15 August 2019

Leadership in action

Mark Morrison is a man at the top of his game. Here’s how a previous life in the cruise line industry and an innate passion for working with people and businesses to achieve growth and success has seen him become one of the real estate industry’s stand-out leaders.

By TINA LIPTAI

He’s helped grow some of the most recognisable real estate brands. But it was the years he spent working in the cruise line industry that laid the foundation for Mark Morrison’s pathway to become the real estate industry leader he is today.

With family ties to real estate, Mark grew up with a keen interest in the industry and this interest was nurtured with opportunities to get hands-on experience during his school holidays.

After finishing school, he took a job with Elders in Mudgee, where he discovered a passion for auctioneering. All signs pointed to the fact that Mark was on a trajectory for a bright future in the real estate industry.

“It was a family thing,” Mark explained of why he was initially drawn to real estate.

“I was probably destined to work in the industry. My uncle had an agency in Parramatta and, while working as a stock and station agent at Elders, I discovered how much I enjoyed the auction side of things.

“But I was still very young and, after working for a few years, realised I wanted to travel and see the world.”


Learning to lead

Combining a strong work ethic, business degree and passion for travel, Mark spent the next 20 years working overseas in the cruise line industry. It was a far cry from working in rural real estate, but the change and challenge was exactly what he was looking for.

Mark lived and worked on ships for a decade and was then based in Miami, where he honed his management style and developed a deep understanding of service excellence.

Mark said that this time spent working with brands like Royal Caribbean Cruises and Disney Cruise Lines, with responsibility for more than 30 ships at any one time, was a rich training ground and shaped his leadership style.

“It’s a completely different world, like nothing I’d ever experienced before,” he said of working on a cruise ship. “Working with Disney Cruises was a great training ground. They really focused on training and I learnt a lot about leadership. For me, being a leader is about being ‘hands on’ and being able to engage and motivate everyone in the team to be their best.”

Though it’s not for everyone, Mark said gaining experience outside the real estate industry was important for his personal and professional development. Working internationally exposed Mark to a range of management styles in action and provided a wealth of opportunities for training and learning, which have all informed how he leads today.

When Mark returned to Australia with his young family, a move back to the real estate industry was not in his plans. However, not long after reconnecting with friends in the industry, he realised the passion was still there and joined McGrath Estate Agents.

“It was an exciting time of growth for the McGrath network,” Mark recalled. “When I started with them there were eight offices. I was part of the expansion into the ACT and also set up the network in Queensland before becoming State Manager for that territory. In my nine years with the company, we grew to about 60 offices.”

Mark then became CEO at Harcourts NSW in 2014, where his focus was on driving internal growth through mentoring business owners and recruiting across New South Wales.

“During my time with Harcourts, the New South Wales network doubled,” he said. “There were 20 offices when I joined the franchise five years ago and now there are 40. Sales and property management growth has also been impressive in this time.

“The growth the network has achieved – and indeed my role in making that happen – is something of which I’m incredibly proud.”

Even more so, Mark is proud of the work he’s done with agency owners in the Harcourts NSW network.

“I’ve always made it a priority to work closely with agency owners,” he explained. “Together, we build yearly plans, which are updated quarterly. This helps everyone stay on track. It helps them with their top line, but, more importantly, with their bottom line.

“Working with them and supporting them has been critical and has resulted in our shared success.”


Creating a culture of giving

For Mark, an essential part of being a good leader involves contributing to the community.

“I like giving back and I think it’s really important,” he explained. “In general, there are plenty of things you can do easily that will make a positive impact on the community. By using your skill set to make a difference, giving back doesn’t have to be hard work.”

As an auctioneer, Mark has helped raise millions of dollars through charity auctions and believes there’s no better way to gain experience with the gavel.

“It’s a two-way street. When you’re just starting out as an auctioneer, you can learn via charity auctions. It doesn’t take a lot of your time, but it makes a big difference to the community – and you feel good!”

Over the years, Mark has also been involved in much bigger charity projects through his involvement with the Harcourts Foundation, including a 1700 kilometre bike ride from Adelaide to Uluru. The ride raised thousands for cancer research as part of the Smiling for Smiddy cycling challenge in memory of Adam Smiddy, who died from an aggressive form of cancer at the age of 26.

“That was a great challenge to be part of,” Mark said. “Cancer affects all of us, so it was great to be raising money for such a worthy cause – and the nine-day ride was an incredibly rewarding experience for me personally.”

Through the Harcourts Foundation, Mark has also raised money for and participated in the Walk A Mile In Their Shoes charity walk. The event sees men donning high heels to walk a route to raise awareness of the impact of violence against women.

“I’ve always sympathised with women who walk for hours on end in high heels, but after participating in this event over the last few years, I can now empathise,” he said.

“I’m extremely proud to participate. Having two daughters myself, I’m a strong believer that we must raise awareness at a grassroots level to educate young people that domestic violence is not acceptable.”

Mark has also raised much needed funds to support the Little Wings Flight Program, which provides flights and ground transportation to seriously ill children and their family from rural New South Wales to the Children’s Hospital in Sydney.

“I think generally, the real estate industry is very generous with time and money when it comes to supporting the community and I am really proud of that,” Mark said.

“Most agents are very community minded and I think it’s something we need to acknowledge and celebrate so that this culture of giving continues to be seen as valuable and important by new agents who enter the industry.”


Looking forward

Looking for a new challenge, Mark recently announced his resignation from Harcourts to launch a new real estate business venture.

“I can’t say a lot about it yet,” Mark said. “But I want to create a new model of business that gives agents both support and freedom, so they can enjoy the rewards of running their own business without getting overwhelmed by the huge challenges inherent in starting your own agency.

“I’m committed to this industry and want to help agents achieve their goals. For me, offering a model that makes support, mentoring, success and financial reward more accessible to more agents is a big step forward for the industry.

“Watch this space for what’s next!”

“For me, being a leader is about being ‘hands on’ and being able to engage and motivate everyone in the team to be their best.”
“There are plenty of things you can do easily that will make a positive impact on the community. By using your skill set to make a difference, giving back doesn’t have to be hard work.”
“For me, offering a model that makes support, mentoring, success and financial reward more accessible to more agents is a big step forward for the industry.”
Want more?

Why I love real estate

“There are a lot of things I love about the real estate industry,” Mark said enthusiastically.

“It’s an industry that allows for a lot of diversity. It’s not unusual to meet a successful real estate agent who has a background as a lawyer or as a truck driver. It’s that sort of industry – one where you can build a successful career regardless of your background or previous level of education.

“I love meeting people from all walks of life and, whether they’re clients or other agents, you’re always engaging with interesting people in this industry.

“I’ve never wanted a typical 9-to-5 desk job and I like to be challenged. The real estate industry satisfies these two needs for me.

“It’s always changing and you need to stay on top of things or you’ll fall behind – but that’s why it’s such an exciting industry to be a part of.”

Mark’s top tips for success

  • Success is a long game. You need to have integrity or you won’t last long in this industry. If you think you’re going to make fast money, you also won’t last long. It’s not an industry where you’ll find overnight success. The agents you look up to will all have done the hard yards to get to where they are.
  • Learn as much as you can. The best way to start out in this industry is to work for someone who has the same work philosophy as you do and learn as much as you can from them. It’s a slow burn career and you should spend your first few years learning from someone who you admire. 
  • Consistency is key. Be process driven and understand that great achievements really come from doing the things that need to be done, day in and day out. Like an elite athlete, the gold medal or premiership is won in the preparation. It’s the work you are consistently willing to put in so you’re ready to perform that will reap the ultimate benefits.
  • Be genuine. From your colleagues to your clients, people will see through you if you’re in real estate for the wrong reasons. You need to be passionate, but also relentless when it comes to working towards your goals – and you need to have a thick skin!
  • Build a strong team. Having good people around you is essential for long-term success. It’s often costly and challenging to bring new people on, but ultimately it’s worthwhile to build your own team with people who are passionate, motivated and share your vision.

Leading the way

While it’s tempting to only look at those in the ‘top job’, Mark said at every level in a business you can find inspiring leaders.

“Being a great leader is about what you do, not the power you have or position you hold,” he explained.

“In every office there are senior agents who people look up to and aspire to be like. These agents are the ones who do all the training that’s offered and are the first to put their hand up to contribute to office meetings. These are the agents who have processes in place that put their clients first. And, in most cases, these are the agents who put a lot back into the business. They go beyond what’s expected for the good of everyone around them and they’ve earnt the respect of others in the business.

“I think, in the past, real estate as an industry has lost some focus on creating great leaders. There are always really excellent agents coming through, but their focus has been on raising their own profile, hitting their targets and making the most sales.

“But the agent that’s the most successful on paper isn’t necessarily a good leader.

“We need to make it a priority to be training agents about what it means to be a good leader to ensure our industry has a bright future.

“A good leader needs to have integrity, be accountable and, most of all, be passionate about what they’re doing. They need to understand that they won’t always be loved, but they need to be respected.

“As a leader, you need to be prepared to make decisions about what’s best for the group, the brand and the office. These decisions won’t always make you the most popular person. But if you’re respected and people see that your motivations are genuine and that you believe in the team, then you’re well on your way to being a great leader. An office can fall apart if they lose respect for their leader – and if you are faking it, people will see through you very quickly.”