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‘It Doesn’t Matter What Business You Start With’: Sam Tarascio on Building an Empire

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From an “outcast migrant child” who arrived in Port Melbourne as five-year-old Salvatore Tarascio in 1949, to becoming an Australian billionaire, Sam Tarascio believes everyone has an interesting story to share.

And the businessman from a blue-collar background whose parents left everything they had in Sicily might know.

Today Tarascio presides over a multi-billion dollar business, but it's a long way from the early days where as new migrants to Australia he and his parents lived with two other families in a 12sq m house in Melbourne suburb Werribee on Watson Street.

Tarascio founded Salta Properties, one of Australia’s largest privately-owned companies in 1972 after spotting an opportunity - buying swampland and building a simple warehouse.

Starting in the logistics sector, Salta Properties spans the construction, commercial, residential, hotel and build-to-rent sectors.

But after almost five decades in the property game, what does Tarascio describe as one of his proudest business achievements to date?

Taking that initial first step.

“The ability to convince Hoechst, a large pharmaceutical company I was working with as a sales rep, to trust me to build them a modern warehouse,” Tarascio told The Urban Developer.

“Even though I had never built one in my life.

“It involved persuading the company secretary to put enough faith in me to go out and do it.

“That was quite a milestone. And the start of my business career.”

▲ “Melbourne is where I belong. It’s not only where I first arrived as a migrant child, it’s where the business I started four-and-a-half decades ago as a fledgling enterprise began. Then grew.” Sam Tarascio
▲ “Melbourne is where I belong. It’s not only where I first arrived as a migrant child, it’s where the business I started four-and-a-half decades ago as a fledgling enterprise began. Then grew.” Sam Tarascio


In the lead up to Urbanity ’19, we caught up with Sam Tarascio on his property development company and what continues to drive the 75-year-old businessman.

You can catch him, and a host of other speakers at Urbanity, 23-24 October 2019.

What is one thing you know for sure?

Opportunities float past us all every day, and so it's just a matter of identifying the opportunity having the skill to be able to see it, latching onto it and take advantage of it.

I know that’s for certain it’s just a matter of constantly looking for that elusive inspiration.

And, how does this principle guide you in your approach to business?

Recognising that opportunities are endless has created a level of ambition which has seen and continues to see me take risks and grab opportunities as soon as I identify them.

▲ The group's Fender Katsalidis designed plans at 699 La Trobe Street in Docklands.
▲ The group's Fender Katsalidis designed plans at 699 La Trobe Street in Docklands.

When you founded Salta Properties in 1972 did you think you’d be where you are today?

I don’t think so, no.

There's no way you can understand where you’re going to end up, I think what you need is the ambition to be in business and be prepared to tackle any opportunity when it presents itself.

In fact, it doesn’t even matter what business you start with. If you’ve got the ambition to be in business, and you're prepared to take the risk, you take hold of the opportunities when you see them, that’s providing that you can identify them.

Growth will come naturally if you run your business well.

In fact, it doesn’t even matter what business you start with.

Salvatore 'Sam' Tarascio
▲ Perks of the job: Tarascio and his wife Christine with dinner guest Sofia Loren.
▲ Perks of the job: Tarascio and his wife Christine with dinner guest Sofia Loren.

When you look back on your journey in property, is there one defining moment or experience you recognise as shifting its trajectory?

I was a medical rep with Hoechst when I visited their warehouse in Altona, where they manufactured Polypropylene granules in 25-kilogram bags that required large warehouses for storage.

Up until that stage, I thought companies like Hoechst owned their own facilities. But their distribution warehouse, to my amazement, was offsite and rented.

It was an old asbestos sheet building with poor access and no loading canopies. And it certainly didn’t reflect the image of the multinational company they were.

It was at that point I thought the opportunity was there to offer to do something better for them, build something better, new and more functional.

I built components of it myself to save money and was determined for it to be a success.

It also gave me invaluable knowledge about the process of building a property and leasing it to companies, subsequently capitalising and selling the land and the property and then using the capital to fund my next project.

This experience led to my first substantial profit being made after the land and property were sold.

I built components of it myself to save money and was determined for it to be a success.

Salvatore 'Sam' Tarascio on that first warehouse.
▲ Salta's plans for Nexus Industrial Estate, a 177 hectare site in Dandenong South.
▲ Salta's plans for Nexus Industrial Estate, a 177 hectare site in Dandenong South.

You’ve demonstrated a diversified approach to business spanning the logistics, commercial, residential and hotel sectors, most memorable project?

One of the most outstanding projects, that I continue to work on, is Victoria Gardens Richmond because all the cards were stacked against us.

It was a 40,000sq m derelict industrial site only five kilometres from Melbourne CBD, but full of contamination with a large part of the site used as the local tip by people living in the area.

The common opinion was it could never be rezoned from its industrial use. The site had various issues; people were shying away from it.

But it was probably the best decision I ever made to buy the land, notwithstanding the huge debt I took on.

Twenty years on Victoria Gardens is probably the biggest asset that we now have, and it continues to grow in the way we’d envisaged it would.

There’s ten years of work left to bring this project to a close.

▲ Earlier this year Salta Properties partnered with listed property group Abacus to develop a $230 million office complex on Church Street in Melbourne’s Richmond.
▲ Earlier this year Salta Properties partnered with listed property group Abacus to develop a $230 million office complex on Church Street in Melbourne’s Richmond.

Darkest moment, or biggest professional struggle?

One of the hardest moments was back in 1992 when the banks got into difficulty. All debts were being called in and property values were dropping. So, the loans they had with property developers such as me, or to anybody, for that matter, were being recalled.

I went into what they called the ‘resuscitation unit’ of the bank, which was a very difficult situation. That was because you couldn’t talk to anybody one-on-one, there were just systems and procedures that had to be adhered to.

That was a very difficult and uncertain time for my business and family.

What’s your view or take on your own urban legacy?

I don’t know that I have a specific view. However, one of the creeds I actually live by is that I want to keep developing property that I am happy and excited to go back to, look at and be proud of, rather than a property I just made some money out of.

I think that drives the quality of property that we do, compared to those whose focus lies primarily with profit.

Related: ‘I Don’t See Work And Life As Two Separate Things’: Bill Sharples Talks SHoP

Last year Salta Properties was green-lit for a $390 million five-tower project in Melbourne’s Richmond featuring build-to-rent apartments.
▲ Last year Salta Properties was green-lit for a $390 million five-tower project in Melbourne’s Richmond featuring build-to-rent apartments.

What are three key pieces of advice you’ve learned in business that have guided you to where you are today?

  1. To have the belief that you can you do anything if you put your mind to the task.

  2. Be inquisitive and ask questions in the right way.

  3. Understand that business is a risk and to be accepting of those risks.

  4. Keep a totally open mind that is the only way that you pick up opportunities.

And who are you looking forward to meeting at Urbanity?

I’m looking forward to meeting the cross-section of people that will be attending Urbanity generally.

I’m not fussed whether they have built the biggest tower in the world or the shortest tower in the world, everyone has an interesting story.

▲ Tarascio says his grandfather, an olive oil processor in their Sicilian town of Vizzini, would be proud of his latest hobby, producing Taralinga olive oil.
▲ Tarascio says his grandfather, an olive oil processor in their Sicilian town of Vizzini, would be proud of his latest hobby, producing Taralinga olive oil.

Over two days in October, Urbanity will bring together the leading creators of cities in the Asia Pacific to learn, connect and be inspired.

Click here to secure your ticket today

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Article originally posted at: https://theurbandeveloper.com/articles/it-doesnt-matter-what-business-you-start-with-sam-tarascio-on-building-an-empire