Focus and determination: Q & A

7 September 2021


With a background in land surveying and civil engineering, Barry Cawthorn, Managing Director of Bawdens, was destined to become a commercial real estate success. For 40 years, he’s focused on building teams and giving back where he can.

How long have you been in the real estate industry?

I was originally born and raised in New Zealand and arrived here in Australia in 1980. I finished a degree in land surveying, worked as a geodetic surveyor for a couple of years and then moved into the civil engineering space, designing roads and water reticulation systems for residential subdivisions. However, it wasn’t until I went back to university and obtained a Bachelor of Business in Land Economy that I discovered an interest in real estate.

I then moved into residential sales for a short time and went on to join Hooker Corporate, becoming a freelance commission-only agent after a few years. During this time, I consulted with Bawdens, then joined the team, buying into the company over many years and finally taking control in 2006 when the owners wanted to retire.

Why did you choose to specialise as a commercial agent?

You need a lot of discipline as a land surveyor in terms of attention to detail. And this attention to detail was something I was able to apply to the commercial property space. I understood how land titles worked, what leases meant and the obligations between the parties. So the complexity of commercial real estate was very attractive to me.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Every year Bawdens grows anywhere between 12% and 13%, and I really enjoy the challenges I set myself as a leader to make this happen. I enjoy leading and helping people to become the best they can be by providing a vision and a framework, and then supporting them on their journey to achieve great things.

What’s been the highlight of your career so far?

Having the courage to raise debt and use that money wisely to acquire companies and rent rolls to build cashflow. Deciding to do this, working out how to do it and then doing it has been hugely rewarding. Recurring revenue is currently approaching 60% of gross profit, with assets under management almost $2 billion with a return on investment to shareholders of 35% to 40%. This is a really nice place to be.

Another highlight would be the creation of the Bawdens Ethical Investment Fund in 2020. We made an initial contribution of $50,000 and are committed to donating a percentage of our profit every year. Giving back is a big thing for us and we all decide collectively as a company where we invest.

What are your goals for the next 12 months?

We’re always looking for acquisitions and are focused on continuing our annual growth trajectory. I’m also keen to develop our Ethical Investment Fund even further.

From a personal perspective, I’m focused on helping and supporting my family to become all they want to be.

When you’re not at work, how do you like to spend your time?

My passion outside of work is fly fishing and I love travelling to cool places. Fly fishing is generally associated with rivers – and rivers are usually beautiful places – so it’s an incredible way to see the world. The COVID-19 pandemic has obviously limited my fishing to Australia, but normally I love to travel to New Zealand and the US. Other than that, I enjoy yoga and having dinner with friends.

Is there a phrase you live by?

If I had to choose a phrase it would be: “I live on my terms”. That’s not meant to be arrogant. What I mean is that if you invest in your self-development, you gain the freedom to be whoever you want to be, wherever and whenever you want to be. You’re not constrained in any way and have the freedom to mould outcomes so it’s a win-win for everyone. This also gives me the ability to serve others, support my family and make a real contribution to those around me.

“If you invest in your self-development, you gain the freedom to be whoever you want to be, wherever and whenever you want to be.”

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