Part 1: The first 10 years

I’ve had a lot of feedback on my recent 30-year ‘story’ so I thought it deserved a deeper dive across each of the 10-year periods.

Many of the building blocks underpinning each of these periods remain relevant in 2022 and help to explain our unique offering and positioning in the market.

In the first of three blogs, I’ve taken a look at the first 10-year period. This is what I describe as the ‘instructional’ period where I exponentially learnt about property and consulting. It probably deserves a book of its own but here are a few further insights!

1992 to 2002: Instructional

I can’t underestimate the importance of the initial 10 years working alongside Peter Dow and the huge thanks I owe him. Not only did Peter give me a confidence boost and backed me to be successful, he carefully mentored me (through a process of osmosis) and gave me an exponential learning experience in a short space of time; teaching me the fundamentals of consulting (including client engagement, problem solving, analysis, financial modelling and report writing), imparting his indepth knowledge of the public sector and schooling me in the principles of ‘corporate real estate’.

I started my career at AMP in a property management role, managing a range of office, retail and other assets in the Wellington region. AMP was very much an institutional developer and investor and here I learnt the basic principles of private sector investment management (what I’d later describe as the ‘supply side’ of the property pie).

When I started working with Peter, all our clients were either owner-occupiers or tenants, not investors. As I mentioned, this included corporates like Telecom, Trust Bank, Wrightson, BNZ and Mobil and a wide range of government clients, from office-based portfolios like DIA and the Ministry of Health through to specialist portfolios like defence, police, broadcasting, health and others.

What I would come to learn is that these types of organisations represented the ‘demand side’ of the property pie. They had no inherent interest in property per se. Property, in all its forms, from office/workplaces, schools, hospitals, wool stores etc, was simply an enabler of their core business. Invariably, they needed some investment in bricks and mortar to run their businesses, but it was simply another P&L item or large part of their balance sheet (albeit this view would later change).

Those that had larger portfolios generally had in-house teams managing their property to varying degrees of sophistication and success. Others with single or few sites often took a DIY approach when a major decision or transaction occurred. This included relying on real estate agents to advise them for leasing and related transactions. Others applied a hybrid approach generally involving a hotch potch of external advisers to assist from time to time, including lawyers, architects, property consultants or whoever had formed the most trusting relationship. Understanding this demand side also revealed how big a part the Crown played (as an occupier) in the property sector.

By comparison, the supply side of the market like AMP, for example, had a plethora of consultants and advisers supporting them and generally had a knowledge and competence advantage over the businesses (tenants) they were dealing with. In many cases, this expertise gap was used to their advantage with tenants/occupiers being caught out by committing to non-commercial terms and related provisions because they either lacked the knowledge and know-how or didn’t take appropriate advice.

What became clear was that the discipline of corporate real estate (CRE) – an industry term used to capture the property-related activity of businesses (whether public, private or NFP) – was very immature in New Zealand compared to other parts of the world. What also became clear was that Peter had a wealth of knowledge and experience well beyond the market at the time, from various roles including Fletcher Challenge and the Hong Kong Government, and from an innate interest in businesses making better property decisions.

On the back of this knowledge, we began helping NZ occupiers/tenants better understand the importance of property within each of their businesses and applying a more strategic overlay to corporate real estate strategy, planning and execution. This included increasingly being appointed to ‘advocate’ on their behalf in key commercial transactions, with the term ‘tenant advocate’ eventually becoming common parlance. This reputation was also built off Peter’s appointment to lead the rationalisation of Government’s office accommodation portfolio in 1991 (known as the ‘Government Office Accommodation Taskforce’) which unearthed a multitude of opportunities and enduring relationships.

A lot of the thinking at the time was seen as non-conformist and disruptive. The supply side of the market (and the traditional professional advisers) often took any opportunity to discredit this thinking and approach. So in many ways we were one of the first disruptors in the industry that was, let’s face it, dominated by boring old men and somewhat untouchable institutions that needed a real shake up.

The economic conditions of the time also demanded some new thinking. So we went out to deliberately disrupt. We not only disrupted the supply side of the market (where we demanded better commercial deals and actually thinking about the tenant as a client), we also disrupted the way businesses thought about property. Simply thinking about it as a P&L and balance sheet conversation was no longer going to cut it. Property was a strategic enabler of change if well-understood and well-planned.

And so we embarked on a remarkable period where we led a number of transformational projects, creating a new consulting category along the way and making a real difference (and saving clients a shit load of money).

One thing Peter also imparted on me was the importance of excellence. A B-grade was never good enough. Clients deserved well-reasoned and robust advice.

As my team will attest, I continue to hold this standard across our work – you’re only as good as your last job… measure twice cut once… the analogies are well-trodden!

While Peter always had a preference for a blue-sky conversation alongside a whiteboard (which would often drive us crazy when we had a deadline to meet), he also had an acute eye for detail when it mattered. I’d dread taking him a report in final form (for final review) only to have him unpick the logic, analysis and argument and send you back to first base when the you’d promised the client it would be with them that afternoon. You always knew you were in trouble when he nonchalantly took off his glasses and tossed them to one side so he could examine the words and numbers in micro detail! But you always came out the other side better for the experience!

1992-2002: Peter Dow, Sue Dow, Beryl Walker, Julie Quinlan, Gail Rapson, Kelvin Chand, Alison Boon, Glenn Maskell, Natalie Saunders, David White, Lynn Faber, Iain Gillies, Victoria Bolton, Lianne Hansen, Matthew Bassett, Helen Wright, Gary Nichols, Lisa (Gracie) Howard


Dean Croucher

Managing Director

Thought-leader, creator and collaborator. Dean leads TwentyTwo’s strategic business initiatives, continuously driving our innovation and…
18 August 2022

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