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"As a brand, we have a no-dickhead policy. We don't have business owners that we don't like as people. We don't need those. For me, it's not all about the money and the level of commission somebody can generate, they need to be good people as well. And so I guess we pick and choose who we work with, to a degree"

Episode 29

How to change company culture, create your own version of success and dance like no-one is watching

Leanne Pilkington | Chief Executive Officer | Director at Laing+Simmons

Leanne Pilkington is one of the real estate industry’s most respected and sought after commentators. After all, she’s been in the industry for four decades.

Leanne is Chief Executive Officer and Director of leading New South Wales boutique real estate group Laing+Simmons.

She was the first woman to lead a real estate franchise organisation across the country. Addressing the gender imbalance, empowering women agents and contributing to a fairer operating environment are all key passions for Leanne.

She continues to pioneer industry firsts such as establishing a women’s real estate networking group, and introducing counselling and employee assistance programs for Laing+Simmons team members, while serving on industry bodies and championing the growth of professionalism in the industry at large.

Her experience covers the full spectrum of real estate services: residential sales, property management, retail management and development. Overseeing the whole Laing+Simmons group as well as focusing on the growth and development of each franchise, Leanne is instrumental in developing new products, services and training systems to meet the varying needs of each business owner.

Leanne joined Laing+Simmons in 1995 as a Franchise and Administration Manager. In 1997 she was promoted to Marketing Manager and became General Manager in 2000. In 2015 she was promoted to Managing Director. In 2021, Leanne joined the Board of Laing+Simmons as the network’s CEO. Leanne completed her Masters Degree in Business Administration at the University of Western Sydney in 2005. She used Laing+Simmons as her research subject in her thesis which analysed the attitudes and expectations of business owners, sales people and consumers. This has contributed to a strong grasp of issues that affect the real estate group and the property market generally.

In this Episode Leanne explains How to change company culture, create your own version of success and dance like no-one is watching. Enjoy.

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Transcript

Anthony Denman:
Leanne, welcome to the Property Marketing Podcast.

Leanne Pilkington:
Hello. Thank you for having me.

Anthony Denman:
You’re welcome. Unusual question to start, do you always dance when you clean your teeth?

Leanne Pilkington:
Yes, I often do, thanks for asking.

Anthony Denman:
What sort of dance do you-

Leanne Pilkington:
I can do a little dance for you now, if you like.

Anthony Denman:
It’s a shame this isn’t on video, guys. It was sort of like a salsa come… I don’t know.

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah, a little bit. I do, I love the salsa.

Anthony Denman:
Is that your favorite type of dancing, salsa dancing?

Leanne Pilkington:
Actually, I did the samba in Mardi Gras a few years back.

Anthony Denman:
No way.

Leanne Pilkington:
I did prior to COVID, yeah.

Anthony Denman:
On a float?

Leanne Pilkington:
Oh no, we were dancing down… on the road.

Anthony Denman:
Right. In the procession?

Leanne Pilkington:
It was horrifying for someone who’s not a very good samba dancer, can I tell you? I was in, as you would expect, a sparkly bikini with feathers and all of this sort of stuff. I’m dancing down the middle of the road thinking, “I don’t think I really thought this through before saying yes.” But it was quite an experience.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, I bet it was. Was it a yellow and green bikini?

Leanne Pilkington:
No, it was pink, actually.

Anthony Denman:
Pink? Okay. Not thinking of changing the brand identity for Laing+Simmons to pink, are we?

Leanne Pilkington:
No, don’t start those rumours.

Anthony Denman:
That’s a classic. So, you were destined to be a real estate person, right?

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
I mean, Dad and Mum both working in real estate. I love the name of… and I love the thinking. I love everything about what your dad did and your mum did in the real estate business. Anvil Real Estate. Why Anvil?

Leanne Pilkington:
Well, back in those days, because that was probably the ’70s actually. Yeah, it would’ve been the ’70s when they started the business. And so we had phone books back then, so it’s short, sharp, strong, at the beginning of the alphabet.

Anthony Denman:
So that’s how people used to shop, right?

Leanne Pilkington:
Right.

Anthony Denman:
For those of you who are listening who don’t… who pre-internet, right?

Leanne Pilkington:
Right.

Anthony Denman:
The only way you could find anyone really was in the Yellow Pages. So yeah, your big, fat, yellow book and essentially you’d go to real estate agencies and then if you start with an A, you’re right at the very top.

Leanne Pilkington:
Hey, can I tell you, even in my Laing+Simmons days, which as you said I started in the mid-’90s, we used to spend tens of thousands of dollars advertising in the Yellow Pages, back in those days. It was very expensive to advertise because we had to be there because that’s where all the eyeballs were.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, that’s a classic, isn’t it?

Leanne Pilkington:
I know, crazy.

Anthony Denman:
It’s unreal. And it used to land on your doorstep.

Leanne Pilkington:
With a thud, yeah.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, crazy. And the other really interesting thing about that Anvil business, joined a US franchise called ERA, and Colonel… Again, this is really testing, isn’t it, the old school memory banks?

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
Colonel Sherman Potter. For those of you who don’t know who Colonel Sherman Potter is, he was a character in the series M*A*S*H, and it was a photo of him basically saying, “If we can’t sell your property, we’ll buy it.”

Leanne Pilkington:
We’ll buy it.

Anthony Denman:
What a classic-

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah, what a great marketing campaign back in those days, right? I mean, selling your property is not so difficult now, but in the ’90s it was not quite so easy. And although we only had to, in my time there… Or actually that wasn’t the ’90s, that was the ’80s. In my time there, we only bought one property. It was a very complicated formula that I cannot remember, but we brought one property during the campaign.

Anthony Denman:
Okay. Did you make money from the property? Can you remember? Was it a good buy?

Leanne Pilkington:
I actually don’t remember. It was a really long time ago.

Anthony Denman:
I know, I know, I know. I’m being very unfair.

Leanne Pilkington:
You are.

Anthony Denman:
Given that you were born into a family of real estate agents, was there ever a time that you resisted the idea of-

Leanne Pilkington:
Oh, absolutely. I had no desire to be a real estate agent, to be frank. I started working for Dad as a 12-year-old, answering the phone, as did my brother and sister. And we also used to do letterbox drops for him, which I used to absolutely hate. And very clearly remember hiding under a truck in a thunderstorm because Dad had just dropped us off. I was 12, my sister would have been nine and my brother would have only been four, and then Dad has just left us doing letterbox drops.

Anthony Denman:
Crazy.

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah, yeah.

Anthony Denman:
Dads, right?

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah, good on you, Dad. And so I was planning on being a school teacher. When I finished my HSC, I went up to the Gold Coast for schoolies, ran out of money. Rang Dad, who said, “Yeah, I’ll send you some money but so long as you work for me when you get back from…” between that and going to uni. So I did, and then I decided, once I got the taste of working full-time and earning money, I didn’t want to go back to study. So I actually desperately did not want to be a real estate agent. I went to uni to become a valuer. I studied part-time and I was working in the Hills District, in Sydney. I was driving from Baulkham Hills to the city, Ultimo, three nights a week, back in the days before the M2 existed. And I worked seven days a week as well as studying three nights a week. It was kind of nuts.
Although, Dad and I used to fight so much that he used to fire me every Friday. It got to the stage that I would take Friday afternoons off because it was easier for everybody.

Anthony Denman:
When did he re-employ you, if he fired you-

Leanne Pilkington:
Oh, I was back to work the next day.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, not taking you serious-

Leanne Pilkington:
We had a very volatile relationship, Dad and I.

Anthony Denman:
How hard was that, working seven days a week while studying three nights a week?

Leanne Pilkington:
Look, I didn’t know any different, to be honest. Even when I was at school, I would work one day a week. And I was a competitive squash player, so I used to play comp squash one day of the weekend and work the other day. It was kind of what I knew. And I was still living at home with Mum and Dad, so I didn’t have a lot of responsibilities outside of normal stuff that you do when you’re in late teens, early 20s.

Anthony Denman:
At one point you spent three years at a recruitment company, and you’re really good at it, right? You won Consultant of the Year, out of 200 people, in your second year. What did you learn from that role, that recruiting role? And has that served you well in the real estate game?

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah, I learnt a lot. I think, if I honestly reflect back on my time with Dad, and I was there for, I don’t know, eight years maybe, I did not give him the respect that he deserved as my leader and as an experienced real estate agent. Typical, there was no way I was going to be told what to do. And so I didn’t become as good as I could become because I just wouldn’t take feedback. So when I started as a recruiter, I had to take feedback because I didn’t know what I was doing initially. But real estate is very much like recruitment. In recruitment, you’ve got to find the job, like you’ve got to find the house, and then you’ve got to find the person for the job. So it’s a very similar kind of business.
I’d only been there for a really short period of time and the boss, the manager, left. I was asked if I wanted to step up and manage the branch. It was only weeks that I’d been there. I just said, “No way in the world, I can’t do that.” And of course, the woman that came into manage the brach was an absolute drama queen. So what I learnt was actually say yes and work it out, just work it out. Take opportunities when they come to you and work out how to do it along the way. I learnt the importance of relationships and just communicating with everybody differently. Everybody’s got different styles, and some people can take really direct feedback, other people take things very personally. I learnt that I had to deliver different things to different people in different ways.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, that’s a very good lesson for real estate. I mean, god, all the different personality types you must have come across in your career.

Leanne Pilkington:
Totally.

Anthony Denman:
So this is interesting to me, ex-boyfriend. A litany of ex-boyfriends actually.

Leanne Pilkington:
Oh now, settle down. I want to say right here, right now, that I’ve been very happily married for almost 33… Have I got that right, 33 years? No, almost 32 years, something like that.

Anthony Denman:
Congratulations.

Leanne Pilkington:
Thank you.

Anthony Denman:
That’s a huge achievement in itself.

Leanne Pilkington:
It is.

Anthony Denman:
That’s awesome. No, it’s just you’ve got a thing for ex… well, you had a thing for ex-boyfriends.

Leanne Pilkington:
No, I think more correctly, my ex-boyfriends had a thing for me, and they kept in touch

Anthony Denman:
Yeah. They couldn’t let you go.

Leanne Pilkington:
Correct.

Anthony Denman:
One of them actually was the GM at Laing+Simmons, and correct me if I’m wrong, but he offered you a job as a franchise manager.

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
Boyfriend tracks you down and gives you a job at Laing+Simmons, and then you took his job.

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah. So that happened to me twice. I was a shopping center manager before Laing+Simmons, and I was working for an ex-boyfriend. He just reached out and said, “Hey, I think we’d have fun doing this.” Because actually we’re still friends. I’m still friends with both of those guys today, actually. And so Steve said, “I think we’d have a lot of fun at the shopping center.” And so I started as a shopping center manager. The only experience I had for that job was that I was a really good shopper, and still am. But I learnt on the job, and ultimately-

Anthony Denman:
What else do you need to know?

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah, well, you’d be surprised actually, quite a complicated business.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, I know. I’m kidding.

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah, so that building was actually sold and the new owners fired Steve and gave me his job. He took it pretty well, actually. He wasn’t too fussed. He was like, “I was wondering how long it was going to take them to realise.” And then same thing happened at Laing+Simmons.

Anthony Denman:
I can’t believe that.

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
I can’t believe there is a pattern emerging.

Leanne Pilkington:
There was a pattern.

Anthony Denman:
Just as well you got married, right?

Leanne Pilkington:
Right, absolutely.

Anthony Denman:
When you took his job as GM, were the franchisees happy that you got that gig?

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah, so it was really interesting. That GM, when he left, I worked very closely with the owner of the business, a guy called Tony Anderson. And he, in a very short period of time, said to me, “You’re much better at this franchising stuff than I am. I’m going back to selling commercial real estate and you’re going to be the GM.” And I’m like, “Holy hell.” I always saw myself as a really good number two. Tony was a very charismatic man, as John was, and Steve for that matter. I always felt like I was a really good number two, actually getting stuff done. The blokes had swanned around being fabulous and promising all of these things, and I’d run around in the background pulling my hair out, going, “Oh god, how am I going to do that?” You know?

Anthony Denman:
Yeah.

Leanne Pilkington:
And I would just have to make all these things happen, right?

Anthony Denman:
Blokes are very good at swanning around-

Leanne Pilkington:
Blokes are sensational at it.

Anthony Denman:
… saying that everything’s going to be fabulous.

Leanne Pilkington:
Totally. I know. It’s an absolute hoot, but anyway… And so when Tony promoted me, my first thought was the franchisees were going to be very upset that Tony had the opportunity to put on a great general manager and he chose me. And so I’ve got a very open and direct communication style, so I actually just got on the phone and I rang every one of my business owners and I had the conversation with every one of them and told them. They were all overwhelmingly happy about it. I finished all the calls and I sat in my office and I thought, “I actually don’t know why they’re happy.” And so I rang a few back. Lots of confidence in myself, no? I rang a few back that I’d become quite close to and said, “Can I just ask you why you’re so happy about that?” And they all said a version of the same thing. They all basically said, “We know how much you care about Laing+Simmons, we know how much you care about us, we know how much you care about our business, and that’s what we want from our leader.”
And I mean, that was a massive lesson to me very early in the piece.

Anthony Denman:
How good is that. That must have made you feel pretty good.

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah, it did. It did. I’ve had a lot of moments of pride in my career. I’m grateful.

Anthony Denman:
It’s nice that they liked you because they didn’t quite like each other, did they?

Leanne Pilkington:
God, when I first started, they hated each other and they hated head office. And I actually said to John… Because when I left the shopping center, it had been new ownership, new management and the person I was reporting to was a complete… I had my one really true #MeToo moment with him, and so I couldn’t get out of the place fast enough. And so when I started at Laing+Simmons, I took a massive pay cut. I just wanted to be in a nice environment, right? And I got there and there was so much angst and the franchisees hated each other, they hated head office even more. And I said to John, “We’ve got two choices here, either I’ll go and find another job, or we can change the culture. We’ve got to work at changing the culture.” And I knew a number of the franchisees by this stage, and they were all good people. And I thought, “You know what? They haven’t been giving the right environment in which to develop good relationships with each other.”
And so I’m a very big believer in the bonding ability of beer. Remember, it was the ’90s, right? Real estate agents love awards and love a celebration, but the people that were there before me didn’t really do a lot that very well. And so we started to work on the events for Laing+Simmons. We did a series of boardroom lunches. We got small groups of franchisees together to work on their businesses. And we just, over time, have really positively impacted the culture. And when we bought the brand, two years ago, I did an MPS survey to say, “How are you feeling about the brand as a place to belong?” And we got an MPS score of 82.6.

Anthony Denman:
Wow.

Leanne Pilkington:
If you know anything about MPS, you know that it starts at -100.

Anthony Denman:
I didn’t know that. I thought it was zero to 100, there you go.

Leanne Pilkington:
No, -100 and goes up to 100.

Anthony Denman:
Wow.

Leanne Pilkington:
So yeah, that’s a world class result. I said to my corporate team, “I’m never doing another MPS survey again because we’ll never beat that.”

Anthony Denman:
Yeah. That’s really cool. It’s almost kind of really interesting because the idea, from a consumer-facing perspective, of a franchise is that security in numbers, trust in the amount of people that are involved in the organization across all the various offices. It’s interesting because real estate agent will generally try and sell the consumer face the idea that they’re more than one office, right?

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
But reality of it is more likely to slit each other’s throats.

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah. Well, certainly if you speak to anybody within the Laing+Simmons brand, or even any of the suppliers that supply us, they can see a big difference in Laing+Simmons in comparison to other networks. The culture is something I’m very proud of. But it didn’t happen by accident, it did take a lot of work and a lot of effort.

Anthony Denman:
Okay, I can only imagine.

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
Okay, so you studied business administration, which requires excellent attention to detail, administrative skills and organisation skills, amongst other attributes. This sounds like the complete opposite skillset of a real estate agent.

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah. Yup.

Anthony Denman:
I don’t think I’ve ever met an agent who’s organised and good with details and administration and organisational skills, ever.

Leanne Pilkington:
No. I always say, I have people for that, for attention to detail stuff. I have people for that. It’s not my go. But because I only ever studied part-time, and I’ve studied extensively part-time. Without my MBA, I’ve done probably nine or 10 years of nighttime study. But I still felt undereducated for the job that I was in. I was general manager by that stage, and I felt if I ever left Laing+Simmons, no one would give me a job at that level without having a degree. So I went and did an MBA whilst I was working full-time.

Anthony Denman:
Wow.

Leanne Pilkington:
And it was bloody hard work, can I-

Anthony Denman:
Wow. You’re a glutton for punishment.

Leanne Pilkington:
I had one of my girlfriends, who’s a school teacher, said to me, “Oh, MBA, isn’t that one of those degrees you buy?” I can’t even tell you my response. Because yes, they’re expensive, but, man, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, having to do a full-on job and a full-time…

Anthony Denman:
The hardest thing you’ve ever done except for the 33 years of marriage.

Leanne Pilkington:
No, that’s been easy.

Anthony Denman:
Easy? Okay. I must get… Maybe we have a separate conversation around that. Although, no, I got to say, a lot of people say it but I mean it too, I am very happily married. I love being married in fact. In fact, I’m not married. I’m in a defacto relationship, but we have two-

Leanne Pilkington:
You’re not married?

Anthony Denman:
No, but we have two children, so we’re as good as married. In fact, I have asked her and she said… Well, she didn’t really say anything. This was before the children. Admittedly it was a bit of a spur of the moment thing. I was tracksuit pants on the deck, two bottles of red wine down and no ring or anything, so I guess it wasn’t the most considered-

Leanne Pilkington:
No, maybe try it again without the tracksuit pants and the two bottles of red, you might get a different answer.

Anthony Denman:
Maybe. Look, I know that you’re a champion of professionalism and the growth of professionalism in the real estate category, but just putting Laing+Simmons aside, looking at the whole category, how would you rate the professionalism of the real estate industry? Say, one being the lowest number, 10 being the highest.

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah, like any industry, we’ve got some absolute champions in our industry, but we’ve got a small percentage that will do anything for a deal. And unfortunately, the way we get paid encourages that, right? Because whilst we see real estate agents swanning around in expensive suits and European cars… And yes, I do drive a Mercedes.

Anthony Denman:
Of course you do.

Leanne Pilkington:
Of course I do. But that is the minority. The majority of real estate agents are not making anywhere near that kind of money, unfortunately. And so I would say that the majority of our guys are eights or nines, honestly. But there’s some that are… they’ll do anything to get a deal done. And so they’re putting their own self-interest above the interest of the clients. That’s why I have open dialogue with our regulator, the Office of Fair Trading, and they know that if I see somebody doing the wrong thing, I’ll report them to the regulator and the regulator then just takes over and does their own investigation.

Anthony Denman:
That’s cool, because it is the minority unfortunately, isn’t it?

Leanne Pilkington:
It is.

Anthony Denman:
They kind of drive the perception. You only need one, or two, or three to make headlines or for people to-

Leanne Pilkington:
Totally. And the other thing that is really important to remember, and I know it frustrates consumers, but the reality is a real estate is legally obliged to get the very best price they can for their vendor. The seller is the person that pays the fees, and that is not to say that we shouldn’t be honest with buyers, we absolutely must be. But there are times when buyers are going to be really unhappy because they’ve missed out. Particularly in an auction environment, when the market’s hot, you might have five, six, 10 buyers. Only one of them can buy the property, so you’re going to have more disgruntled people than happy people. It’s just the way that it works. And if you look at any of the surveys that you have about real estate agents, the majority of people that have had an experience as a vendor, as a home owner, they’re positive about it.
The people that don’t like us are people that are buyers, or people who have not used a real estate agent.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, good point. And so the weight of numbers are against you, right?

Leanne Pilkington:
Totally.

Anthony Denman:
Everyone’s always going to feel hard done by, and it’s that bloody real estate agent that let me down.

Leanne Pilkington:
Bloody real estate agents, yeah.

Anthony Denman:
Bloody real estate agents.

Leanne Pilkington:
I know.

Anthony Denman:
How different are the varying attitudes, say, of franchise owners, versus sales people, versus consumers?

Leanne Pilkington:
It’s hard to manage. Quite often sales people earn more money than their bosses, for a start. People go into business ownership for all kinds of different reasons, but a good sales person typically will earn more than their boss, and that’s just the way that it is. So those expectations can be interesting to manage as well.

Anthony Denman:
Totally, right?

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
Do you find that relationships break down on that level and good agents leave because of it?

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah, often. Yeah, the good agents will leave because they think they can more money by becoming a business owner, and then the realise that that was just a trick, that doesn’t happen. But of course, business owners can build a sizable asset in their rent role. That is worth quite a bit of money on exit, and most sales people don’t get the opportunity to do that. That’s a good reason for business ownership.

Anthony Denman:
Just on that, you were talking about mostly male, ego-driven, gregarious blokes swanning around, masters of the universe type of operators, because you must have a few of those, how do you control… how do you manage them, keep them-

Leanne Pilkington:
I think manage is a better word. You certainly don’t control them, but manage is definitely a better word. For me, because I’ve been around for so long and I’ve got the kind of reputation that I do what I say I’m going to do, I can always see both sides of the story and people know that I’m pragmatic and I want to get to a solution, I want to get to an outcome. So, I don’t have too many problems any more. But it’s not to say that if I went to another brand, for example, where I don’t have the same level of relationships and respect, it might be a different story. But certainly within the Laing+Simmons brand, I don’t have very many problems at all.

Anthony Denman:
In terms of controlling the Laing+Simmons identity, you don’t have agents running off, putting pink headlines in ads and things like that?

Leanne Pilkington:
Only one. They only do it once.

Anthony Denman:
Right, okay.

Leanne Pilkington:
Sure. There are always people who think that that they should reinvent signboards or brochures or whatever, and I’m very clear… We have an induction for new people to the Laing+Simmons brand, and that’s employees as well as new business owners. We’re very clear about what they can do and what they can’t do, and where we’re happy to… And we are pragmatic. We will try and come to a solution that works for everybody, where we can. But everybody knows where my boundaries are, and there are some things that I just will not allow to be changed.

Anthony Denman:
Don’t fuck with Leanne.

Leanne Pilkington:
Correct.

Anthony Denman:
I like it.

Leanne Pilkington:
She’s tough-

Anthony Denman:
… but fair.

Leanne Pilkington:
And usually delivered with a smile on my face, which makes a big difference.

Anthony Denman:
Maybe a little salsa dance at the same time.

Leanne Pilkington:
Potentially, mm-hmm.

Anthony Denman:
Little…

Leanne Pilkington:
I’m certainly the first one on the dance floor at any Laing+Simmons event, anybody will tell you that.

Anthony Denman:
I reckon I could only imagine. That’d be good to see. I’d like to see that.

Leanne Pilkington:
It’s special.

Anthony Denman:
How has technology… because we talked a bit before about the Yellow Pages. I mean, how has technology changed the way agents work?

Leanne Pilkington:
Oh look, technology’s changed for a lot of people. I’ll never forget, 1997, our very, very first Laing+Simmons conference. I had a girlfriend who was a director at Microsoft at the time, and if you remember, ’97, the internet wasn’t really real for many people. And realestate.com, I think, only started that year or the year after. She came and she showed us Carpoint. You could spin the car around, you could open the hood and all that sort of stuff. And she said, “It’s coming to real estate very soon.” And my number one sales guy at the time, came up to me afterwards and said, “That was all a lot of fun, Leanne, but the internet is just a fad.”

Anthony Denman:
Was that Bart Doff?

Leanne Pilkington:
It was. It was. I reminded him of that often. He was a legend, an absolutely legend.

Anthony Denman:
He was a legend. I remember seeing him swanning around Double Bay, actually, with D’Leanne Lewis in tow.

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah, well D’Leanne’s our number one now.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, wow. Congratulations, D’Leanne.

Leanne Pilkington:
And Bart did more than swan around, he used to perform in shows for the Laing+Simmons brand. There’s lots of great shows at our awards dinner that Bart was involved in.

Anthony Denman:
What do you mean?

Leanne Pilkington:
So I had not been at Laing+Simmons for that long. As I mentioned, I wanted to up the fun factor at our events, and so I was working on our annual awards, and Bart rang me. And when Bart rang, you jumped. He was very direct and I always wanted to make him happy. Anyway, so he rang me and said, “Hey, Leanne, I’m thinking about the awards.” And I went, “Yeah?” He said, “And I think we should do a show.” And I said, “Okay, what are you thinking?” And he said, “Have you seen The Full Monty?” “Yes, I have. What are you proposing, Bart?” And he said, “Well, I think we should do that, and I’m happy to be in it,” and he hung up.
I can still remember just looking and…

Anthony Denman:
No way.

Leanne Pilkington:
Anyway, so then I had to try and convince another half a dozen of our business owners or sales people to get naked in front of 300 people. So anyway, because Bart was such an enigma, people were happy to be involved if he was involved. I went to Kelly Country and got suits made with Velcro so that they could rip them off. I believe that I have still got the sparkly red g-string sitting on mydesk there.

Anthony Denman:
Oh, stop it. Stop it. Stop it, you’re ruining my image of… my memory of-

Leanne Pilkington:
I’ll send you a photo.

Anthony Denman:
No. No.

Leanne Pilkington:
It was hilarious. And of course, nobody knew that it was going on.

Anthony Denman:
Oh, god.

Leanne Pilkington:
When they call came out, the crowd just went absolutely nuts.

Anthony Denman:
I bet they did. It would have been so much fun.

Leanne Pilkington:
It was hilarious. It was hilarious.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, that’s a classic. I love it. What a story. We digress a little.

Leanne Pilkington:
We do, sorry.

Anthony Denman:
But it was a nice digression. Well, kind of nice digression. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to remove that image. Because I definitely had the image of… Because he was such a charismatic guy, you know?

Leanne Pilkington:
Very.

Anthony Denman:
Such a good-looking, charismatic guy, and he just really used to own Double Bay, just by walking down the street.

Leanne Pilkington:
He was the most focused individual I’ve ever met. Everything he did, he did really, really well. And that’s not because, necessarily, of natural talent, he worked really hard. He was an amazing man.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah. Yeah, they all do. As much as we like to pay out… well, I like to pay out them a bit, they do. They’re hardworking people. They devote their lives to it. You know what I mean?

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah, it’s not an easy job.

Anthony Denman:
No, no weekends, you know?

Leanne Pilkington:
If you think about the… buying and selling a house is up on the top level of most stressful things that you can do. And when you add to that the reason why people are buying or selling is often they’ve had a baby, somebody has passed away, they’re getting a divorce, they’re relocating for work. So most of those reasons are really stressful as well. You’ve got these added layer of stress, and so nobody behaves at their best. Nobody’s living their best life during those times, and the real estate agent cops it all the time.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. So how do you… because you must have a lot of them, how do you choose your battles?

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah, that’s a great question. It’s one of the things that I talk to my corporate team about all the time is to choose your battles, because you can’t win everything, you just can’t. You have to decide what’s important to me personally, what’s important for me for the brand. And that’s the filter that I use, how important is this?

Anthony Denman:
Do you have a criteria or something? How does that work?

Leanne Pilkington:
No, not really. I’m a very fast decision maker. It’s really annoying for some of my team, because I move forward really quickly and I just… I don’t know, I just have an instinct about what matters and what’s going to matter to me next week. I know it might be annoying me today, but next week am I even going to remember what this was all about?

Anthony Denman:
And that’s a good filter. I like that one. Okay, so real estate, obviously very ambitious. Highly ambitious, driven individuals. Because with ambition potentially comes a whole lot of negative baggage such as like ego and greed. So how do you manage ego and greed, but still keep people motivated? You want your people to be ambitious, right?

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
But you don’t want them to be greedy or too egotistical. I mean, how do you manage that?

Leanne Pilkington:
As a brand, we have a no-dickhead policy. We don’t have business owners that we don’t like as people. We don’t need those. For me, it’s not all about the money and the level of commission somebody can generate, they need to be good people as well. And so I guess we pick and choose who we work with, to a degree. Because there are certainly plenty of people in this industry that I would not have in our brand. I just wouldn’t

Anthony Denman:
No, no. No, I know. I agree with that. And I guess that’s where the question comes from, because it must be tricky. If you had somebody that was writing X amount of dollars, and a big X, but they were being absolute dickhead… Have you had a situation like that where you’ve actually had to-

Leanne Pilkington:
There have been times in years gone by where high performing sales people have been let go by the business owners. It takes a certain amount of bravery, a bit of courage, to let someone go when they are helping you keep the lights on and the doors open. Because real estate businesses are expensive to run. But often what we see is the rest of the team actually lift to… they improve their own performance once that 800 pound gorilla is no longer in the business.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, good point. A little bit like Ted Lasso, you watch that show?

Leanne Pilkington:
I love Ted Lasso.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah. I think I’m only eight episodes in.

Leanne Pilkington:
Ah, okay. Yeah. It’s good, yeah.

Anthony Denman:
But very much enjoying it too. What’s the difference between a great sales agent and a great property manager?

Leanne Pilkington:
Wow. They’re chalk and cheese, right? A great property manager is detailed focused. Property management is a really, really tough gig. And since COVID, it has just gotten harder and harder. So property managers need to be able to be very systemised, very process driven. They need to multitask. They need great follow up. Do I sound like I’m describing a sales person right now? Probably not, no.
Yeah, they’re different animals, completely different animals. And that can cause them trouble, some challenges, in an office as well because they’re like different species and they really struggle to relate to each other sometimes.

Anthony Denman:
We could go off at a big tangent here, but the landlord driven rental, like mum and dad landlord market, right?

Leanne Pilkington:
Right.

Anthony Denman:
Why did it get so tough since COVID?

Leanne Pilkington:
Well, there’s a lot of reasons. COVID had the impact of decreasing the average number of people in a property. It meant that we needed 140,000 more properties. And at the same time, people were making decisions based on their own personal situation and they’re thinking, “Well, I’ve got this house and I’ve got my investment property, maybe if I sell both of them I can go and buy something in Queensland or in the regions, or whatever.” We saw a lot of people cashing in their rental properties. At a time when we’re needing more properties, we’ve got people selling their rental properties. A lot of investors are not back in the market yet, even though yields are improving because rents are going up. We just don’t have enough property and that’s the bottom line.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, I think that’s why the build-to-rent thing is proving to be so popular.

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah. One of the challenges with build-to-rent is that they’re doing it in more expensive areas. They’re not doing it where we really need it. There’s a lot of solutions. There’s not just one solution. But I mean, I’m a really big advocate… and this is not a popular sentiment. But we’ve got first home buyer, no stamp duty for first home buyers under 800 grand. It’s limited under a million. Why not encourage first time buyers to be investors instead of only owner occupiers? Why not? I’ve got lots of friends who would fund their kids into property right now if there were incentives to do so.

Anthony Denman:
Really good point. Really good point too about the build-to-rent really only in expensive areas.

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
Let’s talk about branding. Most brand agencies, when they’re facilitating a branding exercise, try to keep numbers to a minimum, you know what I mean? Only really, Leanne, it’s really just you and just maybe a few key people. We don’t have to deal with too many opinions for those people who aren’t making decisions. But you took a rather different path, didn’t you?

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah. So when the business was sold by Rob and Tony, who’d owned it for sort of 15 years, back 2011 I think. And the new owners wanted to get input from the franchisees about the colours. Yellow is a very decisive colour. People either love it or they hate it. And let’s face it, it’s not very sophisticated. We had some really loud voices saying we should change our colour to blue. What we ended up doing is we got every single franchise owner was in the room, and it was facilitated by an external guy, and we had people write on Post-It Notes the things that they were most passionate about.
We asked them a series of questions, but one of them was around the colour pallet for the brand. We got everybody to write what colour the wanted and put all the Post-It Notes up on the wall. It became really clear that there were maybe three or four very loud voices who wanted blue, but another 50 voices that wanted the yellow. And even the loud voices sat back and they looked at the visual representation of all those Post-It Notes on the wall and said, “Wow, okay. Didn’t realise we were so in the minority.” But if we had have just let people talk, the blue vote potentially would’ve got up because they were more passionate, more articulate potentially about it. It was a very interesting exercise.

Anthony Denman:
Were the blue people eastern suburbs people?

Leanne Pilkington:
No. You’d be surprised. Some of our guys in the east prefer blue. But you talk to D’Leanne Lewis and she loves our yellow signs.

Anthony Denman:
Oh, cool. Yeah, no, I just remember there was a thing… I remember John McGrath first came to the market, and they had blue. In the eastern suburbs, it was working really well because of all the harbour and ocean images that were coupled with it.

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah, it’s certainly more sophisticated. But if you want a signboard to stand out, I would argue that blue, that goes with the sky and the ocean, is probably not necessarily the right colour, nor is white. White’s very fashionable at the moment.

Anthony Denman:
Why is that?

Leanne Pilkington:
I don’t know.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, I reckon maybe that strategy is around letting the property be the hero or something like that.

Leanne Pilkington:
The sign needs to grab your attention, and a white board you can drive past really easily. I know it. I know.

Anthony Denman:
Well, that’s true, and they all start to look the same a bit, don’t they?

Leanne Pilkington:
They do, totally.

Anthony Denman:
Okay. So vendors do business with people they know, like and trust. How do you get your agents to be known, liked and trusted through marketing initiatives in the various local communities?

Leanne Pilkington:
Real estate agents are some of the most generous people that you’ll ever meet. You can see that with local schools, football teams. Any sporting teams are typically sponsored by the local real estate agent, right? And so we definitely encourage our agents to get involved in local community activity, but they need to do stuff that is authentic to them and to actually… There no point throwing money at the local school fete if you’re not going to be at the fete and get involved. That’s how you get known, is being involved in the local community. You get known by sharing the results.
As much as people don’t like door knocking, people are always interested. If Mr. And Mrs. Smith are moving in to the house next door and they’ve got three little kids, the neighbours are interested in that sort of stuff. And it’s just by that consistent communication, whether it is face-to-face, or over the phone, obviously backed up with socials and all that sort of stuff. But real estate is a belly-to-belly business, it’s a face-to-face business. I would argue that you can’t get that genuine connection unless you are actually in your community.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, wow. That’s really interesting. So it’s more than just putting your head on a bus shelter?

Leanne Pilkington:
Drives me nuts. Part of the logic is that if you see the face of real estate agent enough, you will feel like you know them. There is definitely that logic at play, but I’m not a big fan of real estate agent’s heads on everything.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, it’s really interesting driving around town and seeing all the different styles of photography.

Leanne Pilkington:
Totally.

Anthony Denman:
It’s almost like they’re, “Okay, we’ve got to have the head on the bus shelter, but how can we shoot said head in a different way?”

Leanne Pilkington:
Yep.

Anthony Denman:
Anyway, to be an effective real estate agent, really, you just want agents to focus on relationships, prospecting and getting deals done. What sort of centralised support do you offer your agents to enable that to happen?

Leanne Pilkington:
At Laing+Simmons, we do a range of things. We actually have got a division called Centralised Agent Support. We can actually take away the back end admin for the agent, so ordering signboards and putting properties up online, all that sort of stuff we can actually do for them. We have a range of training programs that Harriet Saunders, our head of Growth and Development runs. We have what we call an Hour of Power twice a week. We have groups of sales people and lead generators jump on a Zoom for an hour, twice a week, and they all do their calls and then they talk about their results. They share results and what’s working well for them and all that sort of stuff.
We’ve got a really strong community vibe within the brand, particularly within the young sales guys in particular who jump onto those Hour of Power and those various training things that we do.

Anthony Denman:
Do you attend the Hour of Power sessions?

Leanne Pilkington:
I do occasionally, but not usually. Only because some people are not intimidated by me being there, but some people are. And so it’s really about them being able to be open about what’s not going well.

Anthony Denman:
Sure. Yeah, I understand.

Leanne Pilkington:
And they’re less likely to do that when I’m there.

Anthony Denman:
What’s more important to you, a real estate agent’s personal brand reputation or the Laing+Simmons brand reputation?

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah, I have never thought about it. I mean, Laing+Simmons is my… It’s mine now, I’m one of the owners, but I’ve always felt that way about it. So Laing+Simmons means everything to me. It’s really important to me. But I also spend a lot of time talking about the industry in general. I’m the deputy president of the Real Estate Institute of Australia, and that is something that I take really seriously. People often ask me, “How do you do all of the things that you do?” And my answer is always, “If good people are not prepared to put their hand up and spend the time, then other people will.” And so you’ve just got to make sure that you’ve got the right people in those roles who do genuinely and passionately believe in the industry and the good in the industry.

Anthony Denman:
Do you have a mentoring program?

Leanne Pilkington:
We do. Yeah, we’ve got… I mean, I can’t remember how many. I think we’ve got 17 pairs at the moment. It could be a receptionist, it could be a business owner. I’m a mentor. One of our business owners, I am mentoring personally. But yeah, we’ve got an ongoing program. I’m also chair of a charity called Sister-to-Sister, which is a mentoring program for at-risk and troubled teenage girls.

Anthony Denman:
That sounds like a really good cause, that one.

Leanne Pilkington:
It’s amazing.

Anthony Denman:
How do you mentor said person? What’s that look like?

Leanne Pilkington:
So mentoring programs really need to be driven by the mentee. And so the mentee needs to be clear on what they want to get out of it. It’s interesting, my mentee, I’ve known for a very long time. He’s one of my business owners. I’ve known him since he was a property manager. He called me and we had coffee not that long ago, and he said. “All right, Lea, I feel like I can have a different conversation with you know, as against when you were just my CEO,” which I thought was really interesting. I’m a pretty open sort of person, I thought he would be comfortable having those conversations with me anyway.
He’s just wanting me to challenge his thinking. He wants to go left and my role as a mentor is to say, “Okay, tell me why, and tell me what would happen if you went right?”

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, that’s really interesting. How does a Manly supporter end up sponsoring the Paramatta Eels?

Leanne Pilkington:
Oh, don’t even talk to me about it. How these things can happen, that shows you who I am as a person. I do things in the best interest of the brand, not in my best interests. My brother and sister weren’t very impressed with me though.

Anthony Denman:
No, I bet they weren’t. You must get a lot of really cool opportunities to go and watch the Eels play out at Bank West Stadium.

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah, well again, I don’t care to take up those opportunities, frankly. I let others do that. But I have to say, a couple of the Eels players and their CEO came to one of our training events earlier this year, and they were… The CEO is a very impressive man, and the two young guys were awesome. They were fabulous, I was so pleased that they were there.

Anthony Denman:
Is that because that district, that Hills District is important to you, the western suburbs of Sydney? I mean, why sponsor the Paramatta Eels?

Leanne Pilkington:
I had some franchise owners who were really keen to sponsor them, but obviously the spend was more than they could manage on their own. If franchisees are happy to throw their own money into something, then I’m happy to support them with corporate money as well. But it’s when people say, “This is a really good idea, Leanne, we want you to spend your money.” It’s like, “If you think it’s really good, open your wallet and I’ll support you.”

Anthony Denman:
Put your money where your mouth is.

Leanne Pilkington:
Correct.

Anthony Denman:
I reckon you get good coverage out of that. As a casual observer, obviously somebody that’s very interested in property real estate, they pan up to Brad Arthur in the commentary box, the big Laing+Simmons branding there is pretty impactful.

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah, it’s pretty impressive, the branding. And of course, despite my status as a Manly supporter, we were thrilled that they did so well last year.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, I bet.

Leanne Pilkington:
They gave a lot of extra mileage we weren’t expecting, frankly.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, the more eyeballs the better. That’s good. Tell me about the time your husband was made redundant?

Leanne Pilkington:
That was really hard. He was a highly paid managing director for Southeast Asia for a software company, pay TV company actually, hardware pay TV. And yeah, he struggled. He really struggled. It was a very, very difficult time for both of us because I was trying to support him, but I didn’t know how to best do it. If I look back now, I probably enabled him not to work for a long time because I didn’t want him to have to compromise and I didn’t want him to be unhappy. But what I didn’t realise was as time went on, he’d slipped into depression.

Anthony Denman:
How old was he when he was made redundant?

Leanne Pilkington:
He would have been in his early 40s. Yeah. And he was out of work for a long time, and then we started… We’ve got an investment property and we put a granny flat on it. And so he started doing that work.

Anthony Denman:
What, the actual building work?

Leanne Pilkington:
He managed the project, but also did some of the actual work. He’s one of those people that can build or fix anything. He’s very-

Anthony Denman:
Yeah. Very different to me then.

Leanne Pilkington:
Yes, I’m very lucky. I’ve got lots of half-done jobs around the house. I’m really lucky.

Anthony Denman:
If we were a couple, an item, you would have absolutely nothing done, nothing even started to be done.

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah, but then I would just pay for somebody else to do it, so that would be fine. I’d be very happy with that outcome just quietly. We went from… because Rob was a platinum frequent flyer, so he had points out the… forever. And so he would ring me on a Wednesday and say, “Hey, baby, I’m in Hong Kong but I can’t get home this weekend. I’ve got you a ticket.” And I would fly business class or first class to Hong Kong, or Bangkok, or Singapore, or Kuala Lumpur or anywhere in Southeast Asia. That was our life for a really long time. And so, all of a sudden, no longer were we traveling, no longer did we have anything even to look forward to because we literally could only just manage the bills. On one wage, we could do it, just.
There was no dinners out, there was no… I’m known for my colourful fashion and love of shoes, there was none of that. What was really important for me in that time was understanding what was important to me. I do love beautiful things, there’s no doubt about it, but what’s more important to me is Rob and me together, and that we’ve got each other. That was a really, really valuable lesson. Because I think any of us can get a little bit carried away. When everything’s going really well, we can get a little bit carried away with ourselves, and that really brought me down to earth and it’s changed me for the better.

Anthony Denman:
Thanks for sharing that very personal bit of information. Yeah, I think that for me that’s the… I mean, I may have talked about this before, actually, on the podcast, but my mother having passed away almost a year now, and on her deathbed, I saw her take her last breath.

Leanne Pilkington:
Wow.

Anthony Denman:
But what she did say prior to that was that all that mattered was us three, the three kids. I think that’s just keeping that in perspective is just so important.

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah, it really is.

Anthony Denman:
Let’s get a little bit brighter, shall we? How did writing a letter to yourself result in you becoming the part owner of Laing+Simmons?

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah. That was a really challenging time as well. I’ve always been very optimistic, very forward-thinking. I’m always, “What’s next? What’s next? What’s next for me?” I drive my team a bit mad. But in 2019, I couldn’t see what was next and that was really, really… Little did I know it was COVID, right? One of the things that we always do as a corporate team is I found it challenging for some of my admin team members to write a business plan. And so I asked them to write a letter to themselves, “If next year is going to be the best year that you’ve ever had, what’s it look like? What are the things that are going to happen?” And so that’s what we did, or that’s what we still do.
In 2019, as I said, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t see the future. I rang a really good friend of mine and had a conversation with her. I’d been offered another business opportunity and I didn’t know what to do. I talked it through with her and in the end I burst into tears, which is something that I just don’t do. I’m not known for my emotional outbursts. And I just said to her, “You know what? I can’t leave.” Because I’ve been at Laing+Simmons for so long, I feel responsible for my business owners and my team members, I really do. And so I thought, “Okay, now what? I can’t leave. I cannot stay working like this.” So I actually wrote in the letter to myself, “It’s December 2020 and Laing+Simmons has new owners.”
And so then, I had to put my big-girl pants on and ring the CEO and suggest that he go to the board and suggest that it was appropriate to sell Laing+Simmons. Now, at that time… I can’t imagine the audacity, but that’s what I did.

Anthony Denman:
That’s awesome.

Leanne Pilkington:
As it turns out, it was a good thing. It was a good thing for them as well. And don’t get me wrong, they were genuinely lovely people. I really care about all of the guys that I used to work with. I’m still friends with most of them. But it was time for them to go in a different direction, and it was time for us to go into a different direction. And so then it’s like, “Well, okay, who are we going to have buy us?” And so we were negotiating with a number of different people, and one of the CEOs of one the brands… I was president at the time, of the Real Estate Institute of New South Wales as well as being MD at Laing+Simmons. One of the CEOs that we were negotiating with was talking to me in my REI role, and he was shoulding me, “REI should do things…”

Anthony Denman:
He was what, sorry?

Leanne Pilkington:
Shoulding me. He was shoulding me, “You should do this.”

Anthony Denman:
Oh, okay.

Leanne Pilkington:
“REI should do that.” And I hate being shoulded. And so I got off the phone and I just went, “Oh, bugger that. I am too old. I am way too old to be working for someone who’s going to treat me like that.” And so then it’s like, “Okay, now what?” A couple of the franchisees had heard a whisper that it was on the market and reached out to me and said, “You know what, Lea, if you take an equity position, we will too.” And I’m like, “Do I want to do that? Do I really want to risk…” Because whilst my husband is working now, I’m kind of a little bit damaged from the time I was the sole income earner, right? That was another really, really hard conversation, a hard decision for me to make.
But in the end, what I did was I went to all of my business owners, because I didn’t want any of my franchisees to wake up tomorrow and realise that Laing+Simmons had been sold to franchisees and to me and they had no idea. That would have been devastating for them and for me. So it was quite a risky play for me to go out and actually speak to everybody, but that’s what I did. And people kept on saying to me, “Yeah, that’s a great idea, can we buy in?” “That’s a great idea, can we buy in? What do I need to do to buy in?” And I’m like, “Oh god, I haven’t got enough of it to sell now.”
And so we went from having 10% to some of our shareholders have only got a couple of percent each, because as I went around the group, what I had to offer was getting less and less and less. It was quite comical in the end. So there am I, one of the owners of the brand and the CEO.

Anthony Denman:
That’s a great story. Actually must confess, I am a Luxe Listings viewer. Is that still going, that show? Is it season-

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah. I only spoke to D’Leanne about it a couple of weeks ago and asked her if they were filming a fourth season. And she said that there’s conversations around it but nothing…

Anthony Denman:
I got to say I quite enjoyed it. I mean, I love D’Leanne.

Leanne Pilkington:
She’s fantastic.

Anthony Denman:
You must help me get her on the podcast at some point.

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
I’ll reach out at some point in the future.

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah, you should.

Anthony Denman:
But I really… I mean, it’s just comical. And not D’Leanne, I mean she’s so down to earth, so grounded.

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah, she’s fantastic.

Anthony Denman:
So matter of fact, tell it how it is cut the bullshit and just-

Leanne Pilkington:
You know, she’s a perfect example of an agent that works for the best interest of her clients, and you could see that on the show. She was all about helping them achieve what is was that they needed to achieve.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, totally. The reason I brought that up-

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah, you saw a little bit about the sale of the business on the show.

Anthony Denman:
Was that genuine? Was actually… or had a deal been done?

Leanne Pilkington:
No, it was a reenactment.

Anthony Denman:
Okay.

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah, the deal had already been done the year before.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, right. Nice acting.

Leanne Pilkington:
Thank you.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah. Have you ever considered an acting career?

Leanne Pilkington:
No.

Anthony Denman:
Some people might say being a real estate agent is an acting career in some regards.

Leanne Pilkington:
Oh look, I think being a CEO can be a bit of a… not necessarily an acting career, but you’ve certainly got to be able to deliver the message in the way the people are prepared to hear it. My biggest lesson out of COVID, because I was REI president during COVID, which was… I mean that was comical in itself because I’d been president for two years, ’18 and ’19, and the person who was set to be the next president had some family issues and so couldn’t, and they asked me to stay. It’s the first time they’ve ever asked a president to do a second term. I’m like, “Sure. Done it before, no problem. How hard can it be?” And then COVID hit.

Anthony Denman:
Oh god. Oh god.

Leanne Pilkington:
It was relentless. I worked seven days a week and was on media seven days a week. But what I learnt in that time is that people just want clear, consistent communication from their leaders. You don’t need to have all the answers, but just be open about it. It’s okay to say, “Actually, you know what? I do not know the answer to that, but here’s what I’m going to do, I’m going to find out and I will be back to you at this time, once I’ve been able to speak to whoever I need to speak to,” whatever it is. They just want that clear, consistent information and communication.

Anthony Denman:
In your various career roles, you’ve been through a lot of changes in your life. Which changes had the largest impact, in terms of positive change for the Laing+Simmons Group?

Leanne Pilkington:
Oh, definitely the shareholders. The new ownership group, without doubt. It’s been overwhelmingly positive. We’ve made massive changes, and that’s not just because of the… It’s because of the shareholder’s support. The current shareholders are all business owners, with the exception of myself and Jackie Jones, who’s my head of operations. All of the shareholders are happy for us to invest back into the business and develop new levels of support, new training, new backend services, all of that sort of stuff. We didn’t have that before.
I’ve been able to employ some incredible people and deliver lots of changes, so definitely there’s been more changes in the last two years than there has in the probably 25 before that for me.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, that’s classic, isn’t it?

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
That’s that old thing of milking the business, right? Not just having owners at the top who just want to take and take and take.

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah, it’s quite a unique situation. They just have a very different view. Everybody said to me, “15 shareholders, Lea, are you mad?” There’s been no real challenges at all so far. I mean, I know it’s only been two years, but so far, so good, right?

Anthony Denman:
Is it true that some of your franchises have clauses in their contracts that allow them to leave if you leave?

Leanne Pilkington:
Shush. Don’t tell people that. Don’t tell people that. A couple do, yeah. How funny is that?

Anthony Denman:
That’s crazy.

Leanne Pilkington:
I know.

Anthony Denman:
Okay, so I just want to make it very clear that as a person, as an individual, you are one of the most accomplished players in the real estate market. And in some ways, I didn’t even really want to bring the gender issue into it, but you have. I mean, you’ve done so much to help that ingender balance. So I think let’s talk a little bit about it. You created the Real Women in Real Estate group, that’s correct?

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
How did that all come to fruition?

Leanne Pilkington:
So, I started selling real estate back in the ’80s, and I was very young and there were no other women other than my mum, would you believe, in the Hills District at the time. I worked to fit in. I didn’t want to stand out in any way. I wanted to fit in, right? As my career progressed, I kind of had the same attitude. I never got involved in women’s networks, women’s conferences, women’s stuff. I didn’t feel I needed it and I just didn’t want to do it. And then I had some women working me that really nagged me to death, quite frankly, saying, “You’ve got so many contacts. We think that you should do a networking event.” Two years, it took them, to convince me into doing it. And then I went, “You know what? All right, leave it with me.” I had about a dozen women in my network that I knew had teams of women in their networks.
I just sent them an email and said, “Thinking about doing champagne and networking in a couple of weeks, what do you reckon?” And they all overwhelmingly said, “Yeah, okay. Let’s do it.” We had our first event with two weeks’ notice, only an email to those dozen contacts of mine. We had 65 women come to an event. It was a sellout. I stood there that night going, “I still don’t know why we’re here or what we’re meant to be doing but obviously there’s some kind of need for it.” And so I had somebody fly from Melbourne for that event, and somebody fly from Perth. Melbourne said, “Okay, can we do one there?” Perth did the same. I was doing networking events around the country three times a year, I’d go to Adelaide or Melbourne or Brisbane or… It was getting absolutely nuts.
We had the support of realestate.com, which was amazing. It was never a for-profit thing for me, it was just I wanted to connect as many women as I could to each other. I didn’t realise until recently… This is back in 2015. And it’s really only been in the last few years that I’ve realised that some of my best girlfriends, I actually met through that network. And I didn’t even realise that I needed that community until it was there.

Anthony Denman:
Why do you think that there was such a desire from everybody for this to happen?

Leanne Pilkington:
Lots of reasons. Everyone needs to have their own version of success, their own definition of success, and we’re an industry where we put up on a pedestal the high-performing GCI… I was at AREC last weekend and they had four guys on stage, who are phenomenal agents, the greatest of all time. They were all men. It’s actually offensive because there are some phenomenally talented women out there as well, but we don’t all define success the same way. There were women in our network that do great numbers but they also are mums, like D’Leanne, and prioritise… D’Leanne will prioritize a couple of days at home a week with her children, and rightfully so. But we weren’t hearing other stories back in 2015. We were only hearing the stories of the blokes who were doing well.
And so we just started to share stories with each other and became a great network and a great support system for each other.

Anthony Denman:
Do you think that metric of success, because I totally agree with you, people define success differently, do you think the metric will change?

Leanne Pilkington:
Not really. I mean, no, it’s a much better story, isn’t it, writing $7 million or all that stuff? It’s all fine, and more power to them. It’s phenomenal for them to be able to write that kind of business, but it’s not really what it’s all about for everybody. If you look at somebody like Cathy Baker, who’s up at Belle on the Central Coast, her drive is community and connection and relationships, and the money comes, or the success or the results, however you want to describe it, comes as a result of those activities. It’s not the other way around. And I just think that we need to accept that. I’m not saying that you can’t be driven by the money. That’s fine if that drives you, but it doesn’t have to drive everybody.

Anthony Denman:
It’s really interesting actually, because without generalising, the definition for success for women is different to… Mostly, I can say it without being too general, the definition of success is different to that of men. Most men are… especially in property.

Leanne Pilkington:
Men are much more transactional. Women, typically, are driven more by relationships and men are more transactional. That is the way that it is. It’s not good and it’s not bad.

Anthony Denman:
No, that’s right. They’re definitely more focused on the numbers and the cut and thrust of the deal.

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
Whereas, women are more interested in helping people, right?

Leanne Pilkington:
Right.

Anthony Denman:
And caring about the welfare of the vendor.

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah, women are phenomenal agents. There should be more of us, there really should.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah. I mean, that’s what I mean by the metric changing. Maybe it is more important to do something for the community or to help someone through a hard time, financially or whatever it might be, rather than just… You know, if you had a metric that they were amongst the criteria?

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah, certainly at Laing+Simmons, to win our elite agent of the… whatever the period is, you need to not just have done a certain amount of sales volume, but you also need to be demonstrating that you’re growing your team, so helping the people around you, but also being effective in your community.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, that’s great.

Leanne Pilkington:
So we do have those different levels. It’s not just about the number of…

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, that’s awesome. I thought you were wearing CAMILLA, but it’s not CAMILLA, is it?

Leanne Pilkington:
No, sorry. It’s a ZARINA. But I do have plenty of CAMILLA.

Anthony Denman:
Apologies to those people who… Maybe one I will start videoing these things.

Leanne Pilkington:
Do video?

Anthony Denman:
Particularly given how I’m dressed and what I wear. We won’t go there. We won’t talk about that. But in some ways, I can get away with this, right?

Leanne Pilkington:
Right.

Anthony Denman:
As a man, it’s probably okay for me to be sitting here wearing what I’m wearing. With all respect, because you are a very good-looking, mature woman-

Leanne Pilkington:
Thank you so much.

Anthony Denman:
But as a mature woman, even when wearing these said sparkly clothing and shoes and what have you, do you ever feel like you’re invisible when you’re in public?

Leanne Pilkington:
No. No, I don’t. I’ve had this conversation with some girlfriends. I can feel invisible when I’m at the local supermarket in my gym gear, if I think about it. But certainly in a work context, I never feel invisible. I guess that’s a reflection of my career. I’m very well-known in the industry so people are always coming up to talk to me and tell me stories about when they met me last time and what I was wearing, and all that sort of stuff. But I know, I’ve got a lot of girlfriends… because I’m 60, I’ve got a lot of girlfriends my age that would say that they always feel invisible when they walk into a room. But I think that’s kind of up to you whether you choose to feel that way or not, right?

Anthony Denman:
If you do feel that way, how do you go about changing how you’re feeling like that?

Leanne Pilkington:
Well, you’ve got to give yourself an attitude readjustment, for a start. If you don’t want to be invisible, don’t be invisible. Don’t let other people impose their expectations on you. If you don’t want to be invisible, don’t be.

Anthony Denman:
Can you give me an example of how you might do that?

Leanne Pilkington:
You just enter a room with confidence. Be clear on what you’re adding to the conversation, and if you’re not adding to the conversation to a positive way, then maybe you need to take a look at yourself.

Anthony Denman:
How do you train yourself to ignore the voice inside your head that says you can’t do this?

Leanne Pilkington:
Well, I’ve never been very good at being told I can’t. I’ll make those own decisions for myself. I guess-

Anthony Denman:
Because it is a fairly common thing for-

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah, it is. I mean, I’ve got a more of an attitude of it, “I’m going to have a crack.” That’s just who I am. I am prepared to step outside of my comfort zone. I’ve many a times gone, “Yep, I can do that,” and then to find myself on stage in front of 500 people thinking, “Why the hell did I say yes to this?”

Anthony Denman:
It’s a bit late now.

Leanne Pilkington:
I’ve certainly been in that situation. But you take a deep breath and you do it. And then the more you step outside of your comfort zone, the bigger your comfort zone is, if that makes sense.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, it does.

Leanne Pilkington:
And those become easy. I really enjoy MCing conferences and stuff like that now. I love it.

Anthony Denman:
Become comfortable being uncomfortable.

Leanne Pilkington:
Being uncomfortable. All of the good stuff happens outside of your comfort zone, according to Oprah.

Anthony Denman:
Yes. Well, there you go. It probably does. Do you still drink and misbehave with the boys?

Leanne Pilkington:
What kind of question is that?

Anthony Denman:
Well…

Leanne Pilkington:
And sadly, the answer is yes. Not quite as much as I used to, but yes, I drink, still love doing that.

Anthony Denman:
And misbehave with the boys, because-

Leanne Pilkington:
I have been known to drink tequila shots and dance on the bar, but we won’t go into that.

Anthony Denman:
Let’s talk about your charity work.

Leanne Pilkington:
Oh yeah.

Anthony Denman:
Do you do much charity work? We talked about your teenage girl thing, right?

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah, the Sister-to-Sister. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s a mentoring program for at-risk and troubled teenage girls. And so it’s a one-on-one mentoring program with big and little sisters. I was a big sister for two years, first year was 2009, and then I’ve been a team leader since then. I was appointed chair earlier this year. My motivation for getting involved back in the day was I always had people who believed in me. My dad always believed I could do anything I put my mind to. I had a great role model in my mum, who was a working mum, and I wanted to be that role model for people that didn’t have it in their family. And so that was my motivation. It has been a life-changing experience, not just…
Yeah, just learning about the world outside of my very privileged middle class world, the terrible situations that some of these girls are coming from and the help that we can… Just being there, caring, makes such a difference. I was absolutely thrilled to be appointed chair earlier this year. That’s the fifth board that I was on, so I can tell you I wouldn’t have agreed to it if it wasn’t something I was so, so very passionate about.

Anthony Denman:
I mean, thanks for doing that.

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah

Anthony Denman:
As a father of a seven-year-old girl, I generally people like… Without people like yourself, this sort of stuff doesn’t change. Things don’t change. So thank you, it’s very valuable. Now, we’re almost there. Thank you so much for your time.

Leanne Pilkington:

Anthony Denman:
I really, really enjoyed this conversation. I just want to talk about your podcast, if that’s okay.

Leanne Pilkington:
Oh yeah? I’ve actually got two now.

Anthony Denman:
Do you? Okay, well the one I know about is Courageous Conversations.

Leanne Pilkington:
Courageous Conversations, yeah. I mean that goes back to that whole thing about not hearing other people’s stories, right? And so I was getting frustrated that everything I was listening to was hustle and grind and all the good stuff. I also wanted to hear the stories about how people push themselves out of their comfort zone. What are those courageous conversations that you have to have, sometimes with yourself or with somebody else, to take you to the next level? And so that’s what’s it’s all about. It started out just with women, but now I’ve been lucky enough to have a whole lot of men. I’m finding that men are much more willing to be vulnerable and to share that vulnerability now. I’ve been doing the podcast for… I don’t even remember how long, but certainly pre-COVID, so it’s probably been five years, I guess. And I’ve really noticed a difference, that men are actually more prepared to share their difficult stories.
The last episode that went up was with Nathan Casserly from a really big business down in South Australia. It’s a great story around the challenges he was having with his business and what he did about it. So yeah, I’m really privileged that people are prepared to share those stories with me.

Anthony Denman:
And what’s the other one?

Leanne Pilkington:
The other one is called Unstoppable, and that’s with Harriet Saunders, who’s my head of Growth. It’s more of a skills for people that are relatively new to the real estate industry. You know, mindset and other tools to be successful.

Anthony Denman:
How do you choose your guests?

Leanne Pilkington:
I am lucky enough to meet people all the time at conferences and at various events. I just hear their story and go, “Wow, I’d love to share that.” Sometimes I’ll be reading a magazine and I’ll reach out to somebody that I’ve read about in a magazine, other times people will reach out to me.

Anthony Denman:
You say you do it every year. What time of the year do you write your letter to yourself about-

Leanne Pilkington:
December.

Anthony Denman:
December? Okay. Have you thought about… It’s a long way off, isn’t it? It’s six months away. Is it too early to think about what you’re going to write in the next letter?

Leanne Pilkington:
Yes. We’ve just done so much in the last two years, I can’t even begin to tell you. REB have awards… Real estate agents love an award and I’m no different. But REB awarded us the Major Network of the Year this year.

Anthony Denman:
Oh, congratulations.

Leanne Pilkington:
Thank you.

Anthony Denman:
Congratulations. Yeah, wow. That’s a huge achievement.

Leanne Pilkington:
We were up against some very big brands, and we’re a small… We’ve got 51 offices, only in New South Wales and we won that award. That is just a reflection of all of the hard work that we’ve put in in the last couple of years. And when we won that award, we had a corporate team of four in the period. It’s absolutely nuts. It is just nuts, and it was quite surreal to be on that stage.

Anthony Denman:
That’s awesome. I reckon your competitors probably had four people just working on the submission.

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah, pretty much. Some of them were sitting in the front row, and they weren’t very impressed.

Anthony Denman:
You would love that. Do you have any plans to expand outside of New South Wales?

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah, we do. And hopefully that will be on the next… That’s probably going to be in my letter for next year. Yeah.

Anthony Denman:
Yeah, okay. All right, well, we’re just about done. Do you have a final word that you would like to part this conversation?

Leanne Pilkington:
It’s your final word after talking to me for an hour and a half. Actually, no, I’ll share my favourite… My favourite quote at the moment is, “It’s not about what you’ve done, it’s about what you do next.” And so we’ve spent a lot of time talking about my career, and I’ve done a lot that I’m really proud of in my life, but all of that’s done and all of that doesn’t really matter any more. It’s what I focus on next that is really important. And so I say that to people that have maybe not done anything that they’re that proud of yet. It doesn’t matter what you haven’t done yet, you’ve still got time. It’s what you focus on now is what’s important.

Anthony Denman:
Fantastic. Listen, if somebody wants to get in contact with you, what’s the best way to do that?

Leanne Pilkington:
Yeah, sure. I’m on Instagram, theleannepilkington, LinkedIn, Leanne Pilkington, or just Leanne@LSRE.com.au is my email address.

Anthony Denman:
Well, thank you. I really enjoyed this conversation. I hope that our listeners did also. I’m sure they will.

Leanne Pilkington:
I hope so too, it’s been fun.

Anthony Denman:
I reckon that we’ll do this again in about five years time, when you’ve expanded into the entire East Coast of Australia and maybe even Western Australia or the Northern Territory.

Leanne Pilkington:
Who knows.

Anthony Denman:
I guess time will tell.

Leanne Pilkington:
Who knows. I’ll still be dancing when I’m cleaning my teeth.

Anthony Denman:
Thanks, Leanne.

Leanne Pilkington:
It’s been great. Thank you.

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, exploring their personal & professional stories whilst unearthing insights on how to create the most successful property brands possible.

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