Plagued with the thought of giving up has been commonplace for Iwan Sunito on the journey to becoming an Australian property tycoon.
Since establishing the privately owned group in 1996, Crown Group has evolved from a boutique operation to an enterprise with an established portfolio of projects across Australia and Indonesia in its pipeline worth $5 billion.
The founder and chief executive, who has plans to take Crown Group public in 2021 with a float of no less than $1 billion, says he suffered from thoughts of not being good enough on his path to becoming a major property player.
But it was humble beginnings for Sunito, as he grew up in what he describes as “the jungles of Indonesia,” a small town of Pangkalan Bun in East Kalimantan.
When the crocodile infested river near his childhood home would rise, often flooding his house, Sunito says those were the times he’d take advantage of high tides and go swimming.
“If you survived that, you were really making it,” Sunito said.
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The first five years of starting Crown “I doubted”
Most wouldn't guess he's wrestled with low self esteem.
“When I grew up I had a lot of setbacks and failures,” he said.
“I thought I was nobody. A lot of my self-talk was, ‘why was I born so stupid?
“And I used to often talk myself into defeat,” Sunito told The Urban Developer.
Sunito says he especially struggled when he arrived in Australia to complete his studies in architecture in the early nineties, the cultural differences combined with the philosophical language of the degree almost eluding him.
“I nearly failed my first year. But i had a great teacher who became a mentor to me.”
After Crown Group’s 22 years of business and billions of dollars worth of property development, Sunito says self doubt doesn't go away.
“I feel like giving up every development launch that we have,” he says.
“Even in starting Crown Group, for the first five years I doubted if it would work.”
Following his studies, Sunito originally started his own construction company building residential homes which he says gave him the foundation to get into developing.
The site was a parcel of land in Bondi Junction on Spring Street secured for $5 million that would kick start the company. After borrowing a large sum of money from his Dad, and contacting two of his friends to secure the deal, Crown Group was officially created, along with a 10-storey development they later sold for $28 million.
“I thought developing would be something high risk, but also high return and I knew that’s where I wanted to be,” Sunito said.
“Those early years I was only paying myself $20,000 a year... there were a lot of hard times.”
Some 20 years later, Sunito says Crown Group has around 200 people running the operation.
Sunito says his developments are informed by his upbringing in tropical East Kalimantan.
“Jungle and water, these elements of nature inform my design,” Sunito says. “I don’t try to be something I’m not.”
In launching the $120 million Greensquare Infinity development Sunito said the group sold $385 million in just five hours, describing the sale frenzy “as a fruit market”.
“But in the past, it took me years just to sell a $30 million job. Because we had no brand,” he said.
“So the reality of business is, it takes time. You almost need to move from a hyundai, to a toyota, to a lexus.
“Even though I had the goal to produce the best of the best in development, the reality was as a company we moved very slowly.”
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Looking ahead, Sunito has expansion plans for a 500 apartment project in downtown Los Angeles in the US, along with a colossal 3000-5000 apartment waterfront development in Jakarta.
And while the Australian market is well into its current trough, Sunito says he’s been around long enough to know the market is a cyclical one.
“I really like that quote by Bill Gates” he adds, “success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can't lose.
“As much as I’m optimistic, I’m optimistically cautious,” he said.