Ray White puts focus on family business


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Left: Carey Smith, Dan White, Rosemary White and Brian White

There’s no more important issue at the beating heart of the Ray White Group than the importance of family business.

Some 80 Ray White business owners, many with their families, attended the second Ray White Succession & Family Business Forum at the Marriott Hotel on the Gold Coast, facilitated by Harvard Business School-trained Carey Smith, Ray White New Zealand CEO.

Mr Smith said succession planning was “like a relay race”.

“Some people make their first big move early and some people drop the baton but there is no finish line,” he said.

“The real estate industry doesn’t evolve quickly. We are not a technology business – we are a people business and that is why success within the industry plays such an important role.

“Ray White is now a fourth generation business that has traded for over 117 years.

“Planning for succession – be that to a family member or a potential external purchaser – should always begin early.

“The essence of today’s conference is to provide a deeper understanding of successful business transitions and that will always involve the passing of a business to another party, it is just how successful that can be.”

The Ray White Group is now led day to day by Dan White, a fourth generation member of the White family, while his father Brian White remains chair of the board.

“I have always been fortunate for being given the opportunity to take risks and make my own mistakes. People often ask me ‘what did Brian tell you to do?’ but he’s never told me what to do,” said Dan White.

“It doesn’t matter what the title is on my business card as people will naturally work out who is running the business but decisions are always made for the best interests for the business as a whole.”

Mr White said it was natural for any new leader to want to make their mark.

“Of course, it’s natural to want to be seen as worthy for making an impact. So in my role I am probably more impatient than Brian was but the speed of change naturally picks up once new generations comes through.”

Mr White said he’s always seen the business as a platform for opportunity.

“I hope that everyone inside Ray White sees us as a platform for opportunity. If you want to add to it then you will be supported and challenged. But if you just want a job to just cruise along, then we might not be the best place for you.

“The ability for us to provide a deeper level of service has never been stronger. “Our biggest threats are non-traditional competitors that naturally are looking at things very differently”.

Mr White said it’s liberating once you understand you are running a business that “you cannot actually sell”.

“You are a custodian of a business and that is a liberating concept. You cannot ever sell it – which may be seen as unfair – but knowing it is not there to sell means you are driven to keep making it better for the next generation,” Mr White told the members.

“Once you get that, it’s a liberating feeling.”

Brian White’s steep learning curve to leadership stemmed from the day his own father Alan White handed him the business.

“Less than six months after my mum passed away, he turned to me one day – ‘this is now your office, I’m off. Be a good leader and he walked out”.

“The terror of being told to be a good leader was huge. I had been a good manager and I knew I wasn’t a leader. The concept obsessed me for about 20 years to become a good leader. If anyone’s father wants to traumatise their sons, tell them to ‘be a good leader’.”

Chairman Brian White famously grew the business from one single office in Brisbane to now have more than 1,000 franchised businesses within the international group.

“I have passed the baton to Dan and there’s no finish line. I love this company,” Mr White said.

“We are a people business and we have only recently understood the value of a family business. It’s a people business. My role now is to keep personalising the company. I will always ring someone who joins our group and ‘say welcome to my family’.”

Rosemary White’s impact on the growth of the business has been substantial. “Brian was the driver of the group’s expansion to open a lot of branches and for a while I did the sales training. I’d get our best salespeople to train others and held a lot of training sessions,” Mrs White said.

“We were the first company to do structured sales training courses and then Myf Porter took over and then my three boys were born and we gave them the best education we could.

“Brian probably always hoped the boys would join the business but there was never any conversations or explicit instruction.

“It was never a clear and present thing but we were very happy when they did. It would have been abhorrent if our boys felt pressured into joining the family business.”