LK Property Group have successfully developed a number of luxury apartments and residential projects in Melbourne.
Larry Kestelman also founded telecommunications company Dodo, which he sold for $203 million in 2013.
Tell us about your early years in Australia:
As an immigrant I came here at the age of 11 or 12. I was still young enough to become an Australian, but coming in as an immigrant it is difficult to understand the whole culture. So the first couple of years, your head is spinning and by the time I was 14, I still had no idea what I wanted to do.
Who were your key mentors when starting out in property development?
I didn’t really have any mentors. So a pivotal moment was a conversation with one of the few people my parents had as a friend.
I remember asking him what he thought I should be. I wasn’t a great scholar and school was not my strong point, so I asked him what he thought I should do and the words were very clear.
“Larry, it almost doesn’t matter what you do, but you will make more money from property than anything else.”
For someone who had no advice from anyone I respected, this was a big deal. So I studied business and accounting, not because I thought it was an amazing thing but it was a reasonable base. My goal was to get into property.
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What was the process like on your first project?
I was doing it all from start to finish – I was completely hands on. I built very good relationships and I think that’s important in any business. Banks, real estate, lawyers – they’re all the things you need to be successful. A lot of people talk about building relationships but I don’t think everyone executes it.
How do you manage your many different businesses and what are you looking for in your partners?
First of all you have to be able to visualise that you will like the person. Someone you see yourself being friends with or even if you don’t want to be best friends, you have to have the same core values. The other is hard working. I tell people that I can teach you all sorts of things but I can’t teach you hard work and I can’t teach you how bad you want it. I’ve mentored a number of young people who have gone on to do very well. That would be the common denominator.
What are your criteria for acquiring sites?
I have my own theory on where people want to be and the market. I look at all types of areas but the location and suburb has to work for me. I will wait until I can buy the right site and I’m willing to wait for it.
How do you go about selecting your design team with respect to each site?
It depends on what the project demands. I’ve seen projects go very wrong if you match up the wrong architect with the wrong suburb. There are some doozey’s that come out. They can become unsellable.
Tell us about the LK Property app and why you have built it?
This is something we are going to evolve. We are all using mobile phones – we want to create a single point of contact for communicating with us. Even though we are not salespeople, we want to let you know what we are doing. The best way to sell your next development is to make sure they are happy with your first one.
How did your association with Qantas and the frequent flyer program come about?
A few years ago as the apartment market started to really heat up, it annoyed me to see ridiculous offers and incentives for everything from cars to cash back schemes. It made me question why people do that. I looked at other industries and I realised there is a big difference between loyalty and an incentive. I wanted to build loyalty and credibility with my brand and the only loyalty program that I truly believe in is the Qantas Frequent Flyer Program.
What can the real estate and property development industry learn from the technology industry?
It’s about looking at things in new ways. It’s a matter of remembering everything does not have to be the same. Keep innovating and looking at different ways to do things. The people that maintain the status quo are the ones that will fall behind. It’s as simple as that!
How do you see technology coming into our homes?
If someone told me where we would be today 10 or 15 years ago, it would’ve been hard to predict. A lot of these new technologies are just redefining the customer. I won’t be the guy that makes it happen but I will be the one that keeps up with the most useable technology. I’m not going to be groundbreaking because I don’t want all the pain factors for all of my customers.
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What do you think about crowd funding?
I still think it’s a gimmick. But one thing I have learnt – I have stopped saying that won’t work though. I’d love for it to happen but I don’t think it will in the near future.
What is driving your involvement in philanthropy and what are you doing?
I think generally I have just been so busy in trying to succeed and make my way through the world. Now you get to the point where I feel I have made it.
For me it’s not about how much more I can make. If anyone thinks anything else they are mistaken. It’s all part of that game and I don’t think you can forget about that.
What the most exciting thing on your desk right now?
I’d say The Capitol (new project in South Yarra/Toorak) without a doubt. We will see what happens with it over the next couple of months but that is really an iconic location. If we all do the right thing it will be a lot of fun. Melbourne needs and deserves a 6-star, luxury, New York-style living destination.
What are you reading at the moment?
I like to read biographies. I like to read history and why and how people did things and how its transpired in the world.
You’ve got a lot on, how do you switch off?
The best way I found is to go away. I love boats and I’m lucky enough to have a boat so I get away on that and general travel. I find it hard to switch off when I’m in town.
Fast forward ten years – what does the LK Property Group look like?
I don’t like to predict what happens ten years down the track. I’d like is to be known as a professional developer in Melbourne. We don’t need to be the biggest, that’s not our goal. My goal is the same as everything else in my life and that’s to do it to the best of my ability. I want people to get something they can be proud of. I want to be proud of what it is we do.
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