The family business
They say it’s best to keep work and family separate. Working with your sisters, your mother and your stepfather might have most people handing in their resignation. But Michelle Kathopoulis wouldn’t have it any other way
Before Michelle Kathopoulis began working with her family as a business development manager at Absolute Real Estate in Darwin, she worked as a property manager at another office.
“I started in residential property management. I won the 2006 Property Manager of the Year award, and after that I moved into commercial property management,” she tells Residential Property Manager.
“It was completely by chance that I came to work here at Absolute, but I just love it and I haven’t looked back since.”
Michelle’s mother, Denise Meeking, owns and operates Absolute Real Estate with her partner Roy Winter. But when Michelle decided to take the plunge into the family business, it wasn’t just her mother she would be working with.
“I also work with my two sisters, so there’s all five members of the family across two generations in the same office.
“My sisters, Maria and Jacqui, have been here for almost 15 years, and I only graced them with my presence a few years ago. I have to admit, I was very hesitant to do it. But I can tell you now, I love it,” she admits.
“I can’t believe what a surprise it was for me, but I really enjoy working with them.”
Michelle claims her mother keeps the three in different departments to keep them out of each other’s hair.
“We manage and work different departments, so that means we’re not in each other’s faces or stepping on each other’s toes, which really gives us that accountability and responsibility for what we’re working on and what we have passion in.
“Maria is in sales, Jacqui runs the property management department, and I love working with people.”
MOTHER KNOWS BEST
Michelle began at Absolute in an administration role.
“I used to be involved in the office management side of things when I first came on board. I started managing the staff, organising meetings and social events and functions. So I spent a lot of time in the office and was very task–focused and oriented,” she says.
But Denise had other plans for her daughter.
“We attend quite a few interstate conferences as my mum likes to keep her finger on the pulse, which is really good for the business,” Michelle says.
“She is very procedure–orientated and she tries to be on the same professional platform as many of the franchise offices and the bigger companies down south. She’s always aspiring to be the best she can be and provide the best service.”
After attending one of the interstate conferences, Denise decided to create the business development manager position for her daughter.
“My mum felt I was a great ambassador for the business because I was genuinely proud of what she and the business had achieved,” she explains. “Becoming a business development manager was mum’s little idea, because she wanted me to get out there and meet people, which she knew I’d love.
“It’s great for me to get out there and focus on developing the business, finding new business and reviewing our existing clients.”
Michelle genuinely loves her new position – instead of being stuck behind a desk all day, she now relishes the opportunity to get out.
“After moving into my current role I’m out of the office and meeting new people every day. I’m focused on getting our name and product to everybody I meet.
“It’s really different to what I used to do. Having that property management background was very important for my transition across to the business development role,” she says.
“I already had that passion for property and seeing what people are doing with their homes, what they’re building, how they’re renovating and what they’re renting. These are people’s investments. It’s a massive deal to them and I can relate to that, so it’s been really great getting more involved with the investors.
“As I still have the property management background, it’s something I always drop back into in times of need. Like today we have three staff members off, so I’m helping the rental side of the business out while juggling my own responsibilities.”
A BDM IN THE TOP END
Michelle knows that her position is a rarity in the Territory. In fact, there are hardly any business development managers in the central and western parts of the country.
“I’ve thought about this, and from what I’ve gathered from going to all these interstate conferences is that every state works differently. Now, of course, a lot of that has to do with being governed by different legislation. But I think we work differently on an individual level too,” she says.
“From what I can see from down south, property management is streamlining into a more commission-based industry, which is certainly not the case here in Darwin.
“I can’t speak for Perth or South Australia, but at least here in Darwin a BDM is not the norm. We don’t have the competition base that other states seem to be talking about when I’ve met with people.
“From what I’ve heard at conferences in New South Wales, you’d think there is almost a real estate agency on every corner in Sydney!”
But Michelle believes it’s a positive thing to not have the cut-throat competitive attitude that Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane exhibit.
“The agencies in Darwin work together quite closely – I’m actually on a panel with nine other ladies who are involved in the management of real estate businesses, and we’re happy to get together and talk about what we do,” she says.
“There’s enough business in Darwin to go around. Having a BDM isn’t normally something that other offices need to focus on, but for us, it’s a point of difference.”
Michelle claims she finds most of her business through networking and social events in her community, which allows her to hunt down business while spreading brand awareness.
“I started out by attending a lot of networking events, which is the great part of my job,” she laughs. “I get to go to breakfasts, lunches, drinks after work.
“Being more involved in my community was something I’d always wanted to do, but I also get the Absolute brand out there as well.”
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