OpenCorp are a Melbourne-based property developer and fund manager. Their current national portfolio exceeds $500 million in developments, including $360 million in the Brisbane market.
Director of Funds Matthew Lewison is responsible for the development and acquisition strategy of the company.
Before joining OpenCorp in 2010, Lewison held the role of General Manager (QLD) of publicly listed land development company, Peet Ltd, where he was responsible for a portfolio of residential projects exceeding $1 billion.
Matthew gives us some insight into his background and how he got into the industry.
What sparked your interest in property?
My father is a builder so from the age of 12 I used to go to his building sites and earn my pocket money cleaning the site on the weekends. From as early as I can remember he would have building plans around the house and laid out around the table, he was always looking at them. I liked to look at the plans with him and early on I thought I wanted to be an architect. However I was stronger at math than design, so that led me into engineering, and from engineering I got into project management and property development.
What drives you - has there been someone or something that has inspired your career?
When I was 19 I fell ill with Meningococcal. I went to hospital in the intensive care ward, and two men died in the first couple of nights. There was an old man there, Reg, who was terminally ill with bowel cancer. He’d been a prisoner of war, had his leg amputated without any anaesthetic, had heart attacks and strokes, however, every morning he’d wake up and tell me a joke and have a laugh.
Reg said to me that he heard what was happening to me and that he hoped I would pull through because I was a good kid and deserved to have the fulfilling life he’d had. For somebody who had had so many setbacks to be so happy with his life, it made me reassess what I felt was important and what my goals were.
It took a few years for this experience to sink in but I realised I was never going to measure my success by how much money I had in the bank, but by how many people who’s lives I could affect. When Reg came back from war as an amputee he learnt everything he could about prosthesis. He learnt how to drive with a prosthetic limb and then started making prosthetic limbs to help other people.
He became very well known within the field in Australia and that was his wealth – the people he’d helped and the families who adored this guy. You could see how much he meant to them. That drives me and it translates into our business. We could have easily been a property developer but we made a conscious decision to allow other people to invest as well so we can help them. That’s why our business has started to see the success it has – it’s not just about us.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
To constantly try to evolve and never say we’ve reached a level of success we’re happy with. We’re constantly trying to effect positive change. Having worked in big businesses and public companies you see that it’s hard for them to change. Historically, today’s big businesses weren’t big businesses thirty years ago, and the ones that were no one knows of now – they’ve been absorbed into something else or gone. You have to constantly evolve to stay current, particularly in today’s age of technology and the fast-paced evolution of buyers’ needs.
What’s the highlight of your job?
Writing profit cheques to our investors. Particularly as in our early fund we had a lot of friends and family investing. We still do, but we have many more outside clients now. The highlight is writing a cheque to a kid who has invested his life savings of $10, 000 and then giving him a $17, 000 cheque after 2 years. Or writing a cheque to somebody you know and care about, who has trusted you with his or her money. That’s a great thing.
What project are you most proud to have been involved with and why?
One of the projects we did early on with OpenCorp, which was actually a really small project and not that exciting as far as developments go, was a really straightforward eight-townhouse project where we got hit with every possible issue. Ground conditions that were terrible, the market was flat, we had a builder that started to have issues with insurance, objections from adjoining owners, and the list went on. We got hit with so many things and we managed to overcome them and still deliver a 35% profit on the capital invested. It was within two years, and again to have overcome and delivered great a financial return, it made us quite proud. It also gave us great confidence as well.
Where do you think the property industry will be five years from now?
It’s an interesting time in Australia. In Sydney and Melbourne, we have seen a real influx of population growth and unprecedented levels of foreign investment. This is obviously changing the landscape of these cities, with urban densification and apartment development. The increased density leads to improved amenity, and an increase in the area’s desirability, creating perpetual improvement and change. We’ve seen that in Melbourne and Sydney and now we’re seeing it in Brisbane and Perth – although they are around six or seven years behind where the others are now.