Straight talking boy from the bush

2 June 2021

By HELEN HULL

With well in excess of 5000 days under his belt as REINSW’s Chief Executive Officer, Tim McKibbin is a formidable force. Here we look at the man who is leading the real estate profession into the next decade with passion and gusto.

You always know where you stand with Tim McKibbin. A man who is down-to-earth and will always tell it like it is, he describes himself as “determined and hardworking”.

“I love this job and I love this industry; I adore them both,” he said enthusiastically. “It’s my work, my hobby and my obsession.”

A husband, father and grandfather, Tim has an Accounting Degree and a Law Degree and is part way through a Masters in Tax Law – but, for all these educational achievements, he never actually finished high school.

Early years

Born in Broken Hill in 1961, Tim left school in Year 10 at the age of 15 to become an apprentice electrician in the mines. Four years later, having completed his apprenticeship, he ‘retired’ from the mines and took a gap year to hit the road with some mates to tour around Australia. But, by the time they reached Newcastle three months later, they had run out of money, so Tim found a job there as an electrician at the local coal loader plant.

But he missed the bush. So, after two years, he returned home to Broken Hill and decided to go out on his own as an electrician.

“At the time, you had to do training in bookkeeping,” Tim explained. “As is the case in many industries, someone can be great at their trade, but not so good when it comes to looking after the books. Much to my surprise – and everyone else’s – I did well at accounting and actually topped the class.

“Later, one of my teachers suggested that I had an aptitude for law, so I decided to tackle a Law Degree by correspondence. Becoming a lawyer was really more of an accident than anything else.”

This was where Tim’s transformation from blue collar worker to white collar professional began – though the Tim of today still couples his business suit with one of his several pairs of RM Williams boots and, on the odd occasion, an Akubra hat.

“My first job as an accountant was at the local council, before returning to the mining industry as the accountant for a superannuation fund,” Tim said.

“I was working as an accountant and studying law. I’d built a career and a home, and my life was full.”

Everything changed when, at the age of 33, Tim was diagnosed with cancer, which changed the course of this life.

“It was definitely a challenging time,” Tim said. “The sky looks bluer when you come out the other side of that sort of experience. I emerged with a commitment to help people in similar circumstances.”

“Consumers have the reasonable expectation that the NSW Government will support and protect them in property transactions. Therefore, a dedicated, experienced authority committed to delivering better outcomes for consumers and genuinely engaging the industry is essential.”

Change of direction

Tim’s career took another turn when he decided to undertake a Masters in Tax Law.

“By this time, I’d qualified as a solicitor and was working at a multi-disciplinary legal and accountancy firm and was a Partner in the firm’s tax practice,” he said. “At one point the firm expanded to have a bank under their roof – so I even had my own personal ATM for a while!

“I’m not really sure why I decided to start a Masters in Tax Law, but it wasn’t too bad. I was studying around the time the GST was introduced, so everything was new and interesting.”

In 2001, Tim made the decision to head to the big smoke and made the move to Sydney.

“I felt the time was right,” he said. “But moving to Sydney was horrendous and there were many, many times that I would have moved home in a heartbeat.

“I hated the commuting. As a small-town boy, I was used to leaving home, driving five minutes and then parking directly in front of the office. But in Sydney, I was on the train for 30 minutes each way and then I had to also walk. I know now that my commute was far easier than most, but compared to what I was used to, I felt like I was spending my whole life on public transport.”

In those early days in Sydney, Tim worked for a few different law firms. Then, in 2004, he found himself unemployed when the law firm he was at imploded.

“That was when I applied for the role of Legal Counsel at REINSW and the rest is history,” he smiled. “Two and a half years later, I stepped in as Acting Chief Executive Officer and was formally appointed as CEO in 2008.”

Surrounded by leaders

Tim’s passion for the real estate profession has no limits, but he’s quick to point out that he didn’t get to where he is today on his own.

“I feel very lucky, because I love what I do,” Tim said. “And to do the job as well as I can, I need to be around people who are industry leaders in their own right.

“My wife Jodie is one of the best commercial property lawyers in the country. When you come into our home, there’s a rule that you can talk about property or stay very quiet!”

When it comes to leadership, Tim explained that there are certain expressions that resonate with him.

“One that hits home with me is: ‘If you want to be good, you need to do the things that good people do’. And one of Jodie’s is: ‘Choose your role models carefully’.

“If I’m going to be in a room making important decisions, I want to be in that room with people who have the best knowledge in the industry, so together we can make better decisions.”

During his time as REINSW CEO, Tim has worked side-by-side with seven Presidents, including the Institute’s only two female Presidents to date – Cristine Castle, who served from 2005 to 2007, and Leanne Pilkington, who was elected in 2017 and is the only President to ever serve two terms.

A star is born

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, REINSW was quick to respond by providing information, guidance and leadership to members. The game had changed, and Tim, together with Leanne Pilkington, was front and centre almost every day giving updates across a range of social media platforms.

A star was born! The dynamic between Tim and Leanne is one of knowledge, expertise, passion and entertainment. For the first time, many members saw the wit, humour and easy-going affability of the man they had come to know as the legal eagle focused on taking the fight to NSW Fair Trading to secure better outcomes for the industry. Yes, this man also has a personality.

By the time the Awards for Excellence came around in October last year, Tim was ready to truly step into the spotlight and embrace his newly-anointed role of Entertainer in Chief. Alongside Leanne, Tim donned a tuxedo and performed a choreographed dance, complete with lip syncing, to the well-known ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ classic, ‘Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better’. The performance was a hit with members across the state who were watching the virtual event.

In reality, the spotlight has been on Tim for many years.

Each year, he’s on the road, travelling the length and breadth of New South Wales for the REINSW Roadshow. A mammoth task, Roadshow sessions are held in up to 20 locations each year over a period of three months. At each session, Tim updates members about what’s happening in the industry, provides details about any reforms and explains what’s on REINSW’s lobbying agenda.

And on-camera media interviews have become the norm over the years – so much so, that Tim keeps a clean shirt and selection of ties at the office, just in case an unexpected TV camera turns up in the foyer of REI House. He’s also become an old-hand at doing ‘door stop’ media grabs in front of his home in Cammeray on a Saturday morning.

“I remember my first TV interview,” Tim said with a smile. “I was looking out of the atrium window in my office, down into the foyer and I could see Channel 9 was setting up the cameras. The lift ride from the first floor to the foyer was a long one! I was living in the moment. Despite it only being a few short metres away, it felt like an incredible and never-ending journey – I was petrified.

“Thankfully, over time, my confidence has built. As the saying goes: ‘You only ever grow when you are outside your comfort zone’. This really rings true.”

Tim tripped the light fantastic with Leanne Pilkington in a choreographed performance for the 2020 REINSW Awards for Excellence event broadcast.

Pathway to professionalism

Tim is on a crusade to elevate the community’s attitude towards real estate agents and the profession.

“Coming from the bush, as a boy growing up, I had a view of who the professionals were in our community,” Tim recalled. “There were the managers at the mines, the local doctors and solicitors, the bank managers and, also, the real estate agents.

“Far from the view that seems to have developed today, I didn’t think of real estate agents as being ‘dodgy’. When I came to Sydney, it came as quite a surprise that the reputation of real estate agents didn’t accord with my experience.

“I strongly believe that real estate agents do an incredible job. They work extremely hard. In particular, I am a real fan of property managers – they are the unsung heroes of this industry.”

In recent years, Tim has been waging a war with NSW Fair Trading.

“I have frustrations – enormous frustrations – dealing with our regulator,” he said. “The thing that frustrates me the most is that I want to improve the consumer’s experience by lifting professional standards of this industry. But Fair Trading is steadfast in stymying every one of our efforts.

“Increasing education and professionalism will improve the consumer’s experience,” Tim emphasised. “I will never understand why I have to fight the consumer advocate, being NSW Fair Trading, to do that.

“It really does my head in. If we were trying to pursue something that was inappropriate and would result in poor outcomes for consumers, I would understand why they are so resistant. But, as things stand today, I’m at a loss as to why they are so steadfast in opposing us.”

Tim’s quest to see a Property Services Commissioner appointed for the industry has made progress.

“Pleasingly, the Property Services Council Bill has been introduced into the Lower House of NSW Parliament, passed the Upper House and is now pending a second reading by the Lower House in June.

“Consumers have the reasonable expectation that the NSW Government will support and protect them in property transactions. Therefore, a dedicated, experienced authority committed to delivering better outcomes for consumers and genuinely engaging the industry is essential.

“This is something I truly believe in and I know that we will win this battle,” Tim said. “I don’t know how to give up and this has seen me through so many things in life. If you’re somebody who refuses to give up, then ultimately you will win.”

What’s next

Having been at the heart of REINSW for the last 17 years, one wonders how long Tim McKibbin will stay in the role.

With a fire in his belly, and about to turn 60, another 17 years could be plausible. In fact, Leanne Pilkington has gone as far as suggesting that Tim might still be in the role at the age of 95 and still continuing the battle with NSW Fair Trading.

Asking Tim how long he plans to be in the role as REINSW CEO, he said: “I don’t know. The future is elusive. Without doubt, I’m enjoying what I do and I’ve developed some lifelong friendships throughout the industry that I cherish.

“The experience and knowledge that I’ve had access to and the support I’ve been given in terms of personal growth and confidence, is priceless. I would not have enjoyed such a satisfying and successful career, one that will continue to develop for many years to come, without REINSW and this wonderful industry that we all love – real estate!”

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