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Family ties

Huntley Mitchell 10 minute read

Since its inception in 1992, Aussie Home Loans has always had a family focus. The Adviser takes a look at some of the family businesses that are flourishing under the Aussie brand

Just as Aussie began, almost 23 years ago, as a family business with John Symond and his nephew James, so that same pattern is being reflected in its franchises and mobile businesses across the country.

It’s not just an opportunity for one family member; dozens of Aussie brokers are building family legacies.

Aussie’s executive chairman, John Symond, says that while the company’s franchise distribution channel is relatively new, it is growing faster than any of its other distribution channels.

“That is part of the reason why store owners see the franchise model as a good business to develop for their family members,” he says.

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Mr Symond believes family businesses will more readily embrace changes in technology, regulation and training.

“Change in every industry is happening very rapidly, and I predict that changes in the mortgage broking industry are going to happen even faster,” he says.

“If you’ve got family members wanting to get behind your business, you stand an excellent chance of being more successful and benefiting all the family members for generations to come.”

While Mr Symond’s nephew James works as executive director of Aussie, his son Stephen is also involved in the company.

“My son is in the business too, because it’s a big family asset,” he explains. “He knows all the workings, but he doesn’t get out in front like James does – he’s more from the investment side.”

Mr Symond says it is a great feeling knowing that he is building a business to benefit his family for generations ahead.

“I encourage family involvement because I grew up in a family business, which helped me understand the importance of a work ethic,” he says.

The Filing family

Western Australian franchisee Paul Filing has been involved with Aussie since 2002 and – 13 years on – he owns seven Aussie franchise stores in Belmont, Currambine, Fremantle, Gosnells, Joondalup, Kalamunda and Midland, which together in 2013/2014 wrote a total of around $500 million. Paul’s wife, Geraldine, runs the accounts for all seven stores, while sons James and Phil manage the Joondalup and Currambine stores. Paul’s daughter, Isabelle, works as a broker at the Joondalup store.

Q. Why is broking an industry that’s more conducive to family members working together?

Paul: I think there are two aspects to that. Firstly, mortgage broking is a family-type service that people have an affinity with and can identify with. Secondly, it’s an industry where if you do the right thing by your customers, you will reap the rewards.

Q. Is it more or less stressful working with family members?

It’s less stressful because we know each other’s personalities, and this is taken into account when certain challenges arise within the franchises. We all share a common goal that the franchises prosper.

Q. Do customers respond better to a family-run business?

I don’t think they respond any differently. If you were to look at why customers come to an Aussie franchise, it’s because of the brand recognition and reputation, as well as its physical presence – they’re reassured that they’re dealing with a secure company. Having a son or daughter in the business may signal to customers that the franchise is going to be around for a while and is not just a fly-by-night operation. When you consider how important the decision is for people to take out a home loan, having family members in the business must reassure them that we’re in it for the long haul.

Q. Brokers often fear bringing on new staff who then leave and take customers with them. Is a family-run business a good antidote to that?

I think it is. But I believe co-ownership is the most potent solution. I’m a very strong believer that if people have a shared ownership interest in their business, they feel more inclined to treat it accordingly – they’re less inclined to leave and take customers with them. Our franchises have a very strong co-ownership theme.

Q. Broking is a very sales-orientated business and it’s pretty transparent who’s writing more or fewer loans. Could this create tension in the family?

There’s a competitive spirit in our family. My two sons are very competitive with each other as their stores are very close to one another. We’re finding that where there is a strong and successful broker in our stores, they are pushing the other brokers to be better, and I think it’s great to have that competition.

The Farrell family

Paul Farrell joined Aussie as a mobile broker in 2004 and is based in the Melbourne suburb of Mitcham. His wife, Chris, was also a mortgage broker and started working with Paul in 2008 as a field assistant. They have grown their business so much that they now self source their own leads.

Q. What are the advantages of keeping a business in the family?

Paul: Chris and I have always worked together, so it was just a natural progression that she would end up working with me again. The great advantage of working with a family member is being able to relay any issues or concerns. You can be honest and open with each other – there are no secrets. We found that being our own boss and working together gives us the flexibility to do something we enjoy as a business, but also gives us the flexibility to indulge in our other loves, our family and travelling. Working together means we can structure our business and our work to suit our customers while also having a really great work-life balance.

Q. Do customers respond better to a family-run business?

Definitely, because you’re dealing with a family, in most cases. It makes a big difference having them know that I run a family business, because customers don’t look at me just as an Aussie broker – they see that my business is my family and my life.

Q. Brokers often fear bringing on new staff who then leave and take customers with them. Is a family-run business a good antidote to that?

It is a good antidote to that, but at the same time you’ve got to remember that it may not be forever. My daughter worked with me for two years as a broker, but she now works for Macquarie. You’re looking through rose coloured glasses if you employ someone thinking that they’re going to stay with you forever.

Q. Do you and your wife spend every weekend talking about mortgages?

No, we don’t. It doesn’t dominate our personal life, but it’s one of those jobs that requires additional work outside normal hours – it’s always there in the background. My wife and I have worked together for 30 years now, so we know how to switch off and get away from work. That’s one of the key factors of running a family business – knowing how to separate your working life from your personal life.

The Rogers family

Lindsay Rogers has been working with Aussie for 18 years, having started as a loans consultant, then becoming a sales manager, and then, in 2003, moving back into loan writing as a senior mobile broker. Lindsay’s son Matthew also entered the profession and built up experience working with his father and other brokers before father and son took over the store in Sydney’s Newtown in November 2012. Lindsay’s wife, Joanne, has always done the books for Lindsay, and continues to do so at the Newtown store, as well as manage administration, customer contact and marketing. Their daughter, Jessica, also worked with them for a period of time.

Q. What are the advantages of keeping a franchise in the family?

Lindsay: Up until two years ago, we were both mobile brokers, which meant that we had trail that we couldn’t take with us if we ever wanted to leave Aussie. We saw the opportunity to start a business where we could actually own something that was saleable and an ongoing asset.

Matthew: Dad’s very experienced as a broker, so it’s great to have someone close to provide support and learn from. Being a small business owner can be stressful – there’s a lot on your shoulders – and sharing that load with someone who you are close to makes it easier. I know there are great businesses out there that aren’t family-run, but I personally wouldn’t want to do it with anyone other than my father.

Q. Why is broking an industry that’s more conducive to family members working together?

Lindsay: Family is more than just a relationship and contracts signed by business partners. You’re operating your business for the good of your family. It’s good to know that Matthew is there to continue with the business when I decide to cut back on my duties.

Q. Do customers respond better to a family-run business?

Matthew: I think customers feel that there is more stability sometimes with a family business. We’ve talked about succession planning for when Dad decides to step back, so our customers can come to us knowing that we’ll be around in the future and can be relied upon.

Q. Brokers often fear bringing on new staff who then leave and take customers with them. Is a family-run business a good antidote to that?

Matthew: Yes. Over half of our clients are mine and Dad’s, so we’re confident that our business won’t suffer if one of our brokers decides to leave with their clients. In saying that, you can’t use that as an excuse for not hiring new brokers who aren’t family members. It’s more about how you treat your staff, hiring the right people for the business and building that trust and respect with your team, which I believe we have done.

The Franklin/DeSousa family

Ben Franklin joined Aussie in 1998 as Western Australia’s state sales manager, and then also became state manager for Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory. Ben partnered with Joe DeSousa in 2008 to open Aussie Mandurah and Aussie Rockingham, followed by Aussie Bull Creek in 2013 with Ben’s son, Stephen. Ben’s nephew, Peter Wallace, works in the business as a loan writer at the Aussie Bull Creek store that Stephen manages. Ben and Joe are also members of John Symond’s Chairman’s Club, which represents the top five per cent of brokers at Aussie.

Q. What are the advantages of keeping a franchise in the family?

Stephen: The trust is already built and the foundation is there. I’ve learnt how to develop a good work ethic from watching my dad operate as a broker – it’s been ingrained in how I operate. We all have common goals and want the best for the business.

Q. Are there any disadvantages?

Stephen: We’re constantly talking about work, which I guess is a positive and a negative. We’re always sharing our thoughts on best practice, but the switch never really gets turned off. Your personal and work life is intertwined, which can be good and bad. I’ve also seen other family-run businesses that haven’t gone so well, and when it goes bad with family businesses, it has the potential to tear families apart.

Q. Joe, how do you find working within a family business?

Joe: It’s good. I’ve got trust in Ben, and Stephen is basically an extension of Ben. Our personalities are very similar, so we haven’t had any conflict. We all have our points of view and different ideas on how to do things, but we always come to an agreement. If you take a common-sense approach to all the decisions you make, there shouldn’t be any conflict.

Ben: Our relationship with Joe has moved on from being purely a business relationship. He comes along to our kids’ birthdays and family dinners. He’s part of the family.

Q. Do customers respond better to a family-run business?

Ben: I think it gives the clients more confidence and trust in us as a business. If I’m away and a client needs a matter resolved, I often tell them that they can speak to my son, Stephen, or my nephew, Peter. If your standard of service has been set and delivered well, the customers are comfortable, because they assume that the same level of service will be provided by a relative.

Joe: It helps being able to say to customers that we’ve got a range of franchises that they can go to. It creates a family environment.

Family ties
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