12 June 2020
Tim Gurner's lockdown game changer
Despite not having to commute anymore, Rich Lister Tim Gurner still starts his day at 5.30am and he opens up about why he won’t be doing much business travel when restrictions are lifted.
Rich Lister Tim Gurner doesn’t yet know what the full impact of COVID-19 on the property sector will be, but if there’s one thing he does know, it’s he won’t be doing much interstate business travel when restrictions are lifted.
The apartment developer – who ranked 141 on last year’s Financial Review Rich List with a fortune of $672 million – says the shift to Zoom meetings during the lockdown has been a game-changer.
“One of the biggest transformations will be around where I spend most of my time,” he told The Australian Financial Review.
“I can now connect with interstate stakeholders at the click of a Zoom link, rather than spending a whole day travelling for one or two quick meetings.”
Gurner says he plans to reduce his interstate travel by 20 to 40 per cent, depending on what happens in the next six months and when restrictions are eased.
“Until then, I’m not planning on travelling really at all until there is more clarity, so for now, my interstate meetings will continue to be held on Zoom.”
Like many busy CEOs, Gurner says some positives have emerged from the shift to working from home during this crisis.
“I think there have been some huge positives to come out of this period while experiencing the world slowing down a bit,” he says.
“We all got so used to the world being chaotic and crazy, there was no time left for yourself or family.
“Everything was so important and urgent that the converse became true – nothing was actually important anymore. This time has really allowed us the space to focus on our family and friends first, which has put things back into perspective.”
Perhaps the biggest highlight for Gurner was “all the surprise cuddles throughout the day” from his children.
Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews has banned workers from returning to offices until at least July, but Melbourne-based Gurner had not planned on rushing back to the office full-time any time soon anyway.
“When in Melbourne, I think this period has really proven that we can achieve the same, if not more, while working from flexible locations, so I’ll definitely put less stress and pressure on myself to always be in the office whenever possible,” he says.
Despite the perks of not having to commute to work, Gurner still wakes up at 5.30 every morning and reckons it is the most productive hour of his day.
“I would normally wake up at 5.30am and train but instead now I grab a tea and head to my home office to read all the news from overseas to get up to speed on global events for the day, and then get into some work,” he says.
“I get a head start on my day with an hour of uninterrupted work that is probably my most productive for the day.”
Although the pandemic has been challenging for the property developer, Gurner says it has helped him to emerge from a negative head space and to be more focused.
“By having more time to myself at home, as opposed to cramming in anywhere between 16 to 20 meetings a day, I’ve been able to focus on the strategic future of the business and explore a lot of alternative opportunities that we have never had the time to consider in the past,” he says.
Gurner was in the middle of completing two major projects – his Albert Place Residences in South Melbourne and Hawksburn Place Residences in Toorak – when the initial lockdown was announced.
“I had no choice but to put my head down and work harder than ever before,” he says.
Despite the lockdown, the developer settled 99 per cent of the apartments, totalling more than $180 million, in 14 days. With the restrictions, Gurner’s team shifted to virtual walk-throughs and one-on-one inspections.
For Gurner, communication has been the biggest leadership lesson for him as a boss to emerge from this crisis.
“It has been a huge test for our team as we are very close-knit and all love spending time together – having weeks without that face-to-face contact has been hard for us all,” he says.
“So many people are anxious about their jobs and the economy so we have a weekly video call where I update the team on any news coming out of the global health authorities or world economies and the effects of the virus at both a global and a local level.”
Gurner says it is too early to tell yet how COVID-19 will play out in property.
“Will it be like the global financial crisis when everyone moved their money into bricks and mortar, or will unemployment and immigration have a more material effect on sentiment and pricing than we all think? Time will tell.”