Daniel O'Brien, Managing Director of LJ Hooker Commercial's South Sydney office, discusses his plans for domination – and what makes a great agent

LJ Hooker is the most recognised real estate brand in Australia. Its residential sector has 700 offices across Australia, New Zealand and other international regions. The Commercial division – offering every aspect of investment, divestment, leasing and management – was formally launched in the 1980s but has been a service of the brand since LJ Hooker’s inception in 1928.

Award-winning agent Daniel O’Brien spent 12 years running the leasing and sales teams at Knight Frank and CBRE before purchasing the South Sydney franchise of LJ Hooker Commercial in June 2016.

His team is playing a key role in the South Sydney redevelopment precinct, which has undergone massive zoning changes and increasing land values of the area, from the Fringe of the CBD, east to Bondi Junction, west as far as the Anzac bridge, the Sutherland Shire and the areas surrounding Sydney Airport and the CBD fringe.

“What we offer our clients is big agency experience and experienced agents with a personalised service,” reveals O’Brien. “The customer experience is what separates good agents from average ones.

“We don’t have shareholders or senior management levels to answer and report to, so have no agenda and can take our time, ensuring our clients get the best of us.

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“My philosophy is simple: act like every listing is your own property, and everything else will take care of itself. It sounds simple, but the simple things are often the ones which always get overlooked.”

O’Briens philosophy is working; the businesses is in a huge period of growth, for both revenue and size. And as well as increasing revenue by 50 percent in the last 12 months, he’s also growing the team and has hired some key staff, including two directors, Michael Binksin and William Tong.

Between them, they’ve run sales teams and offices for all the big four firms and tri-lingual Tong is already connecting Asian-based investors and developers with local opportunities.

“It’s great for me to have such quality guys as part of our offering to clients,” O’Brien says. “I’m concentrating growing as much market share in our core markets as fast as we can but for the next 12 months I’m solely focused on consolidating and growing my current business. While I’m very impatient, I realise you have to walk before you can run.”

Initially O’Brien, who won Commercial Salesman of the Year award in 2013 from the NSW Real Estate Institute and was a finalist in 2015, wants to attract as many outstanding sales and leasing agents as possible to add to his 10 hand-picked, full-time staff members.

He draws in talent by offering generous commission splits and other incentives – such as property management bonuses which his competitors often can’t match – to help the team build their individual wealth.

“Culture is, and has always been, the most important factor to get right in any of my teams,” he insists. “Without a good team and office culture, you simply have no business.

“I can’t think of many other jobs which offer this potential and it’s for all walks of life – a university graduate in his first year in agency earnt the same annual income as the top three percent of people in the country. And I’ve known guys who sold farm equipment come in and write $1 million in their second year.”

O’Brien claims one of the main challenges is dealing daily with people at the top of their game – like CEOs, managing directors, savvy entrepreneurs and property developers – on both sides of every transaction.

“All these clients are absolutely brilliant negotiators. It’s in their blood so this keeps you sharp and really hones your negotiating skills.

“It’s fun, and the best agents are the ones who listen more than talk, are smart and know when to push and when to roll over. Agents work with owners or principals who they can learn from, and earn more money with.”

He jokes that some of the agents he’s mentored over the years are now his direct competition, but insists Sydney’s a big enough market for them all to thrive.

“It gives me a sense of pride to see them kick on and become successful in their own right,” claims O’Brien. “One of the nicest things was when I attended a wedding of an old colleague, who is now a brilliant agent and close friend.

“During the wedding speech, his parents thanked me for providing such guidance, motivation and direction to their child’s career. As a father myself, that really meant a lot.”

O’Brien says that as well as attracting and mentoring more agents, he’s focusing on getting the business to the level where he can open multiple offices.

“I have a great succession plan with very experienced fellow directors in this office,” he adds, “and I will likely look to one to run South Sydney so I can focus on starting and growing a second, then third office and so on. 

“Creating something is the magic for me. With the number of new apartments coming online in our core market I’m also contemplating opening a Project Marketing division.

“Life is short and my view is that you have to spend it doing something you love for a few years and can earn enough money as fast as you can, so you are able to then spend as much time as possible with the people you love – your family.”  

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