A window into the thoughts of ‘High rise Harry’ Triguboff and Victor Hoog Antink

My Business' Rex Pannell learns what makes property moguls Harry Triguboff (Meriton) and Victor Hoog Antink (Dexus) tick, and hears the pair's prescription for a better business environment in Australia.

Harry Triguboff was born in China in 1933 and, 78 years later, Chinese interests are the major buyers of the billionaire property developer’s apartments in Australia.

Mr Triguboff – whose net wealth is estimated at $4.3 billion – is the head of Meriton Apartments Pty Ltd, one of the major providers of affordable apartment housing in this country.

“Most of my buyers are Chinese. With the costs that are imposed on us by the authorities and the interest rates we have, it’s very difficult for Australians to buy. That’s why we have to depend so much on the Chinese.

“I hope it will change though; I hope the costs and the interest rates will be brought down because demand is greater than ever before.”

With more than 50 years experience in the property development business, Mr Triguboff was a guest speaker in late November at the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce 2011 Property Business lunch with Victor Hoog Antink, the CEO of Dexus Property Group.

Meriton's Harry Triguboff

Mr Antink has more than 30 years experience in retail, office and industrial property, and he is due to retire from Dexus in March next year.

The standing in the sector of the two men was evidenced by the fact that more than 730 people attended the lunch to hear them answer questions on various topics from leading print and television journalist and commentator, Ross Greenwood.

Mr Triguboff is a strong proponent of population growth in Australia and he said the financial and economic problems being experienced in Europe, particularly Greece, would see more and more people coming here.

“If you were a Greek fellow who left this country to go back to Greece to get a good life there and didn’t have to work hard – now it’s miserable there – I think he’ll come back.

“In think he’ll bring his wife, his children. I think they’ll all come back. The population will grow – there’s no doubt about that and I am ready for them. We should all be ready for them.”

Mr Triguboff took the opportunity to criticise the long building approval process that apartment developers faced and the charges leveled by government.

“Take for example, an apartment that costs $350,000; I could have built it for $200,000 if council was reasonable and wouldn’t waste my time.

“If we could eliminate those costs, we wouldn’t have inflation for a long time. People would be able then to afford to buy.”

Mr Triguboff said when he first started to build in New South Wales he was happy there were many councils – some of them good; others bad.

“I would pitch for councils that were easy for me. But today they are all the same; their outlook is the same. I would say we need big councils today because small councils haven’t got the ability to tackle all the problems that they are asked to address. Small councils cannot survive.”

Mr Triguboff said a priority for developers wanting to put together deals was to work closely with their banks and maintain contact.

“How good is your lender is a very important thing in our business. To be successful with a bank we must always be in touch with the bank and tell it about your problems and successes. The worst thing you can do is to run away and to think it won’t find out.

“It is important to deal with Australian banks because if they come from overseas, they can give you the money one day … and the next day they need the money back and that’s it.

“You have to pay them back. The property is half way up and it’s not easily saleable. They then tell you you’re under-secured.”

Victor Antink has been in the property management business for more than 30 years and has an MBA from the Harvard Business School.

He contended that with the debt crisis facing the financial world, particularly in Europe and the United States, that the biggest challenge facing the sector was a reduced ability to assess business and political risk.

“People haven’t paid attention to the complex nature of the financial instruments they’re using and they haven’t known how to monitor them, and that’s caused a lot of problems.

“To be able to manage the cycles, you’ve got to build more resilience into business models to accommodate what happens externally.

“You have to be cognisant of the fact that it’s not just building in isolation; building one little property in one location. You’re part of a bigger community that can come and hit you behind the back of the head while you have no idea it’s coming.”

Mr Antink said future trends in property development would focus on the intended purpose of buildings rather than their exterior. He said the changing needs of occupiers in retail, industrial and office would be the key factor.

“Retail has always morphed. It is currently being accused of being in the doldrums because of the internet, but I don’t believe that’s the case at all. It’s significantly being driven by increased savings rates because people are uncertain and are holding back.

“Retail has morphed – it’s becoming more community centred, entertainment, restaurants; those sorts of things. I’m not worried about retail.

“We expect three per cent-plus growth in retail in 2012. It will continue to morph in areas that we can’t even imagine today.”

Mr Antink said the key to industrial was the changing needs of society.

“What’s happening is more internet sales – there is a lot more just-in-time delivery, and so what that means is delivery sizes are getting smaller and the sophistication of industrial facilities has to change and become a lot more complex; a lot more geared to smaller job lot distribution.

“The complexity in industrial facilities is going to increase. You’re going to have smaller deliveries and therefore going to be nearer transport links. It’s very important to minimise transport time.”

The office environment was changing and was becoming a lot more technologically advanced, according to Mr Antink.

“People are into social networking a lot more and so their needs and the way they approach work is going to be different. The need to have formal offices is not going to be redundant, but it’s going to be less required.

Dexus CEO Victor Hoog Antink

“It’s going to be horses for courses – some industries are going to have offices; some industries are going to have open planning. We also have more talk about people working from home,” Mr Antink said.

“That’s a growing trend, but I’m not as convinced as many because I believe working is very much social interaction. I believe very much that no one has a monopoly on a good idea and, to be able to develop ideas, people need to interact.”

Mr Antink said there would be less fit-out in offices. “One of the offices I saw in the US just recently had every petition, very desk and every chair on wheels, and every computer and phone on wifi.

“So they had the facility to re-conform the office to an open floor of 80 to individual pods of six within five minutes. Each of the dividers had a white board on either side and a camera, so they could photograph what was on the whiteboard and they could link it to anywhere around. So the office is more amenable to whatever format they want rather than being restrictive.

”The other thing that’s going to happen in office design is the ever increasing trend to sustainability. We’ve come a long way but the next generation is going to want space that truly demonstrates sustainability.

“They’re going to want space that has great light, great air, but less power absorption needs than anything we’ve seen before. That’s why it’s unimaginable to describe what the buildings of the future are going to look like because that’s going to evolve over time.

“It’s going to be exciting. We’re going to move ahead so fast it’s not funny in this realm.”

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