James Tutton is a director at Melbourne development company, Neometro. He is the entrepreneur behind the immensely successful Moonlight Cinema, pioneering the outdoor cinema business in Australia, and has since made the jump to property development.
Neometro four years ago to drive the development and commercial side of the business while maintaining its strong design integrity.
After you sold Moonlight Cinema, what influenced you to delve into the development industry?
I felt that Australia was becoming more and more interested in design so I started looking for opportunities that responded to this and Neometro was a stand out. No other developer had a consistency of design - a DNA that pervades everything it does. If you look at fashion, cars, chefs - all successful brands in these domains stand for a clear "thing". Contrary to this, most developers simply go from architect to architect and have no true value in their own right. From this position we have very significantly grown Neometro - and we've done this while nourishing the design and social side of this business. Some would argue that to grow would entail compromise, but I think we've grown and evolved our already strong design base.
In regard to the social focus - I guess we hold an old fashioned view that the role of business is to return profits AND contribute to the community. This can take many forms, from supporting the arts, streetscape, community gardens, profit sharing with the team, design that supports mental and physical wellbeing. It's not simply a cash donation approach, rather it's about integrating social projects into our developments
Knowing little about the industry you were diving into, what were main challenges that you faced?
To be honest, the value that being naive can play is massively understated. This is particularly so in an industry like property whereby there is a bloke-ish and herd-like mentality, which can hold the industry back at times and I think some of my thinking on life and what's important can add value to this discourse and that's hopefully been the case with Neometro
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs who want to break into property development?
Do it - if you want all the answers at the start of any journey then you'll never start. Stay inquisitive, stay playful, read books that don't relate to property.
Was there a certain inspiration that pushed you to do things differently?
Jeff Provan - one of the three Neometro directors - has definitively been a motivating factor. Jeff is not motivated by just making a dollar - if he does not feel a project is contributing to the city, to the people who will live in it, then he simply wont proceed. It's an ethical position that sits in Christian thinking, Judaism and Buddhism - a golden rule which if applied to property reads, "if I would not live there, I can't expect others to”. There is some wonderful wisdom in his outlook. It's also good for business because after a while people see the quality of your work and are happy to pay for it.
The Jewell Station project came with a lot of under-utilised land, how did you decide on the best way to use this space?
I have been pretty active in the social sector. Jane Martino and I started Smiling Mind which has become somewhat of the rising start and new kid on the block in the not-for-profit realm. We deliver programs for young people focused on mindfulness and wellbeing. We've got a tech bent so a lot of what we provide is either app or web delivered. Our cornerstone product teaches meditation and has had over 500,000 users in Australia since its launch 24 months ago. Why is this relevant? I think because when combined with Jeff's outlook, we felt that Jewell was a canvass whereby we could take a truly holistic approach that combined design, wellbeing and community.
In a practical sense, what we are building is going to include community gardens, outdoor performance spaces, meditation spaces, social enterprise food and beverage, a very strong bike component. It's basically a whole new urban village - someone called it "an urban kibbutz" and I think that's pretty accurate.
How do you envisage Jewell Station bringing everyone together?
Because of what we do, we tend to have relationships in the social enterprise and arts sector so it's really just about bringing some of our tribe together to get the party started.
What prompted you to put such a focus on the clean design of your developments?
It's entirely Jeff's making and then Neil McLennan makes sure that the projects are delivered (Neil is the third director at Neometro).
What’s the next big project in the pipes for Neometro?
We have three buildings in construction and then the next two buildings are Jewell. We are working on a few more but we're not in a hurry. We want to grow but we will do it on our own terms.
Where do you see the future of urban development within Australia?
The quality has to get better and this will be lead by consumers. Neometro, Piccolo, Kalex, Small Giants - as a group we are hopefully making a positive contribution to the city.