An Auckland resident since 2014, Leo applies his entrepreneurial and business skills to create quality neighbourhoods at scale. Unlocking the potential of land, he helps building companies access larger lots than is typical, so they can build with greater efficiency, economy and speed. Time and cost savings can be put to better use as either lower prices to buyers or in the form of added value to home construction and community spaces. Leo is passionate about long-term sustainable business models based on quality work and partnering with the best.
Q. How did you start your business journey?
Leo: I started my career in telecommunications in 2003. My first part time job at university was with China Mobile, the largest telecommunications operator in the country. After two months of employment, I became their distribution franchise owner and started my own business with my friend Vincent Wan.
Our business involved selling China Mobile’s telecommunication services to university students. The mobile service package we offered gained popularity very quickly and we achieved more than 70% market share in our city. For every new user we signed, we receive a commission on their usage.
While I wasn’t particularly inspired to work in the telecommunications sector, it was a great way to meet my university costs. Vincent and I had only known each other six months, but together we established a young, driven and dynamic team who worked hard and shared the joy of our success together.
This gave us the funds to move our business into IT, focussing, on software development and data optimisation for corporate clients as well as investing in various IT businesses around the world.
How did working in the tech sector influence your business style?
I learnt a lot in a short period of time and it had a profound impact on me. My most important learnings were listening to feedback from customers, team members and my business partner, operate a flat management structure, and make good commercial decisions swiftly, based on sound business logic and facts.
What was it about property development that appealed to you?
I had just moved to New Zealand with my family, and at the time, we had substantial cashflows from our IT investments in China. Property development is a sector that requires a large amount of capital, so our success in IT opened the door to a new business direction.
Why start a property business here and not in China?
New Zealand’s business environment is fair, free of corruption, and there is a robust legislation system, which makes it a great place to start a business. Auckland is an international city that embraces different ethnicities and culture, which is why my family moved here.
What was your original vision for the business?
We began our first property business, Wilshire Group, with a goal to build quality and affordable houses through smart, innovative, design and construction methods. We wanted to give Aucklanders affordable, well spec’ed, and well-designed homes that will stand the test of time, in neighbourhoods that encourage community living through smart landscape design and shared amenities. Through this business I saw an opportunity to do medium density housing at a larger scale which lead to me setting up Founders, that specialises in land subdivision but partners with many house builders to deliver the homes faster than as one company doing it all ourselves.
How are you different to other land developers in the market?
Our development philosophy has always had a strong focus on community-based living. We believe homes should be built in family friendly neighbourhoods with amenities that bring people and communities together.
Delivering what we promise is also a core value that everyone in our team shares with the trusted business partners we work with. We do everything possible to ensure our customers’ expectations are met.
How does quality define your approach to building homes for Aucklanders?
All our developments are managed by a project team, carefully assembled to deliver the right mix of qualifications, skills and experience. Our proven processes and procedures, ensure oversight and quality assurance, delivering products that meet our high standards and our customers’. I firmly believe that delivering quality products is the only way a business can survive over the long term.
How do you fund your developments?
Our funding comes from a mix of equity from our shareholders and loans from local banks. We have sufficient equity in our business to carry out the majority of our commercial plans and projects. However, when it is appropriate, and makes sense for a particular project, we will utilise some bank funding. We are relatively conservative with our gearing ratio.
How has your business made you feel a part of the Auckland community?
Auckland is home for my family now. We love the friendly people, the beautiful environment and lifestyle opportunities we can enjoy here. My children are at school, and of course, this makes you feel more connected to community. I am also proud that my business employs local people and contributes to the local economy.
What are you most proud of about the businesses you have created?
The part we are playing in easing the housing shortage in Auckland. The neighbourhoods we are creating, the number of homes we are supplying to the market, and the positive feedback we receive from home buyers, tells us that we are making a difference. And that’s something everyone in the team can feel really good about.