A former real estate agent and son of a migrant family, Mohan Du, 28, founded local development company Capital Alliance three years ago.
After developing his first project in Box Hill, Mohan turned his sights on Docklands, where he is set to complete M Docklands in January 2016. This 19-level mixed-use project will feature 186 apartments and a Peppers hotel – Dockland’s first five star hotel.
Recently announced the Australian Property Institute’s Young Achiever of the Year for Victoria, Mohan has quickly expanded the young company from suburban developer to inner-city developer, with projects totalling in excess of $1 billion.
Capital Alliance has also purchased two further development sites in Docklands, with plans to develop a $500 million dual-tower apartment and hotel development above Dockland’s Harbour Town Shopping Centre.
How did you get your start in property development?
I’ve been in the industry for a while now, but I wasn’t always in development. I was doing off the plan sales. I started that when I was about 22. After doing that for a few years, I realised there was a bit of a vacuum (for good developments). Nothing really stood out to me. Developers made a lot of promises on how good their project was, but I realised that wasn't always the case when valuations weren’t good, the quality of the building wasn’t good…I became quite disgruntled and I wasn’t as motivated. I thought there has to be more out there. There has to be more than this bland, vanilla development. For me, I saw that there was an opportunity to do something that was really genuine.
What is your business philosophy?
For us, our philosophy is to make our developments mixed use. When we we got into the game, there were no true mixed use developments. I speak to people and they say yes there are buildings with serviced apartments. But they're not really mixed use development. It’s mixed use when the tower is segregated. It’s not mixed use if you plop someone who is a renter and the other person who is an owner occupier on the same floor.
I live in an apartment building and there are serviced apartments in my building. Did I agree to it? No, they just started popping up. Sometimes I wait four or five minutes for a lift. One of the lifts is permanently in service for the serviced apartments, the other one is used by the cleaners. Sometimes you are stuck with one lift in the building. This is not the type of building I want to develop. When we got into this, I said let’s do something genuine and really special.
As a developer, how do you set yourself apart from other companies?
An important thing about our company is that I couldn't care less about architectural form. There’s no such thing as a bad architect. Every tier one architecture firm is really good. They have their different philosophies in design, but they make their buildings look fabulous. It’s not something that I think is important enough to distinguish our building form from another.
What’s important to us is what’s inside the building. What is in your building that makes it a lifestyle choice? Welcome to the 21st century where every building has a pool and a gym. For us to set ourselves apart, you have to do something special and offer people services that make them want to live there.
With our new Marriott building (in Docklands), the infinity pool is open air and it's the first one in Melbourne. You can order food and hang out. I asked myself before we did this, what did we have in Melbourne? There are so many high-rises coming up, but what’s putting us on the map? We need to go with the times and build high rises that are the most liveable in the world. You need to think about what people are doing in New York, Singapore, Shanghai. Marina Bay Sands is the most iconic building in Singapore - we wanted to do something special like that here in Melbourne.
What are some of the challenges you have faced in your industry as a young entrepreneur?
Starting a business at 25, I had a lot of challenges. You have to be really hard skinned. There was an attitude where there were a lot of people who wanted to see me fail. There were a lot of developers out there who didn't give me the time of day because they thought I was too young. If you look at that in hindsight today, you’re like 'Well, hi guys'. For me, it’s been a difficult road.
On the bright side, I’ve had really good support from people who stuck by me. I can’t thank them enough. People think this business was sort of handed down to me. It wasn't. We're not new migrants. My parents migrated in the late 80s. Back then, everyone was poor. If you came out of China then, you came out with no money. I've seen the hard work and dedication my parents have shown me and the sacrifices they’ve made for me and my younger sister - it makes me want to work hard and make a difference.
What is your favourite project that you’ve developed and why?
We’re really proud of M Docklands, it’s our first project. It’s got a Peppers going in it. It’s a five star hotel operator, owned by one of the company’s largest hotelier groups. We’re finishing that up in January.
What has been your career highlight?
When I secured Peppers to come into Docklands, that was one of my career highlights. It's the first five star hotel in the precinct of Docklands. They’ve been developing Docklands for 15 or 20 years, but none of the larger players have (secured a five star hotel) before. One of the smallest players in the city has done it. I’m extremely proud of that feat. We’ve got the Marriott now, but Peppers was a first.
Apart from those by your own company, what do you think are the three best projects in the world at the moment?
One that is absolutely fantastic is the CCTV building in Beijing. I’ve only seen it once in person. It’s architectural and engineering brilliance.
Another one is Marina Bay Sands in Singapore. I think before it came along, Singapore wasn’t known for anything. When they announced the first casino, it really turned the city around. I think the pool area is absolutely amazing and the engineering and construction is very, very cool. People go to Singapore just to stay there. It's a good example of the government stepping in and allowing something to be built that would change the city. I think the same thing is going to happen in Brisbane when Queen's Wharf is built. It will definiltey put the city on the map.
The Melburnian is my favourite residential tower in Melbourne beause I genuinely think it’s timeless. It looks newer than some of the things I’m looking at now. I really like this building and the apartment layouts - it just works.
Where do you think the development industry will be five years from now?
I think it will change for the better. I would like to think there will be more and more young developers coming up. The younger you are, the fresher ideas you have. I really think in the next five years...the people that are still building these bland developments; I don’t think they will be here anymore. They will be looking at younger developers and they will say we need to update our strategy and move with the times. And not be stuck in the 1990s.
What is a website or blog that you visit often?
TheUrbanDeveloper.com In development, it’s probably one of the 'go to' websites, so you know what's happening. I have The AFR open a lot too.
What's the best piece of advice you've received?
The best piece of advice I received was from my old man. He said very simplistically, be humble. I’m on social media but I don’t post pictures of cars or stuff like that. People are entitled to nice things, but you don’t need to tell the world about it. I try to live by my father’s advice.