Industry leader celebrates a milestone – Janusz Hooker

Industry leader celebrates a milestone – Janusz Hooker

One international real estate brand that is still in family hands turns 90 years old this week.  We talk to the man whose name is on the door of thousands of real estate offices.

Transcript:

Kevin:   Well there’s a very big birthday coming up in the real estate world on the 20th of September. Ninety years ago, LJ Hooker was born, and of course, that’s one of the biggest brands now, not only in Australia but southern hemisphere and around the world, in terms of its dealings with consumers and the number of agents that they have in their business. Joining me to talk about that is the LJ Hooker chairman, Janusz Hooker. Janusz, welcome to the show and thanks for your time.

Janusz Hooker:   Thanks, Kevin. It’s a pleasure to be back on your show.

Kevin:   It is, it’s always delightful to talk to you, and the reason I am delighted is because, it’s a great tribute to you and the company that there’s a person with the name Hooker still in the company. Not only that, but as a chairman. Must be a proud moment for you?

Janusz Hooker:   Yeah, 90 years is a big achievement for any company, anywhere in the world, and to be sort of front and centre and dealing with consumers, and continually innovating, and that’s what we’ve been doing for 90 years, so it’s great to be here.

Kevin:   You produced a really nice book too, to celebrate the occasion. A wonderful history, not only of the company but of real estate in Australia. It’s not surprising to me, but there have been a lot of benchmark moments for the company, that have actually become benchmark indicators for the industry, really.

Janusz Hooker:   Yeah, it’s got a very colourful past, of really contributing to building Australia in the post World War II immigration boom that we had in Australia. So it was the first business to not only have the first real estate agency network across Australia in the ’50s, but then was the first to introduce real estate investment trusts, which is now a hundred billion dollar industry in Australia, and making Australia a world leader. And ended up building one in five homes for the better part of last, second half of the last century. Really contributing to easing the housing crisis. So, it’s pretty amazing to see what the business did. It was not just an agency.

Kevin:   If LJ was your grandfather, is that correct? Have I got that-

Janusz Hooker:   That is correct, and I was the only one in the LJ Hooker clan to be given the initials, so I’m the living LJ at the moment.

Kevin:   Yeah. If LJ, the original LJ, were still with us, and sadly he’s not, what do you think he would say would be one of the proudest moments, looking back?

Janusz Hooker:   For his business?

Kevin:   Yes.

Janusz Hooker:   I think he’s … He was an orphan. So, his proudest moments were always giving back. So, you know him addressing the affordable housing crisis in the country, him in his philanthropic endeavours. Anything that was giving back in nation building was something that he’d be proud. And the other proud thing, why business was so successful and is to this day, is that his famous quote is, “Real estate is not just about property. It’s about people.” And the focus on the people that worked for him and under the brand today, 7,000 of them, and then all of the customers that we served over the generations. So, it’s really giving back to the people.

Kevin:   I’m glad you highlighted the point there about what he tried to do for affordability, and to make homes much easier for people to get, because that was a big influence reading the book, a big influence on the way he directed the company, wasn’t it?

Janusz Hooker:   Yes it was. I mean, after the second World War, he had the first 20 years of his business from 1928 to sort of the mid-forties, which was a struggle. You know, Great Depression, World War. But afterwards, when the Australian government opened the immigration gates, there was over a million people coming into the country in less than five years. So you can imagine the housing crisis they had right then. So he went about turning his agency also into the most prolific home builder of the time.

Kevin:   Yeah. Oh, I mean, some benchmark locations down on the Sunshine Coast, sorry, down on the Gold Coast. As an example, even a lot of streets named after LJ.

Janusz Hooker:   There is a Hooker Boulevard there.

Kevin:   Yep.

Janusz Hooker:   Yes, indeed. And many islands were transformed, and in Brisbane in the ’60s there, they built Centenary Estates, which is now home to 35,000 people, and it was just farmland there, very close to the CBD.

Kevin:   If he were to join us now, and look at how the industry is with things like social media and the internet, which he wouldn’t have even known about in his time, I mean I wonder what he would think about the direction of real estate nowadays?

Janusz Hooker:   Well, interestingly, just towards the end of his life, he passed away in ’76, computers were starting to be becoming a real event. There was IBM and actually in Hooker House, down there in the Sydney CBD. As early as 1978, the company installed computers and connected head office to all of its offices, which at that point were all company owned, the majority of it. And it was the first incarnation of an intranet in the country. And it was pretty cutting edge at the time.

Janusz Hooker:   So, he was an innovator at heart, and he would spend no less than two or three months every other year travelling the world, which then was a big achievement because it would take you two or three days to get to Europe or the US. So he was always looking for world best practise to bring back to Australia and provide the consumer with those.

Kevin:   Yeah I think I remember reading in the book there, he talked about one of the journeys to, I think it was to the UK, and he talked about how long it took, and he was rejoicing with the fact that it was so fast.

Janusz Hooker:   Yes, it was, it was fast. Yeah.

Kevin:   It was only a matter of what, five days? It was quite incredible story.

Janusz Hooker:   Yeah. I think that …

Kevin:   It’s interesting to hear you talk about computers, because I’m actually old enough to remember when computers first came in as well, and I remember the first lot of computers that we had in our offices, had to be all closed off dust proof rooms. But you look at them now, we carry them around, as iPads and even our phones, have a lot more capability than those early computers.

Janusz Hooker:   Well, what you’re carrying in your hand right now, which is also probably water resistant, is more powerful than the Cray computer, which then used to take up half a floor and weighed about 20 tonnes. So, it’s pretty amazing what you can hold in your hand now. It’s really empowered the agents and all of our franchise owners, because right now they can be mobile 24/7.

Kevin:   Well, it’s a great moment in history for your company, LJ Hooker, and also for the industry generally. A very, very healthy environment to have companies like yours. Janusz, I really appreciate you giving us your time. Congratulations to you and all the team, you know the thousands of people that work under the LJ Hooker brand. I wish you well for the future and another 90 years ahead.

Janusz Hooker:   Well, you know you can’t take away heritage, and as long as we continue serving the customer like we have, and innovating, and delivering what they want, we’ll be here for another 90 years easy.

Kevin:   Lovely talking to you, Janusz Hooker, thanks very much for your time.

Janusz Hooker:   Thank you.

 

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Kevin Turner
kevin@realestatetalk.com.au
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