? It was probably the first crisis that I had, not the 1996, ’97, when the Asian funds crisis hits America, I was doing well there, but this time it was just impossible to overcome. And your cash was starting to bleed, and you say, what do you do in time of this crisis there? There’s two things that I learned there. Number one is really just in time of crisis, is to do what you have done in the past and just do it better. And just really that incremental growth, incremental building up of things. If you’re good at design, continue to push that design to get it better.

Iwan Sunito:
So, and this is the time when I was starting to reflect and a friend of mine, the late Robby Djohan, who is the former CEO of Garuda, who turned the whole Garuda from a negative cash flow business, to a positive cash flow. He gave me a book, the Blue Ocean Strategy, and that book talks about how do you create your own market space and make your competitors irrelevant? And the book talks about business that are rising up from a dying business, like the circus industry, Cirque du Soleil, it becomes an amazing business. And it talks about our wine, the casula wine, that turns the serious wine industry, to more fun kind of wine.

Iwan Sunito:
The book also give an example of golf industry. There are the big operators of the world that rises up from a very complex game. Golf is not simple. I mean, hitting a small ball with a long stick is not simple, but they turned the whole industry that are struggling, that are competing on prices only, and they all are bleeding financially, to a profitable business by simply shifting, changing the way they approach the same product, but a different way.

Iwan Sunito:
So that’s a time when I thought about… And I was developing a project in Parramatta where the Chinese are not there and the Greeks and the Italian and the Lebanese, Australians do not buy apartment Anthony. So when you think about branding is how do you shift that perception, right? How do you change that perception? Now the option for us in that time was cut the cost down. And really one of the options is cut it down and just make it cheap, go simple cheap and just cut everything.

Iwan Sunito:
But I was actually on that time reflecting on this book about the blue ocen and started to think about amazing resorts in the world where oftentimes they are located in the most remote places that the places are barren and oftentimes they’ve preserved the barrenness of these surrounding villages. And you go to this dirt road, and houses that people are sitting on a ground rather than a concrete, a tiled concrete. And then you go into these amazing, beautiful houses or hotel or resort, and you say, wow. And that’s a thought, I thought, well, if they could do that in Bali, if they could do that in Indonesia, if they could that in India, where you build the most amazing buildings surrounded by the slums, the reality is, Anthony, we all know in Jakarta, the most luxurious complex are built around the slum. You got people around you who really don’t have the money.

Iwan Sunito:
And it was almost a contrast of being great amazing, to nothing. That two contrast is actually powerful. In the food industry, the salt and the sweets are needed, the sour salt, because when you eat, the whole thing makes it complete. In the sound industry, I’m sure you know, that when you are standing in a room with the most amazing sound, you actually don’t really know it. But when you put the really bad sound system to a good sound system, then you can feel the difference. But you take that one away and you put that in the house. You just say, it’s another sound system?

Iwan Sunito:
So in architecture I could see in how architecture has the power to move people. So I did that. I turned the whole Parramatta and I thought I’m going to turn it into Bali in Parramatta. And I start putting this beautiful landscape. I start removing a few units, and I turned them into library, common facility and bring the water from the outside to the inside and creating the sense of journey or discovery within the garden. And instead of putting this tiny puny trees, I said to our people, I don’t really want a pot size of landscape. I want three to five metres, tall, instant. And I joke with them, you have to steal it from somewhere else, steal it.

Iwan Sunito:
The joke was, I think all trees in Parramatta disappearing, but you know what? We finished that job and we start changing the perception and we start moving the stock, we get to about 70% sold within two years, a stock that I was struggling to move one unit per month at 30% discount. And at the 30% discount, there’s no way I can make money out of it. I would be losing money. And then by the time I finish, the 30% has gone within the next six months. So it was crisis that turned into opportunity. You just don’t give up and continue to do well to what we have done really well, or what makes us unique or gifted. Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah. I love that. It’s such a good story. It was such a ballsy move, seriously. Because yeah, I imagine everyone would’ve been saying to you, Iwan what the fuck are you doing? This is Parramatta for Christ’s sake. Sorry. I don’t mean to be derogatory to Western Sydney. Parramatta, if you go out there today, if you’re walking down the right street and close your eyes and opened them, you could be in Pott’s Point. Parramatta is really quite a progressive, beautiful city. But at the time when you did that, it wasn’t, okay. And you were competing against people who were racing to the bottom.

Iwan Sunito:
Or people who are used to buying land & houses. To them buying an apartment is not really an option. The reality is Parramatta’s got a lot of wealthy people. Manufacturers, kitchen manufacturers, bathroom manufacturers. Everyone’s actually there. The reason why they’re not buying is because there’s no one building them the products they’re looking for. So they then go to Canada Bay, they go to Breakfast Point, because there’s nothing else in that area that suited their lifestyle. Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah. Still a really courageous though. A really, really great story. I love that story. Okay. So yeah. So that’s how you created the idea of the urban resort and to become, I love this line, the Louis Vuitton of the architectural world. Is it only you that has to say, wow to know when you’ve achieved the desired design level for your project?

Iwan Sunito:
No, I think it has to be everybody that’s going to have to say, wow. That’s a statement that we say in our company in Crown Group where we say, you know how there is a book, Good to Great? We don’t say that you don’t stop at good, you have to stop at great. We say, no, you don’t stop till it’s wow.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah. You should you should write a new book. Good to wow.

Iwan Sunito:
Good to wow. Don’t stop till it’s wow.

Anthony Denman:
Okay. So let’s start talking about some brand stuff. I’ve got to ask you, actually…. Now obviously your first building was called Crown. I want to know why the word crown and I also want to know if you’ve had any conflict or issues with James Packers Crown or the Crown Plaza Hotel brand?

Iwan Sunito:
The Crown name is about the crown of life. So there’s a bit more spiritual, more heavenly meaning. So the Joshua is the beginning of the company. So when I was about to form up the new venture, which is the development company, I thought about the word Crown Group, Crown. But my brand is quite simple in a way, Anthony. And I can’t create this Uber name or Google, my brain is quite simple. I thought Joshua Crown, Crown would be simple.

Iwan Sunito:
So I did that for, I think about 12 to 14 years until one day I was getting my car out from the garage, a postman rang the bell, and then he handed me a document and I look at it. It was basically we’re being sued by Crown Resort.

Anthony Denman:
Wow.

Iwan Sunito:
And then later on, I discovered that it was Crown Group versus Crown Resort versus Crown Plaza. So there you go. So Crown Resort sue me, Crown Plaza sue Crown Resort. So I get tangled into the three crown in that time. So that was quite a interesting name, and of course you learned about later on about IP, register your name before you set up the company. Somebody was saying, I think you should be proud that they ticked you too, because that means you’re significant enough for them to take you. But it was an expensive exercise. But luckily that we all, I think Crown Resort and Crown Group reached a conclusion, a mutual conclusion about the branding, our space, so it was really good.

Iwan Sunito:
That was not so stressful though. I have to say that I can always recreate the brand quite easily. Branding is not something that’s too complex. If you follow a certain formula, you can create brand quite easily. And that’s why we create the SKYE Suites as our SKYE Suites and instead of choosing and tapping into the existing hotel brand, we create our own brand. And now we create the Grand, which is the Grand Center shopping centers, and now we’re embarking and creating the new brand, which is The One Global Capital, which then out of that will birth The One ResidenceMirvac, The One Space, The One Commercial, all that sort of thing.

Anthony Denman:
Wow. Okay. So you’re certainly not done with yet.

Iwan Sunito:
No.

Anthony Denman:
So what’s really interesting to me from a branding perspective is brand model, I guess you’d call it perspective, is that the majority of property developers and Novak for example, who have long been regarded as a leader in our category in that regard, they use an endorsed brand model. What I mean by that is the hero is the project, and then it’s endorsed, but down at the bottom right hand corner sort of stuff. Here’s the logo of the developer.

Anthony Denman:
And the reason generally the category does that is because everyone’s looking for a fresh story to tell. And it’s hard to tell a fresh story if you’re locked into this kind of brand model that’s monolithic, which is your brand model. I mean, even Meriton, right? I mean, probably Meriton and you really, have really been the ones that have been most successful of creating a monolithic brand model and it working. But even Meriton, I’ve noticed recently have reverted back to an endorsed brand model. So why? Why the monolithic brand model and how have you been able to make it work?

Iwan Sunito:
That’s interesting. How would I say that? I’ve been fascinated about that, how much money we spend in creating a brand after brand for every project. And we spend hundreds and hundreds of thousand. We also then spend hundreds and hundreds of thousands of branding that brand. For instance, someone’s going to come up with a new name of a job. Elysium, or the Crown something. Or it could be the Pinnacle. We spend two or 3 million in branding that brand and then it just disappear, because by the time the job is completed, we sold everything out. Nobody really know about that job. So I look at how Mirvacin the early day created a brand when people says, it’s Mirvac product. They didn’t say the name of that job, but they say it’s a Mirvac product.

Iwan Sunito:
And then I’m starting to see how the Mercedes Benz, they have only a small car industry. They have limited brands and they just produce the same kind. The E-Class the S-Class, and they do not change it year by year, as the S become S500 or 600. It’s just the same, S450, 500. But you recognize the brand consistency through the tag line that they have the S. Or in the computer brand, like the Apple industry, you got the iPad, you got everything else. The mono brand on top is Apple Computer.

Iwan Sunito:
So I was really exploring about that, how much money we spend in terms of creating brand after brand that doesn’t exist after about two or three years, Anthony. So that’s why I was fascinated about creating a monolithic brand of The Crown Group and everything that we do it’s really something by Crown Group, because really the real brand is not a job itself.

Iwan Sunito:
But even having said that there’s a difference to what we do though, Anthony. When I create a brand, the front brand, the brand signifies the architecture, the essence, the why the building exists. For instance, Infinity by Crown Group is that beautiful infinity of building. The waterfall is the creation of the tallest manmade waterfall in the Southern hemisphere. The mastery is the collaboration of masters. So there is a name and there’s a brand, the mono brand that we create consistently.

Iwan Sunito:
But I think where people fail Anthony with branding is because their products are not consistent and their offerings are not consistent. And this is where people say that branding is not what we tell to the world who we are, branding is what the world thinks who we are and what we really do. I could say to them, we are luxurious developer. In fact in Crown Group, we actually don’t like using the word luxurious, because we are saying, if we are already luxurious, why do we have to say that? If we are number one, we don’t have to tell the world that we are number one developer, we are the leaders. We don’t have to because if you’re good, you don’t have to tell the world. They already know.

Iwan Sunito:
When you think about the Louis Vuitton, the Bvlgari, the Patek Philippe of the world, they don’t say the most beautiful watches in the world. They just put their brand Patek Philippe, Louis Vuitton and the remit of the product they have stand by itself. And you can see, wow. So that’s where I was looking at the mono brand because simply that it was the cost. It was really learning from the parallel of the industry and shopping centers, Westfield does not create a name for every shopping centers they create. It’s just Westfield London, Westfield Sydney, Westfield Pagewood, so the brand is always that name now.

Iwan Sunito:
But what’s good about Westfield is the consistency that they do not do every shopping center. They just do a shopping center in the right location at the right size, the right format that they want to do. And that’s why when you go to Westfield, there is that feeling of that consistency in their brand.

Anthony Denman:
You’ve answered that perfectly. I think essentially, it’s your blue ocean strategy, right? If you’re out there on the ocean, the blue ocean, all on your own, then you only have to be yourself.

Iwan Sunito:
Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
So I think that’s masterful that you’ve been able to do that. So congratulations to you.

Iwan Sunito:
Thank you.

Anthony Denman:
Let’s talk about your events. Your events, my God. Your events. How much money, I mean, are you able to say? Because seriously, those events, they must cost a fortune to do. I guess I’m curious as to-

Iwan Sunito:
Someone said it is the biggest drinking party in the world.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah.

Iwan Sunito:
People are coming to get a drink.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah. Yeah, but seriously, you don’t hold back.

Iwan Sunito:
No, no, we don’t. And then by the time I have to make a speech, you can’t really speak in front of 3000 people who are drunk. That’s the reality. Yeah. That was good fun.

Anthony Denman:
Do they work? Let’s put COVID aside. Do you feel as though you get a return on your investment there?

Iwan Sunito:
I do believe that’s really one of the thing that creates Crown Group, Crown in itself. But the thing is also Anthony, that I don’t really do event because I want to create big event. We created the event because we want to create this place or this gathering of people to celebrate the innovation and design. So the whole purpose of that event was really not about the branding, creating a big name of Crown Group. It was really the purpose of that is really that I think in our world, sometimes developers have been seen as a bad word. Developers, building crappy building, ugly building, defective work building. And there’s anti-corruptions everywhere. Developers are not perceived, almost perceived like a tobacco company, because we can’t even give donation to the politic. Which is good to some extent, to me it’s fantastic. I think we should remove donation from everybody.

Iwan Sunito:
But it was that perception but also that I thought that this is something that we can organize that the world can celebrate amazing design and innovation. And let’s be the catalyst of that. Yes, it costs a lot of money. I mean, event normally costs about 300,000 to half a million dollars, but that was cheap though, because we’re quite good at creating our own event. Now it creates an mass amazing buildup of branding because it becomes the talk of the town event. The must go to event and we all know, there’s a lot of free event out there that people don’t want to go. We are one event that I have to stop people coming. And sometimes, well, the first event started back in 2015, because I challenged my people, and I said, I was fascinated about how Steve Jobs launched his product.

Iwan Sunito:
So I said to our team, can you launch it like Steve Jobs, but can you do it bigger? And they said, how big do you want? I said, not as big him in terms of the impact on the whole world, but I just want bigger crowd, I said. But also don’t forget, Anthony, truly the passion that I have is about training and teaching people. I’ve been privileged to train myself into speaking in front of anywhere from small crowd to thousand and thousands of people, in front of 20,000 people. So speaking to a big event, I’ve been trained for it, right?

Iwan Sunito:
So my people said, how big you want? I said, 2000 people? They said, what? How do you get 2000 people, they sai what?. I said, it’s easy. Adopt our philosophy. If you want to kill the giant, make the giant small. Don’t ask one person to bring 1000 people, get a thousand people bringing two people. That’s a 2000 people. They said, you’re too ambitious, come on. Let’s not do it. Let’s just go 1000. Sure, sure. If you think that you’re going to do 1000, let’s do 1000.

Iwan Sunito:
So they started to bring 1000. We booked this carriage work venue there for a place that can take 2000 people. So three days before, they start calling me is said, Iwan do you mind if we increase the budget? I said, how many? Can we do more than a thousand? How many? 1500? Sure. The day before they said, Iwan, I think we’ve got already 2000 people wanting to come in. Can we increase it? I said, sure. By the time of the day, it open day, people are just coming and some people were coming to the door and said, oh, by the way, Iwan told me to come. And they text me, is this is your friend? I said, no.

Iwan Sunito:
So you got the crisis where Iwan told me to come. I don’t even know who that guy is. But I thought it was the biggest property event. It was really worth it. Everybody comes together. But we create this amazing platform that I hope really, I think it lifts up the brand. It also lifts up the thinking that architecture is beyond building, beyond bricks and mortar, it’s about lifestyle, it’s about fashion. It’s about people really. And it’s about creation. It’s about design. And that’s what I enjoy the most out of creating that.

Anthony Denman:
If you want to kill the giant, make the giant small. I like that one. That’s good. Okay. So let’s go from there then into the circle. When did you realize how important database procurement and management can be to your business?

Iwan Sunito:
Over time over the number of years and over the time that I was developing a social organization and getting involved with it, I learned about the power of your closest inner circle. And that’s, I call them the core. Your core followers, your core believers kind of thing. And what I learned about that 90% of our business are coming from friends through friends. The only about five to 10% are coming a lot of time from advertisement. So in other words, if I have a buyer who has been recommended by a friend, I’ve got about 10 to 20% success rate to close that deal. But if I have somebody who just come in to our display unit, who who doesn’t know anybody who’s bought from Crown, my chance of success is about 2% if I’m lucky with that.

Iwan Sunito:
So I looking at it that the probability of converting somebody who has come recommended of somebody who’s bought before and bring their friends or buying then, is far larger than that, really. So that’s where I thought the importance of really developing the core, which I call the circle of Crown Group, the inner circle of Crown Group. So we do everything possible to connect them, to help them to build their wealth. And we created a property health report to show them how their investment is growing. And we teach our people, remember that you’re not selling a property to them, but you’re building well for them. And so we focus so much in terms of getting closer to our inner circle. And it’s something that I’ve developed over the last 20 years.

Iwan Sunito:
So in the Crown Group, we have the center of all we can see, which is Crown Group. The first inner circle is a core, the second circle further away, what I call the crowd, people who come to our display unit, experience the Crown, come to our party. And then the third and last circle was really the community. Essentially, the community is people who do not know the brand Crown. They don’t even know Crown Group. Sometimes they think that we are Crown Casino, that sort of thing. So these are the things that we’re developing in Crown Group, Anthony.

Anthony Denman:
Your vision, your dreams for your buildings, they’re so big. How do you recreate a dream like the dreams that you have? How do you recreate that experience in a sales center?

Iwan Sunito:
Yeah, it’s actually quite interesting. I had a group of bankers who come and walk into our development in Top Ryde. And the question they ask is, this is good. My question to you, Iwan is, how can you do better to what’s already been good? And I thought, I like that. How do you become better at what already you’ve done really well out of it, really. And the answer to that is really there’s a lot of constant searching, soul searching, learning, traveling around the world, reading books, and never really stop until it’s wow again, kind of thing. But the wow of Crown Group is the wow of experience is about meaning, architecture is about community. So I don’t stop designing building until I say, that’s it. There’s a heartbeat to the community about this building. Infinity by Crown Group has become the landmark of Sydney.

Iwan Sunito:
It’s because it’s a place where people go to, people are walking through. The beautiful form itself has become an identity for Sydney. Waterfall has become an identity of Sydney. So I search for that from an urban context, but I also search for meanings and purpose, the wow thing from the residents point of view. And part of my learning in architecture was to know that the thing that… Like when we travel around the world, there are buildings where we look at it and we say nothing. There are buildings that we’ll say, my God, and then you walk into it and you say nothing. But there are buildings you look from a distance, in the urban context and you say, wow, it’s amazing. And you go closer to it, you experience a space, it’s just amazing. And I learned that really, the building’s got to look amazing from the distance, but also the building has to have the experience of space that is unique.

Iwan Sunito:
And I consider, I look at it that if you just present a building with just one dimension of experience, where you look at one building a building, and you come to a point, you say, wow. It never really feels good. But when you start experiencing multiple sense of a surprise elements, and then you take them on a journey of height, something about the height that lift up the spirit of mankind. And to some extent, that’s really the reason why people go up to the mountain to pray, right? They don’t go to the valley to pray. They always say, look, I’m going up to the high places to pray. And there is something about the heart that elevates our spirit.

Iwan Sunito:
So I look at the most amazing architecture in the world that are timeless. They go beyond the technological breakthrough. They go beyond the 50 years of lifecycle of building. They in fact gets better over time. The reason for them to get better over time, it’s simply because there is an experience of that that are timeless, and that’s what I’m trying to create. But the experience and the building creation that reaches the head, also the heart, but also the spirit of humankind.

Iwan Sunito:
Coming back to just that thinking about, and often time in business and in marketing or business management talk, we always ask ourselves, what’s our USP? Which is to do with what’s our unique selling proposition. And often time, we fall into the failure or the trap of trying to create something different so that it’s different to other people. But one of the most amazing statement that I heard from a friend of mine, he used to be the Vice President of Regency Hotel. And he was a friend to Adrian Seka, the founder of Amman Hotel. As we all know that Amman founded the first of its kind of boutique hotel that nobody else has ever done. And he has successfully translated that experience that money cannot buy and in return, people are willing to pay for it.

Iwan Sunito:
But his statement was more about that you don’t have to be different to be good, because if you are good, you’re different. And I thought that was so powerful in a way that in the world where we are trying to be different, often time, we are trying to be different to what we’re not very good at. And you can’t be really good at what you are not good at really. And the essence in our life, and part of my learning as an architect was that if you just can be good at what you really are born with or talented with, if you are really good, you’re different. And so the focus of Crown Group is about being us, not about being different.

Iwan Sunito:
When we design our product, when we design our building, when we design our brochure, it wasn’t trying to be, what can it be different to other people? How do we compare with other people brochure? How does our building compare with other people building? We are trying to always consistently ask the questions, what makes us good, that we can be better off? What can we become so good at what we are really good at in the urban resort is part of that, naturally with my upbringing, growing up in the jungle of Kalimantan, nature’s sound, water gardens, and greens are just part of my upbringing. And I’m pretty sure that my children or anyone in the company could never really be what I am, because they do not have the same experience as I did.

Iwan Sunito:
So then we took it to the sales journey of that experience of display unit, how do we take that to the next level? Now I have, I guess, I always take our sales experience center as to the next level. The reason being is that I’ve fallen into the trap of cutting costs, of just delivering the most cost effective display unit. And sometimes it would us the limitation of cost, sometimes it’s because we thought there’s no space, let’s just chuck in a 50 square meter display unit. Let’s just do it there. And the problem that I often see that is it’s a false economy because you spend very little of it and people can’t really experience what you’re trying to convey to them in a small limited space.

Iwan Sunito:
So I go the reverse now, I learn from part of the world that we see the best of the best display unit out there. So I go to the extreme, but where I take it a bit more further beyond the visual is to engage the whole five senses. The smell, the feel, and the emotion of human being and therefore what I did is actually to bring in sound into my display unit. So the sound’s got to be toned in, the whole experience of walking the display unit, it’s got to convey that beautiful or experience that we’re trying to get to. For instance when we were doing Waterfall by Crown Group, creating the tallest manmade waterfall in the country, it was about bringing green to the heart of Sydney, in the middle of Sydney. It was about creating an urban jungle in the urban context. So I just remember this sound, I think one in particular…

Iwan Sunito:
So, I just remember this sound. I think one of particular music that I really like is that The River Flows In You by Yiruma, one of these Japanese pianists, and he created this song The Rivers Flow In You. It was this beautiful melody and it was interesting in how when people walked in they just feel like they’re in a resort somewhere, but when you turn off that sound, for instance, you don’t feel the same thing. And I use sound, for instance, when I talk about experience. It goes beyond just a display unit. When I’m speaking to the community when I was unveiling the projects of Waterfall by Crown Group in front of the thousands of people I brought in sound to the whole setting to send that message of that the whole journey, the whole feel that I want people to experience that.

Iwan Sunito:
So, that’s something that probably beyond the look and feel, the cleanliness, the nice look and feel that people are often thinking about in the display unit. I go beyond that and try to engage the five senses. The smell, it’s another thing. You walk in there and then you walk into the bathroom. I introduced these cubicles within the bathroom enclose with glass gardens inside it. As you walk into the bathroom people feel like they’re outdoor. It was just like the small thing that people say, “Wow, this is beautiful.” So, they walk into our display unit, didn’t want to go out again because they just feel so much home.

Anthony Denman:
So relaxed. I’m glad you brought that project up, actually, the Waterfall project. Would the Waterfall project be the project that would most reflect your architectural style which was, I guess, manifested in you through your childhood years?

Iwan Sunito:
I think so. I think that was almost like we’re taking it to the next level with the bamboo tunnel and meandering into this bamboo pathway leading into an open space. I guess the Waterfall by Crown Group was almost the next level of the evolution of the urban resort of Crown Group. And that’s something that I’m now learning lately about the power of biophilic design, biophilic design, in term of that green landscaping. It’s not just good for the psychology of the human being but also it brings a positive impact to your physiology because when you tend to be calm, your heart beats are into kind of rest a bit better. So there’s a lot of psychological but also physiological impact to the human being.

Iwan Sunito:
And I learn about how the small things that we take it for granted, for instance, like how sounds can cause you to flight or fight. In other words, that loud sound like roaring sound of a jungle animal to cause you to be alarm. Loud sounds of cars cause you to be on a flight, on a fight mode but but gentle sound of water, the sounds of wind of rustling through the leaves and this cause you to be peaceful, to be calm. I think we all know that we are at most creative when we’re not panicking or when we are at this almost meditation level where we say, wow, I’m at home and that’s when creativity begins to flow.

Iwan Sunito:
Post COVID 19 or during the COVID 19, we realized that an apartment is not just an apartment, it is your sanctuary. And I thought that was just amazing how we developed something out of what I used to grow up with and now we’re taking after Waterfall, we are taking it to the next level in Mastery by Crown Group design by Kengo Kuma, not just the horizontal garden, but creating this garden practically within the building. And I thought that was the next level. I had a feeling that city is going to start moving towards that sort of green design when trees are not just growing horizontally but it grows vertically within a building. Why can’t it be that the whole city can be like the Mayan city where the city was covered by jungle?

Anthony Denman:
I love that. No, that’s great. There’s quite a bit to get through there. I do want to talk about your process of ideation and creativity, but we’ll get to that later. Yeah. No, I love it. I love the way you articulate that thinking too in your videos where you’re kind of walking through the bamboo forest and you’re in these really exotic locations and you’re drawing on that kind of creative inspiration as to where the thinking came from. It’s really kind of emotionally compelling and really well done. I can see that you’re also, apart from focused on the sales journey, you’re also really focused on video content and making sure that you really articulate those thoughts in a really creative and engaging way. So, that’s fantastic.

Anthony Denman:
I did want to talk to you about architecture because that’s your original passion, I guess. I’ve got quite a few questions around architecture. The first one is, how does an architect select an architect? What’s your criteria?

Iwan Sunito:
Yes, and the problem of two architects working in the room you’ll end up with a conflict or a fight because it’s either one is useless or one is too good and the other one really is struggling to understand the concept

Anthony Denman:
Which one are you?

Iwan Sunito:
I think I do tap into really a lot of these great architects out there. I do picked up architect that kind of share the same philosophy language and colors and style of architecture to what I’m trying to get to. For instance, in the design of most of our latest building, Koichi Takada has been almost a dominant architect and he’s really good at bringing the concept of nature’s gardens into the building. And then Kengo Kuma took it to the next level. Again, just dealing with these people that kind of inspires me even more to design better building.

Iwan Sunito:
It was just amazing. And to work with those people is easy. Now, I’ve also worked with architects that I just struggle or they struggle with me, maybe the opposite where I struggle because they just are not creative enough to deliver the one architecture design that I thought is going to be world class. I think in a way that part of my training, part of my learning from traveling around the world, I’m looking for this one amazing idea, one amazing iconic architecture that engages the community and also for the resident that live in it. And that’s quite hard because a lot of times architects are good at the outside but not very good at the inside and they also struggle to create this urban resort feel and look, but sometimes their style of architecture or finishing a too far from where I want it to be. For instance, there are architects out there who are really good at modern architecture like Zaha Hadid of the world. I love their form but I think I’ll struggle with their interior because their interior is not really what I’m trying to get to.

Iwan Sunito:
But there are architects like fjmt for instance who are very good at creating more urban civic center. And Koichi doesn’t have the same skillset as fjmt, the more creating this more urban context. So I use fjmt for more of those design that will relate more to the areas and more about the civics place. And there are architects like Adam Haddow from SJB who’s very good at in between. He’s very good at concrete finishes. He’s really excellent with that sort of more minimalist and more quite Japanese in itself, but quite Australian. And I can work with them.

Iwan Sunito:
The one that I really struggle with is the one that really has got a lot of opinion about themself and they’re not very good. I struggle with it or they’re very good, but the way they do things is just, this is it and there’s no other choices other than that. The one that are super clever, they don’t have to be dominant to us, they’re just clever. I was working with Kengo Kuma team, my head of Brisbane wanting to get Kengo to design that building in West End in Brisbane. As I take through the journey, I could see the intelligence of them of designing space, but I wasn’t so impressed. The initial phase was more about block block building and building masses, building form and they look at the space. And I thought that’s really, really interesting because today every architect are giving you into CAD drawing. But as they build building, they put the masses, it actually becomes a lot easier for us to understand. But as they lay down the foundation and they take it to the next level, and this is where they have their genius. I was saying to my team, “I think I’m going to have struggle at the end of it.” But then they deliver the last stroke and I said, “My God.” They had it in their mind already on what the space going to look like, and that’s just when the genius is in place.

Iwan Sunito:
People like kengo Kuma has seen the end from the beginning when I do not see the end from the beginning. He see what it will look like. He see the space. He see the whole building in totality, the architecture, the urban building, the garden, the space in between, the pool, the facility. He see it all right from day one, which I fail to see.

Anthony Denman:
I want to know how you found Koichi because I remember when I first met Koichi he was just a young boy and he was working, I think, it was at, was it PTW? I think it was-

Iwan Sunito:
Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, I think it was PTW. First time I met him and Andrew Anderson, is it? Yeah, Andrew. I remember Andrew brought him into the room and introduced him. There was just something about him. I don’t know what it was, but you could kind of just feel that he wasn’t going to stay at PTW for very long. How did you find him? You must have found him either while he was at PTW or sort of shortly after that.

Iwan Sunito:
I’ve heard of him from the work that he designed for Dr. Quek.

Anthony Denman:
Was he at PTW when he designed Stanley’s work?

Iwan Sunito:
I think he must have been by himself, but it’s quite a small operation by that time. And he designed this beautiful timber louvre system to hide the kitchen and that’s all he kind of designed for it. He took one interior…

Anthony Denman:
That’s right. Central Park in the display suite. Yeah, okay. All right. That’s it.

Iwan Sunito:
I remember I thought, how do you get to know him? Is he from Japan? I didn’t know that he was actually a Japanese New York train architect that lived in Sydney, is an Aussie. So I thought I have to go to Japan to find, but he was impressive in the whole presentation. So that’s how I get to know him. And then we give him one first job back in the year 2000 in Paramatta where we’re designing V by Crown Group there and he does the design of the interior. And then he asked whether he can do a next job, which is the Skye by Crown Group in North Sydney. He did the design and then he was asking whether he can do the documentation for that job and we said sure on the basis that he strengthened his construction documentation team and then the rest is history.

Iwan Sunito:
He built up his business from maybe five to 10 people to about 40 people and just grew massively from there on. Then he designed Skye by Crown Group. He designed ARC by Crown Group. He won the competition for Green Square. He designed our LA job. He designed our Indonesian job. He designed almost everything that we’re doing today. Yeah. He was working together with Kongo Kuma on Mastery because he’s always said to me, look, if there is any architect that you got to work with one day, it’s got to be Kengo. So we did. Finally I managed track on to track down Kengo and I flew all the way to Tokyo to catch up with him.

Anthony Denman:
That’s fantastic. Another a great story. I wanted to ask you, I think a lot of developers kind of lean on their architectural the equity, I guess you’d say, that’s built up in the architectural brand, the architect’s brand to leverage their projects. You see that all the time whether PTW or KAANFINCH or DKO or whoever it might be. The project was designed by those guys. Usually they’re sitting in a sales office usually beside a model talking about the architectural intent. So I wanted to ask you, it’s almost like the architects need you, they need your brand more than you need the architect’s brand.

Iwan Sunito:
I think that’s not quite true. I’d love to think that way, but I have to say that we can stand on our own feet as a brand. And often time the ideas was not always coming from the architect, it’s actually coming from us, from me as the developer. For instance like Mastery by Crown Group was more about a creation of five architectural masterpieces in one urban context and it’s creating that sense of community place. So when I went to Kengo and challenged him, not challenge him, I was not convinced that he’s going to take one building. And I thought it’s too small for this super famous guy. But I talked to him about creating a community place for the city of Sydney and he fell in love with the idea. And I was also talking to him in Brisbane. The design has been approved and somebody else has actually got the design approved by the council, but I wasn’t really happy because the design it’s good but it doesn’t engage the community into our space.

Iwan Sunito:
When we talk to Kengo, we talk about this idea about how do you bring the community some to walk through into your private space and creating more of these chapel places where the community can actually be using it. It’s almost like a stage of theaters and amphitheaters for the whole community in this river banks of West End. And that’s the idea. It’s not so much about the building itself, it’s actually that space. And Kengo took it to the next level.

Iwan Sunito:
But I have to say that there are architects out there like Kengo who can sell products because of his name. I have people buying Mastery by Crown Group because they just love Kengo. I mean it’s a good, not just for branding, Anthony. Great architect don’t allow average design to be allowed under their name. They don’t stick their name unless the design is going to be good. The problem often time is more when the developer build the products whether they’ll be willing to be consistent in term of the delivery of an amazing architecture into real building. I have seen Zaha Hadid design in Beijing. That was amazing. I think they call them the Galaxy, but it was really poorly delivered, the detail, the materials that are being used. It’s just poor. And within one or two years such an amazing design starting to look like they’re falling apart.

Iwan Sunito:
So that great design, but people do go to see that building because it’s Zaha Hadid and I think people do go see these Sydney Opera House because it’s Jorn Utzon. It was his name. He used his brand. And I’ve always think that city council of Sydney it’s just that being a bit more brave in term of engaging the world class architects to bring tourists and the like to come. I’m pretty sure that soon people going to start coming to Mastery by Crown Group because they want to see how does Kengo deliver an amazing building and then West End. It becomes like a tourist destination.

Anthony Denman:
I love it. Did a quote from you and it was done when we had our pre-conversation before we went live on air. This is the quote, “Perfection is achieved when nothing else needs to be removed. Do one thing only and do it really, really well,” end of quote. There’s a certain architectural style and language to everything you do and it’s kind of like Japanese Zen meets Swedish slickness. How did you land on that style?

Iwan Sunito:
By nature I don’t like complex things in my head, Anthony. I try to simplify complex things that become simple. Maybe it’s partly the architecture’s training that I’ve been brought up with. It’s like one of the Plato philosophies that he say something like, “How can many be one when one is not many and many is not one?” So it’s how do you deliver an amazing building, amazing architecture that are so complex because by nature buildings are very complex. You got bricks, windows, you got concretes, you got so many materials. I think in a way that training of architecture that trying to make so many moving pieces in a building to become one thing, one theme.

Iwan Sunito:
That’s what I’m trying to get to as a building. But the experience also tell me or tell every one of us that the most iconic building in the world is a simple building, for instance, Sydney Opera House is a sail. It’s so simple and yet it’s so complex to put that building together. And I think we also learn that when people in the world of speech, when people starting to say, let me tell you five things or seven things, a brain just trying to be too confused. The most memorable speech in our life is one single speech, I Have a Dream. It’s that one thing. It’s not dissimilar to the architectural world where the simplicity of everything to be that one thing. One theme is the one that makes us remember that.

Iwan Sunito:
So as I learned, I realized that Japanese is the master of simplicity. They took architecture creation of anything, whether it’s design or furniture to a very simple design, the art of bonsai, the art of nothingness. And I learned in their thinking is that the perfection was achieved when you cannot remove anything else. As long as you can still remove pieces, it’s not perfect yet. And I think that’s really the language that I’m trying to do, but also I did very complex building in the past and I look at it and I said, my God, it’s so complex. I don’t even understand what I’m trying to do there. If you can see lately the architecture of Crown Group, ARC by Crown Group, Green Square, Infinity by Crown Group which is that sort of infinity look and feel and the Mastery by Crown Group, the practical stacking forest and 22 story greens. It is actually trying to reach that simplicity.

Iwan Sunito:
But somehow I have also drawn to a lot of the Swedish architecture, Swedish interior design and finishes that are simple that have white timber, yellow. I can’t tell you why, but the two of them kind of merged together to become the language of Crown Group. And every time I try to do anything, I may be excited with some other products, but I’m going to be only excited for a moment. But my instinct, my brain’s starting to draw back again to a very, very simple design, iconic, because it’s beautiful simplicity.

Anthony Denman:
Beautiful. Thank you. All right. I’m going to change tact a little bit here. It’s actually interesting because you talked about delivery and making sure that the end product is worthy of the original idea. And I guess that’s why I’ve sat in so many auditoriums over the years and seeing you up on stage accepting awards. Do you think those awards, do you think that they add value to your brand and to a person’s decision making process when it comes to buying from the Crown Group?

Iwan Sunito:
I think it has a lot of value, especially to the unknown people that want to know who are the award winners, whether that’s going to contribute to your business growth or not. That’s another level of experience, another level of learning. But there is no doubt that that people do win awards because they are one of the better people in the industry and often the selection and the award selection was actually chosen by people who are coming from the industry. I lost track of how many awards we have today.

Anthony Denman:
I’m not surprised. I’m not surprised.

Iwan Sunito:
I don’t know. Yeah, I lost track. But it’s also good to see when we don’t win too. In one time we were sponsors of the UDIA President’s Award and we didn’t win it and my staff was getting a bit cranky like that this is unfair. I think our building is better. Let’s pull out from the sponsorship and I said, “No, you’re wrong.” I said, “Let’s sponsor it but do not put a submission. Let us be the one who celebrates other people’s success.” So the year after we still sponsor it until today. But I said to our people, “Let’s not… It would be unfair if we win it to me. You’re the sponsors and you win it too. But then again, the people from that industry will say, “No Iwan, you have to because the decision is not made by you, none of your sponsorship was going to impact us, but we do want your products to also be competing against the best of the best out there.”

Iwan Sunito:
And I have to say that in that year when they won the award there are other things that they have done really well that I thought, wow, I can learn something from them or we all can something from everybody else.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah. It’s very humble of you. I want to talk to you about, and it’s one of my kind of most interesting subjects, the process of ideation, of creating big ideas. Now, without getting too metaphysical on you, I believe that the best ideas don’t come from the mind. I think your biggest and best ideas come from a deeper place within your being that is far more creative than what our mind is and the way you tap into that inner being is by actually not thinking at all and not necessarily through collaboration either. But I’m definitely interested in your take on that and how you come up with your very best ideas.

Iwan Sunito:
Wow. This is very deep.

Anthony Denman:
I warned you.

Iwan Sunito:
I think it’s interesting, isn’t it Anthony? Where do the idea come from? How do we move from one building, the urban resort in Paramatta to building on top of the biggest shopping center in Top Ryde, creating the next urban resort and then moving into a very modern Infinity building and then moving into the next tallest building of Waterfall and then building a 20 story vertical stack garden in Mastery. I think probably part of it there’s a lot of collaborations. There’s a lot of learning. There’s a lot of humility to know that. I like that word from Bill Gates who says that, “Success is a lousy teacher because it seduces smart people into thinking that they cannot fail.” I have had projects that I thought, wow, that was bad and we just don’t show it to the world. You kind of say “What?” And it’s like when you feel like you’ve made it and you took the next challenge for granted and that’s when ideas does not flow.

Iwan Sunito:
But there are also times when I just reach deep within my heart, my soul in a way that, what would it be like if I am somebody else walking around that building? Will I be inspired by that building? Will I say, wow? What would it be like if I’m the residents living in that building? Would I be saying to you, wow, I want to live in it? It that sort of reaching up to deep inside about the community but also about you yourself if you are in it.

Iwan Sunito:
So often architects come to me and say, “Look, Iwan this is great.” “Okay, let me ask you this question,” I said. “Will you live in it yourself?” And they say, “Oh, I live in Paddington. I live in this area.” Well, if it’s not, if I can’t move you as the designer that wants to live in it then it’s not really, really there yet. But I’m also looking at reaching this sense of completeness of architecture or ideas that build ideas that translate through a building that engages the head, which is the intellectual level and the heart that most people, heart like the emotion of human being but also looking at ideas that will lift the spirit of human being. So these are more than just a building how many rooms, how many square meter. I’ve done it for 25 years to kind of know what it’s like to do that, right? What I’m trying to find is that great architecture of the world, great design of the world, doing it’s the head where you said, wow, that’s clever. It’s not gimmicky, it’s clever the way it’s been put together is clever, but also looking at the heart of human being that’s kind of making you feel happy.

Iwan Sunito:
This is the thing that when somebody who was saying about our building every time they walk through ARC by Crown Group in the city, she said that, I don’t know what is it about this building that makes me happy. Every time I walk in front of this building, I’m happy. That’s a heart of a person, but the one that rarely I explored in modern architecture or modern building is about engaging the spiritual of a person that makes them lifted up to a height of inspiration or aspiration. And I do believe that that can only be engaged through all of the things together, but also through the sense of lifting up people through height because the experience and through the vertical journey do engages people in a different place. And this is probably why in the history and even today people talk about going up to the mountain to pray. There is something about the mountain, the height that engages the spirit of a human being.

Iwan Sunito:
So in my architecture, in my building, I try to do all of that. Now, how I deliver it can be from many ways. It can be through creating the tallest man made waterfall and taking them through the building and into the sky cinemas in Waterfall or it can just be through Infinity building level nine, which is not the tallest building, but this is a space like a bar for the community that live in it to see the whole city 360 degree.

Iwan Sunito:
And that sort of thing that I’m trying to get to consistently in our building, in our design, Anthony. So that’s when I get that and I said, now I’ve got it. But I have to say that I’m not there yet. There are things and places that I love the most. So as we’re are back into the 2021 and 2030 vision of the business, there are architecture that I thought, wow, I want to get to that level of perfection.

Anthony Denman:
So the Waterfall idea, that didn’t come to you while you were meditating?

Iwan Sunito:
Not really because I’m not like other people who meditate like in the morning or the like, but I do have my own time when I walk, I dream about things. When I’m not doing anything like on the boat, for instance or when I walk among along the beaches and that’s where inspiration often come and suddenly they just bang, you see an image and you say, wow. And the funny thing is sometimes it actually come through when I was dreaming. It’s like I was hoping what I’m trying to get to when I was dreaming and I walk up and said, “That’s it. That’s the solution.” But it was a process of really looking at a solution that I haven’t found yet. And often it’s collaboration, often talking to people, often just looking at other people, often looking at amazing spaces that other people have actually created.

Iwan Sunito:
So, it’s not always created in the vacuum, Anthony, it’s often created through seeing the foundation of what other people have done.

Anthony Denman:
Is Paul Sathio? Is that how you say his name?

Iwan Sunito:
Yes.

Anthony Denman:
Paul. So him and Anthony’s Sun, are they still business partners of yours?

Iwan Sunito:
Yeah. Anthony was no longer part of the early job. Anthony was part of almost maybe the 10% of the early business and Paul is still in the journey with me until today. But Anthony’s still in a partnership with two jobs that we still have to do.

Anthony Denman:
Because that’s pretty rare. You don’t get many partnerships that last that long.

Iwan Sunito:
I know. It’s like a marriage, isn’t it?

Anthony Denman:
Yeah. Well, it is. Yeah, it is. Me and my business partner, we’ve been together for 27, 28 years. And I actually knew him before that. We used to surf together as kids. Because it’s been a very successful partnership yours. Why do you think that is?

Iwan Sunito:
I think it’s exactly what happened to you. I know them before. I know-

Iwan Sunito:
Exactly what happened to you? I know them before. I know them through university. Well, Paul is a good badminton player, so I get to know him. I’m not worried. I’m okay with badminton, but I’m not at his level. But I’m very good at organizing badminton competition. So I’m good at staging people. I’m good at putting people together. Anthony was a good friend of 20, 30 years of my uncle and my auntie from Hong Kong. So Anthony represents a group from Hong Kong. My auntie and my uncle is part of my family and Paul is a friend. So that’s one of it, you do get to know them for many years.

Iwan Sunito:
The other things that I really feel that will survive any business partnership is that you must have a skill that complete and not compete with one another. I’m good at architecture design. My business partner likes building. Anthony is a real estate agent in the early day. So you can see the marketing skill, mind skill, the building skill that combines together. But I think integrity and honesty is playing a big role of it, because if all we are trying to do is to do things that are beneficial for ourself only, the partnership will never really last for this long.

Iwan Sunito:
So I feel like there are three Cs that helps any business partnership. Three Cs that helps us in deciding who is going to be our future leader. The first one is chemistry. The culture, chemistry. The second one is about character, integrity, resilience. All of these things makes up a person. And the third thing is about capacity, which is capacity that completes rather than compete. Because what happens is if I like designing and my business partner likes designing too, we’ll end up with a fight very soon. But in a way that I have my space and I kind of have the freedom to create Crown Group, what it needs to be today.

Anthony Denman:
Have you had any aggressive confrontations at all?

Iwan Sunito:
I think that’s normal in business partnership, right. But I think you do end up disagreeing with things, but I love what I learned from being an Aussie. You yell and you shut and you finish off, and it’s not personal, as long as you focus on more non-personal thing and you move on with life. We also make sure that no family get involved in our business. So that’s a policy from day one because the moment that you bring the wife, the kids and the like, but you’ll end up with an argument

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, really.

Iwan Sunito:
Whether you like, whether you don’t, they’re always your hero. They’re perfect for you.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah. Really good point.

Iwan Sunito:
But I have also had partnership that has led into court.

Anthony Denman:
Really?

Iwan Sunito:
Yeah. I had a partnership of a project that I did in the North Shore. I wouldn’t tell the name, but it was… At the end of the day, I should have known it because the guy has always been involved with litigation with every partnership that he has. He was just challenging, the most difficult person that we had. We formed the partnership after meeting him and we fell in love with the first side. Everything that’s spoken, it sounds right.

Iwan Sunito:
We did that. But there is also a partnership that we didn’t continue, but we managed to finish amicably and we moved on with life, which is really the way it should be. And to be honest Anthony, that no partnership will last forever. Sooner or later it has to have an end. I mean, whether that’s through age or through different priority in life. So I think it’s a matter of how a partnership really big enough to say, look, if there are differences, what often time that can divide us, let’s let our purpose be the one who unified us.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah. it was funny, I don’t know. I wonder how old would I’ve been. Maybe seven or eight years old. And I was a going to St. Patrick’s primary school in Wellington street at Bondi. And there was a park just down the street. And that is where… And I hope you don’t mind Lynn, Lynn Wiley was her name. That’s where I had my very first kiss. Do you remember your first kiss?

Iwan Sunito:
I actually don’t remember, but I remember the first time that I held her hand. I don’t remember the first kiss, but I remember the time that I held her hand. It was in the Catholic church.

Anthony Denman:
You do say that it’s very important that you’ve got to be the first at everything. So I guess the question is why is it so important for you to create industry firsts?

Iwan Sunito:
I mean, anecdotally, evidence is this power of being the first because we don’t we remember our first girlfriend, but we kind of not remember the second or the third one. So I’ll remember our first kiss and we remember… There’s something about being the first. And we remember the first man landing on the moon. We’re starting to worry or not remember the second one, the third one, and the fourth. It is almost impossible for us to remember.

Iwan Sunito:
So I learned the power of being the first day. So it’s almost like every time we do something here, how can it be the first? How can it be the only thing? Now, the funny thing is that being the first does not mean that we have to be the only one that did it. Often time that we can recycle an old idea into a new thing, there is the first one.

Iwan Sunito:
I mean, there’s nothing brand new, but vertical garden in the building. I mean, Dr. Quick has done it. But doing it in a building that’s stacked up, that’s different, that’s unique, that’s uniquely different. So I do push for that sort of experience being the first. And I don’t like copying other people because it’s boring. It’s almost like… I’ve always said to our team, remember this one. No matter how good is a song, after about 30 or 40 times you sing it, it gets really boring.

Iwan Sunito:
And this is where we always joke about. And people who go to church and the same song leaders are saying, let’s sing that song again. Let’s sing again. And in the next 10 weeks because it was popular, it just gets boring. I think there’s something about a human mind that just wants to find something new. So I’m looking at that from building, I’m looking at it from my experience of display unit, I’m looking at it from our brochures. I’m also looking at it from when we build up the loyalty at the circle of Crown Group looking after and really… Not looking after really, taking care and giving the best to our customers. Finding that first experience that they haven’t seen, they haven’t done.

Anthony Denman:
You’ve had some really good mentors in your life. Industry titans such as Bob Hamilton who was one of the founders of Mirvac, Dr. Stanley Quek who founded Frasers, the chairman of Garuda, Robby Djohan. I think you said it. This will really test me this one, the president of Indonesia, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Iwan Sunito:
Yudhoyono?

Anthony Denman:
Is that the correct…

Iwan Sunito:
Yeah. You did well.

Anthony Denman:
That’s a tough one. Which one of these people has had the most profound impact on your life and why?

Iwan Sunito:
I have to say all of them do bring impact to my life in a different way. Robby Djohan taught me about the power of, you’re only as good as your leader. His statement that’s profound to me, it’s about that you can only be as good as your people. And he said that don’t bank on the project but bank on the person that runs the job. And he came from the banking world by the way, so he taught me that. People like Bob Hamilton inspire me so much. The real thing that makes Mirvac great when he was leading it, it was just his passion about layout perfection to every detail that he does.

Iwan Sunito:
Dr. Quek inspired me that you could take the development game in Sydney to the world class or international platform rather than using local… Only limited to local capacity we have. I mean, there’s a lot of great people here we have, but he took it to the Norman Foster of the world. And he took what is not a center of CBD like Chippendale. I mean, where Central Park and turned that into a destination for people.

Iwan Sunito:
So all of them have brought so much deep impact to me, but I’ve been fortunate Anthony, but also I’ve always looked for them for this mentor in my life. So it’s always something that I constantly search for people. But what’s also… A lot of time people talk about, let’s go and find me a mentor, but it’s one thing to find a mentor, but it’s another thing to find people who want to mentor you. So I have this statement that says that it’s nice to know great people, but it’s nicer to know people who want to see greatness in you.

Iwan Sunito:
I’ve been privileged to get know people like John Gamble. I mean, he’s an introverted tutor in my year four of University of New South Wales. He’s a guy that is just like, you wouldn’t notice him in the room but he is… Almost, if I could see a pinnacle, a turning point, he was instrumental in that, because I was struggling, I was searching for a way to become one of the best in design, but I was struggling. But in that year four, I had him in that turning around. He taught me the power of knowing why you do things. And so he asked us to design a retreat building and I come up with this building form that was circular or whatever that may be. And he said, Iwan, why is it a circle? I said, why? Why not? In fact, why is it not square?

Iwan Sunito:
And I said, my God, what does he really want to do? He said, look Iwan, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with your circle. Why did you pick up a circle? Why can’t it be square? Why can’t it be rectangle? Why can’t it be a pyramid? Why can’t it be something else? But what he taught me was about finding the reason why you do things. And once you find that reason why you do things, you become unchangeable or unmovable.

Iwan Sunito:
So I discovered that power of knowing the why, the purpose, the reason before you put everything together. And the benefit of that I learned from that time is, once I form up my thinking within the first four weeks of that semester, I know exactly where I want to go. And then from there on I just developed that same concept and grow that skillset over the next number of months that we have. So in that year, I managed to get high distinction in the year that he was coaching me. So he was really good. So that was one mentor that I thought was a turning circle in my life

Anthony Denman:
I want to know how you deal with pressure in your day, in your life. So how you deal with fear when you’re launching a project, and how you deal with the near miss moments in your life. And how do you rise from those situations?

Iwan Sunito:
How do I deal with fear? Deal it badly like everybody else do. But I think it’s funny, isn’t it? No matter how high you’ve met in line, no matter you have enough reserve in the account, in the business to wait at the storm, the mind has a trick to wonder in itself. And often time it plays in itself at night, and you are not being able to do anything.

Iwan Sunito:
You panic for things that are not even there. But over time I learned a couple of simple discipline in my life. Number one is to… I learn it more from my dad, how he always exercised in the morning. And I learned that through exercise in the morning, my brain is starting to function. I get happier. It’s the endorphin within our body that kicks in the natural element.

Iwan Sunito:
So this is a simple things that we do in our life. So I woke up in the morning, for instance, that’s a couple of weeks ago and I was panicking. I just jump into the pool and start swimming, and then the next 15 minutes I’m ready to fight. My mood started to change. There are times when I had a… Preparing something and my brain is clogged, and I was going to be an hour later.

Iwan Sunito:
You see me talking in front of thousands of people right in the function, there are moments when I said, what’s the idea? This is hopeless, right. I know how to have a break and start going around and get my blood pumping again. And that’s a moment the brain just kick in and the ideas begin to flow, speech begins to just assemble together. I had moments when I had to present to people in a very important function and I was tired. I was just not there. And so the good thing is when you have your hotel, you can just go to your hotel and have a shower, right?

Anthony Denman:
Yeah.

Iwan Sunito:
So I go there, I had a shower. 30 minutes later, I go in and suddenly everything just makes sense, right. So one is physical exercise. The other thing is, of course, I try to transform myself through the renewing of my mind. In other words, I just force my brain and my mind to keep on remembering the good things. And when I’m full of fear, I know that I’d rather choose faith rather than fear because… And I keep on saying, no, it’s going to be great, it’s going to be good. The other discipline that I have is, I surround myself with very good people who are the can do type of people.

Iwan Sunito:
But there’s nothing more powerful Anthony than keeping the dream alive in our life. It is that dream that kind of compels me to keep fighting, to keep rising up when I’m tired. I exercise when I’m really not sure what to do, I mix with friends. It’s almost not letting go the dream that I had right from day one. And the dream as we all know, evolve. That dream is the one that keeps me focused. The dream that gives me the power or gives me the extra strength to bounce back and fight back again. The dream that kind of makes me more stubborn when people said it can’t be done. Well, that’s okay because it’s not your dream, it’s my dream.

Iwan Sunito:
But it’s also a dream that kind of helps me to be not trying to run the race that other people are running, because no matter how good you are, somebody else is going to be better than us. No matter how rich you are, somebody else is going to be rich than you. And no matter how amazing you are, sooner or later we’re going to stop losing ideas. But it was that ability to just be focused, that dream that helps me to be focused on what I want to do. So that keeps me going. That keeps me bouncing back. And there are moments that I feel like giving up, but it’s the compass. It’s almost navigation in our life, that dream, that kind of vision and dream that brings me back to where I want to be.

Iwan Sunito:
So for instance, I want to go design a city one day. So I’m learning the pieces here and there. Sometimes I get tired, but over time I’m starting to learn how to put units, shops, units on top of shops. Now we are doing units and shops together, a shopping center. And now I’m starting to… I really want to give back something to Indonesia. But going back to Indonesia was not so much about the development itself, but it’s actually creating a city, a knowledge center city.

Iwan Sunito:
It’s really similar to what the governor of Stanford has done in Stanford. I mean, he donated his wealth in terms of creating the most amazing university there. And I thought, why wouldn’t Indonesia be the center of learning for the world? Because after all, it’s already up to 275 million people. But that’s a dream. That’s the one that keeps compelling me to go back and trying to give it a go. And then that gets me excited meeting with people and learning.

Anthony Denman:
That’s great. I hope you pull that off because that sounds like an amazing dream to have. I’ve got to ask… And we’re getting towards the end now. So thank you so much. You’ve been so generous with your time. I really appreciate it.

Iwan Sunito:
I’m enjoying it. Thank you so much, Anthony.

Anthony Denman:
Why is grace and being grateful so important to you?

Iwan Sunito:
As a business people in the early day of my career, there are moments where I felt like I am trying to chase almost the rainbow that I never have and trying to do things to get to where I want it to be. But over time I’ve realized how it will be given to us if it’s for us, which I call the grace. Grace, which really means the unmerited favor. It’s a favor that someone from above is giving to our life that we didn’t do anything to deserve that favor. It’s a kindness that we have in our life. So that grace kind of helps me today to kind of be at peace with myself when I’m not there yet, but also that grace also gives me that faith to believe that if it’s for me, I’m going to get it there. But if it’s not for me, it’s fine.

Iwan Sunito:
But the grace also, I think, helps me to… Understanding the grace concept also helps me not to try to. I mean, sometimes I struggle not to be big head about what we’ve done. And because after all, it’s a skillset that I didn’t choose` when I was born, it was given to us, every one of us. Nothing that we do with it kind of deserves that gift, but we have it. So to kind of be grateful then coming back to that gratefulness about what we have been given with the skillset or with the gifting in our life, let’s be grateful. And how can we turn that blessing in our life into a blessing through somebody else?

Iwan Sunito:
So this grace and gratefulness is an important part of me. And in the early day that, I think it’s probably more of the culture of the Asian cultures that we focus so much on what we haven’t got. We focus about what we haven’t achieved. We focus so much about what we have not become. We talk about what’s division, but that’s to some extent… It’s not just Asian culture but the media also gear up for that. It’s just human nature. We like all the negative things and the gossip and what’s going on wrong.

Iwan Sunito:
Gratefulness is about saying, I’m just grateful to what I have, and I’m grateful that I’ve picked up my first garage. I’m grateful that I picked up the next house. I’m grateful even if I lost a job. I’m grateful when I don’t make it. I’m grateful about what I can learn from the failure that I have. So that gratefulness makes me to be more at peace. Now, where Crown Group is at a level where it needs to be, I’m grateful. And I’m just grateful that there is that sort of… We are where we are today because of the grace that I have received in our life.

Anthony Denman:
The more you think about what you have, the more you have. The more you think about what you don’t have, the less you have. I’m going too ask a bit more of a personal question. How has being a father changed your life? And what is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned from that experience?

Iwan Sunito:
I think you learn that they all are different for a start, but you also learn that every one of them is a product of grace too, because everyone of them is got their own gifting. But also I learn about transferring what I learned from dad about more faith language to them rather than fear language. The fear language was more about, well, if you don’t do it well you’re going to fail miserably. That’s the fear language. And what I learned from really even the experience of speaking faith and word of faith, word of kindness to them is the one that builds them up the most.

Iwan Sunito:
When I was challenging my oldest son, Sam, to study in America, I was saying to him that… I don’t know how I know it. I said, when I came to this country here, I’m kind of confident that I’m going to do well here because I saw how my dad did it well. So I said to him, but I also have this feeling that you’re going to do even better than dad. You’re going to do even more amazing things than me. You had the intelligence, you have capacity. And why don’t you go to the best university in the world. Give it a go. If you don’t make it, it’s fine, but give it a go as a goal, as a vision in your life.

Iwan Sunito:
Now, guess what? For the next one year, the same boy that was… He was clever, but he was middle ranking in the Scott College. And he put himself to that vision and that kind of more ideas and believing that he will do great things too. And guess what, he finished his high school with the mark of 99.92 something. He became the top seven kid and everybody says, where is this dark horse coming from? So it was that lesson. So I transfer more of that language of faith in running the business, Anthony. I transfer it whenever I go and speak into the media because I really don’t believe that the alternative, which is the fear language, helps anybody.

Iwan Sunito:
It’s good to know. Let’s not be unrealistic about not ignoring things. The facts are always going to be there. I mean, there’s going to be… If you don’t do good job, of course the impact will not be positive for us, but nobody wants to be a failure in their life, everybody wants to be a success. So being a fighter is one of that really, that feel of positive language in their life. The other thing is about that practice makes perfect. And I’m doing the same thing with my people in just training them up, because practice do make perfect.

Iwan Sunito:
Now, I just want to relate this one but I don’t know how relevant. But I hope that it may be relevant for a lot of leaders and business people who are probably experiencing the same challenges that we had having a second daughter, Hannah, being diagnosed with autism when she was four years old. She barely spoke any word. She spoke one word when she was four. And I think she said, dad, anyway. I think the mom says she said mom. I’m not quite sure which one she said, but it was…

Iwan Sunito:
When she was four, she acted the first word. And it was like, wow. And before that when we talked to the doctors and the specialists, they’re saying, you guys are going to have to be realistic that your daughter may not be able to speak for the rest of her life. You may do everything you can do. You can do everything, but at the end you’re just going to have to be realistic that she may not be able to speak for the rest of her life.

Iwan Sunito:
Now, imagine that being a mum and dad of healthy child, and you said, wow. And you imagine brunch wall, your brain just goes everywhere. And it was like you’re being stabbed in your heart with a dagger. But again, grace, gratefulness being grateful about life, understanding that there is grace to everyone, there is a miracle to everyone. Well, after all we didn’t bring her. I mean, we did it physically but she was born for a reason.

Iwan Sunito:
And of course later, once she managed to get into… I mean, to cut the story short, she managed to get into Sydney University, which is unheard of Sydney University started the first class. They call them Uni 2 Beyond, which is really amazing because there’s no school or there’s no university before that started this kind of classes for kids with some special learning need. And lately in the last one year she wanted to drive. And I was just like, how do you do that? And she said, I want to drive. Okay. We get her to a teacher. The teacher said, before you can be on the road you’re going to have to pass the driving test. Now, kids with some autistic trait have struggled in comprehension of language. They just don’t understand language the way we do.

Iwan Sunito:
So she stopped doing the test and I could see… I sit to her next to her and she said, dad, sit next to me. 45 questions, and you can only make three mistakes in that 45 question through the online. And if you don’t, you’re going to have to start again, right. But I learned, how did you answer it correctly? She taught me about the cheating through online. You copy and paste and you find the answer. I said, well, she’s actually intelligent in finding the ways to do the cheat. I mean, how do you find the answer? She’s more intelligent than me. I could just see… My God, I think she’s going to struggle because she couldn’t understand the question.

Iwan Sunito:
She didn’t understand it at all, but Hannah has developed more persistence, kind of willingness to just go on and on and on and on and keep asking things until she gets the answers. And she does that. She does that for months and months. And out of the 45 question, she’s starting to understand five of them, 10 of them, 20 of them. And then she did the first test, she failed miserably and she cried, dad I failed. Okay. And then she booked another test. Again, the lockdown happened. She couldn’t do the test. It keeps on differing for the next three to four months. She would grab my hand after dinner, pin it on the table. And she would hold me so that I don’t do my work.

Iwan Sunito:
She then said, okay dad, focus. Okay. We did 45 questions, five times every day. And we did that again. And I could start saying that how she’s developing more knowledge, more skillset there. And then she did the test last week and she cried. My God, she cried before she went there. She was panicking. And I was so grateful with the Service NSW in terms of how kind they are. They encourage Hannah. And this gentleman by the name of Jess who stood up there for 45 minutes trying to calm her down because she was saying, I’m going to fail. No Hannah, you’re going to be fine, you’re going to be great, you’re going to be good.

Iwan Sunito:
So she sits in the test, she cried. But then Jess was kind enough to stand behind further away. But then she did it and she cried halfway, and then she finished that and she said, dad, I passed the test. I said, that’s the power of persistent training again and again and believing in people. And then she said to me, dad, can I driveyour Rolls Royce? I said, sure. You can get the Rolls Royce

Anthony Denman:
You can’t say no.

Iwan Sunito:
I can’t say no. That would be a classic thing. That’s really what I learned about training and really speaking faith to people. Not always. You try to, but you do your best. And that’s what I learned from being a dad.

Anthony Denman:
The power of perseverance. Okay. And would you say… Because you do have a quote here which is from your book, which is a quote from Sir Edmund Hillary. And the quote is, “Mount Everest, you have defeated me once and you might defeat me again, but I’m coming back again and again, and I’m going to win because you can’t get any bigger and I can.”

Iwan Sunito:
I like how you read it. That’s powerful.

Anthony Denman:
Is perseverance your single most valuable trait?

Iwan Sunito:
Yes.

Anthony Denman:
Well, I think.

Iwan Sunito:
Maybe the other word my stuff says, stubbornness.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah. They’re one and the same my friend. Look, I think… I might just ask you just to finish, it is your 25th year anniversary. Does it feel as though it’s gone fast as 25 years?

Iwan Sunito:
I think so. It’s just amazing. I mean, 25 years. We’ve grown the way we are today and we’ve done so many things that I never thought we would’ve done. Not never thought but never dream of doing things.

Anthony Denman:
You often sort of think, I just can’t get things done fast enough. And then you look back over the period of six months or a year or 18 months or 25 years and you go, fuck, I’ve got so much done. Its crazy. Do you have any plans to celebrate that milestone?

Iwan Sunito:
I think we’ll do that next year when this uncertainty of lockdown is going to happen. And then we’re just going to celebrate what we’ve achieved in the last 25 years.

Anthony Denman:
Well, I’ll tell you what, you definitely deserve to celebrate. Thank you so much for doing this. If somebody wants to get in touch with you, what’s the best way for them to do that.

Iwan Sunito:
If it’s to do with media, I think it’s best to deal with my media people, like John Quinn acting from Capital Group. I mean, he does all my media. If it’s to do with speaking engagement they can reach out to Tiffany Reid, who is the head of my marketing at marketing and creatives. Shee heads all that marketing division. You can just dial in the office, which is the 99250088.

Anthony Denman:
Perfect. All right. And Iwan, thanks again man. I really appreciate it. And I look forward to catching up with you in person one day.

Iwan Sunito:
Yeah, we should. Thanks Anthony. I really enjoyed this podcast.

Anthony Denman:
Thanks mate.

Iwan Sunito:
Thanks Anthony.

About Us

The Property Marketing Podcast is an original podcast hosted by Anthony Denman, co-founder of Our Agency. In each episode Anthony talks to Australia’s most experienced property professionals, unearthing their tips and providing insights on how to create the most successful place, property, corporate & personal brands possible.

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