The Outlook Committee are excited to welcome you to The Career Café where we sit down with influencers in our industry & serve up the hot questions and share with you their answers.

This month we sat down with Paul Spadanuda, who is General Manager at Now Living, TERRACE & BGC Development.

About the UDIA Outlook Interviewer:
Full Name
: Michael Arena

Job Title: Civil Project Engineer

Company: TABEC Civil Engineering Consultants

About the Interviewee:
Full Name
: Paul Spadanuda

Job Title: General Manager

Company: Now Living, TERRACE & BGC Development

Interviewee Introduction:
As General Manager of the Specialised Housing Division of BGC Housing Group, Paul Spadanuda oversee a diverse portfolio of building brands including Now Living, TERRACE and BGC Development.

Since commencing his career in the building industry 18 years ago, Paul has worked across a number of sectors including Residential, Commercial and Mining / Oil and Gas, helping to deliver landmark buildings and projects in WA worth over $5 billion.

Paul’s impressive career history with the BGC Housing Group began in 2014, when he was employed as a Manager of Now Living Realty. Over the last few years, Paul has continued to grow from strength to strength within BGC, with Operation Manager and General Manager roles across Perceptions, TERRACE and Now Living.

Paul’s highly strategic mind, years of construction experience and stakeholder management skills have helped BGC Housing Group navigate the downturn of Perth’s property market with consistent sales, growth, innovation and award-winning home designs.

Serving up the Hot Questions

1. Can you please share a brief overview of your career in the property industry to date?

I started my career in Commercial Estimating as a Junior Estimator. It was quite literally a baptism of fire. At the time, it was one of the more challenging things I had done. But, as is the case with challenges, a time where a lot of lessons were learned. I genuinely worked harder than I had before, with a typical day starting at 7am and finishing at 11pm, and on repeat!  I lived this routine for about a year before the company I worked for fell into hardship.  Forced to operate with a skeletal workforce, only few key positions were maintained with most positions being made redundant. I was ‘lucky enough’ to be one of the last cabs off the rank.

I quickly entered into the construction arm of the Residential Sector and began to build to build a career as scheduler at Impressions the home builder. Back then, the brand fell under J-Corp which was part owned by Julian Walters and BGC. When BGC acquired J-Corp in its entirety, I was retained and from there worked my way up to Scheduling and Estimating managerial roles. I transitioned from Residential back into Commercial, working as a Construction/Project Manager for 5 years on a multitude of projects. My next leap of faith was into the Mining Sector. I became a consultant on large infrastructure projects in Oil and Gas and Mining and Metals. I’ve been around the block in my time!

2. Was it a fairly natural progression for you to transition into leadership roles? Was it a case that you were striving for those positions or more as a result of external recognition of your potential?

I think it is a bit of everything right? You should be confident and self-assured in your own abilities but also be open to listening to and learning from others who might have slightly differing opinions and/or skillsets.

One of the things I’ve tried to focus on in my varying roles and through the different companies I’ve worked at, is to build transferrable skills. I’m constantly striving to build on my existing skillsets and apply them to my next role, and then build on these once again.

My move into Commercial was a fairly natural progression, but there was certainly an element of right place, right time. Of course, I had to demonstrate that I was capable of performing in the role and achieving their desired outcomes. I believe they saw that I had the drive to learn and capability to progress to the next level. I’m a firm believer that with leadership and management skills, while they can be taught, you either have it or you don’t.

3. What are the key attributes that stick out to you that would indicate an individual is capable of taking the next step in a leadership role?

I like the saying – hustle will beat talent, especially when talent doesn’t hustle. So anyone that has a bit of hustle, in my opinion, is someone you want to have a chat to for potential progression into leadership.

People are surprisingly cluey. If you put someone in a particular situation, you may be surprised by the way they react. Some people can naturally adapt to changing or challenging environments, learn new ideas and apply these to the way in which they respond; they have a bit of hustle about them. These are the type of people that you want to start to explore as potential leaders.

Sometimes, people don’t know if they have leadership potential or not. For example, they’re a lot of people that will strive to be a manager as it’s their definition or ‘benchmark’ of success. The reality is that managing people is the hardest job you will ever have in your life. Some people are just not wired for it. Managing people and being a leader is not just about you leading by example. To lead successfully, quite often, you must take a step back, listen to people’s concerns, reset them, and give direction and motivation for them to get back on track.

Along the way, I have known a lot of good people who I was fortunate enough to see succeed in management. There is a fine line between those who want to be a manager as the title is their indicator for success, and those who have the capability and the hustle to ultimately succeed.

4. How would you most aptly define success for you personally and as an organisation?

For me, success is about the people you work with and the environment you work in. You are nothing without the people you surround yourself with. A motivated and competent team will ultimately lead to a successful business.

Whenever I am looking to hire people for my team, I’m not afraid to hire someone who I think might be ‘better’ than me. Because it does two things. It allows me to step up and challenge myself and opens up an opportunity for self-learning and growth. If you are unable to step up and grow, you are the wrong person for that job.

I often think about what I have achieved in my career already and think to myself, do I deem my career as successful? Success is a difficult thing to measure as there are so many varying parameters to success. I hope to reach the end of my career, look back, and see that I’ve done some great things and have made a difference. Right now, I have so much growth ahead of me, I’m focussing on my short term successes and successes of the team around me.

5. Did you have any mentors that you specifically look at for advice or guidance and what have you taken from those learnings?

I didn’t have a mentor per se, but I have always looked to people in senior and leadership roles and observed the way they portrayed and conducted themselves. I would assess what I did and what I didn’t like about their management styles and apply those learnings to my own.

Early in my career my boss Alan Clarke, a construction manager, would often come out with some valuable one-liners. He was an industry old-timer and very good at simplifying complex issues.  He would always say; “I’m not a smart man, but I’ve got a way of looking at things simplistically. I have to do this is so I can understand and best tackle the issues and tasks at hand.” He taught me that a lot of issues are often made more complex than they need to be, breaking problems down will make them easier to solve. Another favourite of Alan’s was “you can’t put old heads on young shoulders”, something that I appreciate more as I progress through my career.

I try to observe people’s traits and isolate those that I would like to adopt, and those that I would not. One policy that has always been close to my heart is one that no matter what you do, who you are, who you work for or how high up the food chain you go, you should never forget where you came from; you should make yourself approachable and be kind and supportive of people.

I hate that notion of ‘that’s the boss, they won’t want to speak to me’, or, ‘I’m too nervous to start a conversation with them’. I make a conscious effort to break down these barriers with my staff and others around me.

6. A depressed market can often be a trigger for major innovation. What key innovations have you observed in the development industry over the past several years and how have they benefited the industry?

Working through the depressed market over past 5 years has actually been interesting. I found that if you don’t innovate during times when the market isn’t so buoyant, you will get left behind.

Those who have continued with their status quo must now be questioning why they haven’t achieved the results or success that they may have forecasted. We found by involving ourselves in a variety of scenarios and partnering with different companies and organisations on new and innovative technologies and products, has kept us on the front foot and attributed to our recent successes.

I often see that when times are good, people forget to innovate, and tend to leave good general practice and principles behind. An area in the building and development industry that people are often afraid to touch is densification, and the reason for this fear is because there are so many bad examples of it. The majority of bad examples have fallen off the back of the booms, where developers were producing the smaller Lots and affordability of consumers was low, which meant that we were achieving poor designs and streetscapes. We forgot to innovate. So people go back and look at ‘density’ now and say “That?! I don’t want that, Not in my back yard.”

Over the past 5 years of prolonged downturn, if you wanted to stay relevant and succeed, you had to innovate. Our ability to play in the small lot space, which started in Ellenbrook and is now in close to 40 locations across WA, has allowed our business to achieve success while managing a downturn. Our TERRACE brand has a unique product with strong sales, not just because it’s a great product with funky branding, but because we saw a gap in the market and a genuine consumer demand for this type of product. If you can do well in a depressed market, you can do well in an order taking market. And the great thing about the TERRACE brand is that it has only ever operated in a depressed market. I don’t think we could have fathomed the amount of traction we have received from industry and how well received our small product was, from our initial undertaking. But one thing we did know was that we had a duty as the first builders undertaking this product in WA to do a good job so we didn’t relive the sins of the past.

One of the big discussions I’ve been having with developers is to highlight that it is up to us to not fall back on bad practices. Our previous answer to affordability was to make lots smaller, which increased the square metre rate of land due to small Lots still have the same fixed costs for services as larger Lots. The downside being that with increase in cost per square metre for land, often meant the product that was constructed wasn’t the best outcome.

Going forward, we need to see more Developers and Builders collaborating. Historically, Developers and
Builders used to operate independently. Developers talked to other Developers; builders talked to other builders but builders  typically didn’t collaborate with developers in order to achieve good buildform outcomes. Now we are seeing a lot more collaboration and we need to continue to foster good relationships with all the key developers  consistently through all market conditions. Collaboration needs to occur through the whole process  to ensure we continue to deliver good outcomes, not just being reactive to what is going on in the market.

7. At what point do you feel the builders are best placed to enter into discussions with the developer to realise good development outcomes?

From the structure plan stage, or as close to the absolute beginning as possible.

This way, as the builder, we can give developers feedback and lessons learnt from previous projects, particularly when looking to implement a similar product in a similar area. We can liaise about what should be done differently, what was done well and what was not done well, what product worked and what product didn’t. These sorts of discussions will give developers and planners the best insight into the products and Lot sizes they are looking to deliver.

Builders can also provide advice on market trends and where the market is moving to. With the scarcity of land at the moment, these kind of insights will allow developers and builders to make the best decisions with the information at hand.

8. What are the most significant obstacles which often constrain the ability to deliver product to the urban development industry?

Department of Planning are currently undertaking a review of medium density policies, and one of the things I try to get involved in through my various committees is the topic of density

I am currently part of the medium density advisory group (MDAG), where we get to share insight on challenges faced and opportunities we have to do things better. One of the big obstacles we have at the moment with respect to innovation, particularly around the small lot and medium density product, is that the current planning and policy framework does not support small lot development in an infill setting. That is one of our biggest challenges.

9. You mention involvement in professional committees, what are your current involvements and what value does that bring?

I’m a big believer in connecting with people within your industry and then sharing discussions and thoughts.

One of the things I implore people to do, is try to get on a committee and make sure that you contribute to the committee and the industry. As mentioned, I sit on the Master Builders Committee, MDAG, and try to be involved in as many things as possible. The key is, don’t just be an innocent bystander and listen- listening is important, but you need to contribute.

The only way we can move the industry forward is by people contributing and providing their comments, whether right, wrong or indifferent. Question the status quo. I have found that there are a lot of like-minded people in the industry at the moment and that this new wave of senior managers have different thoughts from past industry influencers. We are seeing a changing of the guard so to speak, which is allowing new ideas,  different discussions, and questioning the way things have been done previously.

The Final Sip….

10. In the next 5 years, where is the industry headed? Still confident that medium density is the way forward?

Absolutely, lots are going to get smaller, there is no doubt about that. Builders are going to have to get more innovative.

We are going to have to keep working on the model in which builders continue to work more closely with developers. With the exchange of different intel and insights, we’ll be able to best service our clients, and provide West Australian’s with a better product . Green field sites will still exist, although there will be a big push for infill moving forward. I daresay that there will be a lot of discussions around infrastructure and activating certain hubs. I’m really interested in having the conversation around forward planning a lot of these infill developments.

One of the big things I raise time and time again is the need to engage with and educate consumers, as to the how and why we do certain things. This communication needs to start now, as we will get to a point where we have lean towards more medium and high density products, and if the consumers aren’t ready for it, then the market will be in a lot trouble. So yes, a focus on medium and high density is where it is at. Of course, traditional residential will certainly continue to exist, albeit with less focus.

WA is vastly superior to other States in that we have a lot of land, but our urban sprawl and what we have done in the past has made people cautious about the direction we are moving in as an industry, and how far we stretch our resources and infrastructure networks. I feel that we will be moving towards bringing people closer to the city, and making it affordable to do so. In order to do this, we must maintain affordability. Even though WA is one of Australia’s most affordable city to live in Australia, we are still having issues with affordability. So how do you make it affordable for people to live in certain areas? The answer is to not make things bigger, but to make things smaller by being smarter.