REINSW President John Cunningham said he was honoured to bestow Charles with the Woodrow Weight Award.
“Charles is a true leader in our industry, with incredible vision that he shares freely with his peers,” John said. “He has dedicated his life to real estate and has always been a strong supporter of REINSW. He is one of real estate’s greatest visionaries and exemplifies the best our industry has to offer.”
Growing up in the country town of Crookwell, Charles was more interested in sport than studies.
“I started weightlifting at the age of 12. During my teens, I was an Australian weightlifting champion and held five Australian records,” he said. “It took discipline. Every time I trained, every time I did a lift, I had to write it down so I could track my progress.
“Because it was drilled into me from such a young age, that discipline is now an innate part of who I am. It’s something I carry through to today. I still diarise everything. I write everything down.”
By the time he finished high school, Charles had aspirations of heading to university to study architecture – but fate had something different in store for him.
“During the school holidays, I went to work for my sister in property management – but it wasn’t a great fit. I quickly decided that I wanted to move into sales,” he said.
At just 18 years old, he set out to become a sales agent and, after a series of knock backs, found a job at a Penrith agency. Three years later, he had the chance to buy the office. Charles was absolutely determined not to fail, and so he built up the business by progressively buying new offices.
“By my mid-20s I had five offices and 40 employees,” he said. “It was at that time I decided to create a franchise. I rebranded the offices and started Combined Real Estate. I grew that to 56 offices by the early 90s.”
As he built his business, Charles also built a reputation as one of the real estate industry’s brightest and most innovative minds. He conducted training sessions, spoke at industry events and published two books: Profit Driven Real Estate and Listing Rich. He also networked with as many people as possible and gave freely of his time to mentor and counsel others in the industry.
“Years ago, I read something that has always stuck with me: ‘that which you share will multiply, that which you withhold will diminish’. It’s a philosophy that I live by.”
"Years ago, I read something that has always stuck with me: 'that which you share will multiply, that which you withhold will diminish'. It's a philosophy that I live by".
While not a believer in long-term goals, Charles does believe in setting short-term goals and embracing opportunities.
“I lived by the philosophy that ‘anything is possible when you don’t know what you’re doing’. Sometimes when you’re too educated and streetwise, you calculate the risk and don’t take it. You have the tendency to be so smart that you miss the opportunity.”
It was this open-minded approach to business that led Charles to Century 21 Australia.
“In 1993, someone from the American parent company came to one of my book launches and approached me about buying my business out,” he said.
“I’d looked at the franchise in the early 80s in the US. They appealed to me. Everyone was talking about the global economy, which you could see was starting to emerge in the 90s.”
But his industry peers advised him against joining the Century 21 brand.
“Century 21 had gone into liquidation in 1990 and the US parent took control of the Australian operation. It had a bit of a stigma attached to it.”
But Charles followed his instinct to join a global real estate brand and he merged with Century 21 Australia in 1994 and bought the business outright in September 1995. In 2009, the business grew with the addition of Wentworth Real Estate and its 8000-strong rent roll.
“At the time, it was the biggest private acquisition in property management by an individual in the country,” he recalled. “I think my biggest achievement is not actually buying it, but convincing Macquarie Bank to lend me $19 million to fund the acquisition in the midst of the GFC.”
Charles again extended the business’s footprint when he acquired Century 21 New Zealand in 2012, making Century 21 one of Australasia’s largest and most diverse property groups.
More to come
Asked if he’s achieved his career and business goals, Charles’ response is a quick “there’s still so much more to do”.
“There are always more opportunities. If you continue to build relationships, and respect and honour those relationships, you’ll look up one day and find that you have a circle of people talking about you – and the more people who are talking about you, the more opportunities will come to you.
“I’m currently exploring one that will have a huge impact on our Century 21 family,” Charles revealed, without going into detail.
Watch this space!