About the UDIA Outlook Interviewer:
Full Name
: Joshua Leigh

Job Title: Development Professional

Company: Stockland

About the Interviewee:
Full Name
: Col Dutton

Job Title: General Manager WA

Company: Stockland

Interviewee Introduction:
As General Manager of Stockland’s WA Communities, Col Dutton oversees the development of a significant land, built form and retirement living portfolio. Col is also the current UDIA WA President, a role he took on-board in 2020. He works closely with the UDIA and its member organisations to elevate and advocate for issues the industry is facing.

Since commencing his career as a civil engineer Col has gained experience across a range of industries including engineering, local government and development in Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia.

Col’s customer led approach and strategic thinking has enabled him to deliver projects and initiatives in line with their desired outcomes. Most recently, his pivotal role with the UDIA to help the development industry navigate the COVID-19 pandemic is testament to his character.

Serving up the Hot Questions

1. Can you please introduce yourself and share a brief overview of your career to date?

Sure, my name is Col Dutton, I’m the General Manager for Stockland Communities here in WA. My property journey started off as a Civil Engineering Technician, basically doing supervision of maintenance and construction works in a local authority in Brisbane.

I eventually got into development assessment when I finished my engineering degree which I was doing part time. From there I worked for the Queensland State Government and three different councils across Queensland and New South Wales assessing developments.

In my third development assessment role I was co-ordinator of all the subdivision and environmental approvals for Gold Coast City Council, which is a large super council that stretched from Brisbane to the New South Wales border. I loved my assessment coordination role on the Gold Coast Council but I discovered that I was keen to learn about the entire development cycle including acquiring land, understanding the type of customer and creating communities. I also loved interacting with the industry at a time when the Gold Coast was leading the nation with their rate of population growth.

From there I made a big step jumping to Stockland in 2001 after about 10 or so years of doing development assessment. Stockland’s brand was excellent and I was keen to learn more on developing communities. I then made the step with Stockland back in 2011 (moving from Queensland to Western Australia) where I’ve been since that point in time.

2. What are three of the most significant experiences that led you to where your career is today?

The first is probably my final local authority role that I undertook at the Gold Coast Council in 1995. I was leading a team of about 60 people. I’ve always gravitated to being involved in teams both inside and outside of work. I really enjoyed being the leader of a large team that was interacting so closely with industry. It was a time where the Gold Coast was experiencing the highest growth rate in Australia so from a local authority perspective, it was very interactive and exciting. So that was probably number one.

Number two was in 2001, where I was keen to learn a bit more and widen my skills by jumping in with a Property Company that was Stockland. That move came about by my relationships, both at work and outside of it, where Stockland actually sponsored the surf club I was part of. That’s how I got to know Stockland more personally as I was President of the surf club for 12 years.

The third most significant experience would have to be picking up my family in 2011 and moving interstate with three young children. I strongly recommend getting interstate or even international experience from a work perspective. It might not be on the cards for too many people right now but it’s definitely worth taking the ‘leap of faith’ if the opportunity arises.

I’ve seen so many great examples of it, particularly at Stockland being a national company. The ones willing to put their ‘hand up’ for a new experience, move to a new market, build new relationships, join a new team and take on a new challenge usually succeed and always benefit from it.

3. What advice would you offer to recent graduates and young professionals entering the development industry?

One that I always believe is to make sure you truly know what your passion is. I discovered my passion along the way in regard to creating things, being part of a good team and being empowered to get on with it.

The property industry has so many disciplines involved and so many dimensions to it. Make sure you stay true to yourself, understand what gets you excited and always look out for that.

The only other thing I would say is, try to get study out the way early. I worked and studied part time. If I had my time again, and I don’t look backwards too often, but I think that if you’re wanting to undertake extra qualifications, get them sorted early in your career before family and added responsibilities come along.

4. You’ve been heavily involved in the UDIA amongst other bodies, how would you encourage young professionals to engage with the UDIA?

That’s a really good question. Other than Tanya and the paid staff, the UDIA is a volunteer organisation. The combination of paid professionals and volunteer Council and Committee members trying to improve their industry is its number one strength.

In terms of getting involved, I would definitely look for opportunities to join committees. Attend as many events as you can, and keep an eye out for the Professional Development courses. The committees are passionate and have a want to improve our industry, the events are normally topical and relate to key issues, and PD course have great speakers with huge experience and targeted WA content.

5. Success can be a pretty subjective term, how do you define success personally and for your organisation?

Personally, I try to take a balanced and very deliberate approach to wellbeing, prioritising and then success normally follows. I make sure I’m looking after myself physically and mentally and then prioritise my time with my partner, my family, my friends, my work, and when I can, my contribution to the community.

I don’t compare myself to other people to measure success. I am my own judge and I work on this pretty independently.

In terms of professionally, I’m remote from my Stockland leadership team over east and I am trusted and empowered to get on with things. As a business, obviously you have your targets/KPIs and company values. It may sound a bit cliché but throw yourself into your company’s purpose and values and if they don’t match your own, then find a company or business that does.

Property is something you can touch and feel so I personally enjoy that. Nothing beats the feeling of seeing something you’ve work so hard on ‘come to life’ and become a success.

6. Where do you see opportunity for improvement in policy and delivery in the Development Industry?

I’ve been involved in development across three different states and from my experience, I believe it has to be strategic planning led with key and legible infrastructure supporting it.

Where things often fall down is when various Government entities take a siloed approach, rather than a more overarching holistic view. Often they’ll create their own siloed approach to what’s right and what’s wrong, whereas they should understand their part in an overarching strategic process. There needs to be a wider understanding of what we as an industry are trying to create, whether it’s an individual project or an entire new suburb. Ultimately, it’s about all being part of creating something for our customers and our communities.

7. What do you see is currently the biggest obstacle to delivering in the development industry?

In Perth, the inconsistent behaviour of various government departments and local authorities can be really difficult from a delivery perspective. Each stakeholder needs to understand their role and be on the same page, whether that be the industry, a local council or the State.

More often than not we assume the people in any given authority understand what you’re seeking to achieve. Certainly as property professionals it’s our role to make sure that we stay on the front foot and actually communicate well with our stakeholders. If we can achieve this more consistently it will result in better outcomes for the community.

The Final Sip….

8. Where is the biggest opportunity for improvement in our industry over the next 5-10 years?

All the decisions you make in development circle back to the end customer.

For over a decade, we’ve seen the individual wants of a customer being identified more and more through their online presence and behaviour. The opportunity lies in unpacking and understanding that data to deliver the right message (our products), to the right person, at the right time, in the right channel. That’s what we need to achieve as an industry.

Similarly, speaking to the land development industry specifically, it is a complex path for our customers. When you think about it, it’s a jigsaw of land, housing and finance.

Having a more combined approach and making it as simple as possible for a customer to get into their own home is an area where we can definitely improve. Giving the customer a complete package and making it truly seamless for them. We need to make sure that all the things they may value in the community are there from the beginning, whether it be an established community or within a new greenfield community.

I know that all sounds very simple but what we deliver or the product we create should always be driven by the customer’s wants and we need to make that easy for them.