Coming from a family of lawyers, James Harrison knew from an early age he wanted to take a different path. After studying property economics at university, he spent eight years with Mirvac, and last year joined Growland to oversee their upcoming projects.
He spoke to SCHWARTZWILLIAMS about what has brought him to this point in his career, and what makes him a good property developer.
How did you get into the property development?
I come from a family of lawyers and growing up I realised that this path wasn’t for me. Instead I studied Property Economics at the University in Sydney before starting with Mirvac as a 21-year old. Following this, I moved to Perth to make the most of the mining/property boom.
I have spent the majority of my career to date at Mirvac which I consider the best property education one can be fortunate enough to receive. Taking the lead on Growland’s projects is a new challenge I am meeting head on.
What do you love most about your job?
I think the variety is key. It’s rare to come home and tell my partner I’ve had a boring day. The milestones in development are also a highlight. Whether it is obtaining a big approval, a successful sales launch or completion on a project there are many reasons to celebrate or commiserate along the journey. It’s also great to drive past or inspect a finished project and know you have contributed to its creation.
What makes a good developer?
I think a good developer is someone who can read the play and be versatile. Whether it is assessing market cycles, understanding how to manage your contacts at council, or preparing your marketing collateral to hit your target market on the head, there is never a one size fits all approach in property. Some of this comes down to instinct.
Obviously being able to juggle multiple items at once and getting the most out of your internal and external teams is crucial in supporting you to achieve this.
What projects are you currently working on?
At Growland we have a diverse and growing portfolio. Being across all our projects, these range from 1,000 apartments in our flagship project in Footscray, to more high-end boutique apartments on St Kilda Road and Highett. We have recently secured our first land subdivisions in growth areas like Tarneit and Plumpton of varying scale from anywhere between 100 to 1,000 lots.
Can you tell us a little about Growland?
Growland is virtually a property start-up company that was only established a few years ago, by an architect and a successful entrepreneur. As such, we are not bound by historical projects and standards. Rather we seek to produce new ideas and raise the bar further each time, producing places people will genuinely enjoy living in.
At Footscray for example, we are providing Australia’s only 400m Olympic running track within our podium skypark, and a bowling alley. Where other developments have used this space for plant and equipment, we have reconfigured the design – bringing it to life so residents have a safe and innovative way to maintain work life balance and be proud of their apartment lifestyle.
Do you have any advice for a young person entering the property industry?
I think patience and staying humble are virtues. Quite often graduate members want to take over the world in their first six months rather than doing the remedial tasks some of us had to do for years.
The stakes are high in this game and so when it all pays off you need to remember every project may not be a winner. Experience and surrounding yourself with the right team and experts will greatly increase your chances of achieving overall success.
What changes would you like to see over the next two to five years in the industry?
I think continuing to raise the standard of apartment product and therefore apartment living is key. There were too many projects for a long period based purely on yield and returns. Whilst these are critical to a sustainable operation, building a revered brand by not cutting corners and delivering what buyers expect plus more, is key.
We also need to ensure the construction quality remains high so that we are not left with eyesores or buildings quickly dilapidating which will only further harm the industry 10 years from now. The Melburnian on St Kilda Road is a great example of a building that is more than a decade old but looks like it was only recently completed.
Where do you live now?
Abbotsford. I love having the Convent and Yarra River as my backyard. There is never any shortage of interesting characters too, which keeps life interesting.
What is your dream home, anywhere in the world?
The obvious choices are NYC or London. But for me international destinations are great to visit but at the end of the day I genuinely believe Melbourne does have the highest liveability on earth. The sporting events, food and beverage, great transport options and reasonable property prices (compared to say Sydney) mean there is never too much to complain about in fantastic city.
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