Interview: Liam Timms, Fund Manager, International Towers
Liam is a highly regarded real estate and funds management professional with over 25 years experience in the real estate, construction, development and funds management industries. His work has covered commercial, retail, residential and industrial asset classes.
Liam is passionate about driving innovation and diversity in his investment mandate from Indigenous engagement, to education and training for all, as commitment to a better future.
Why is environment such a critical factor in the success of a business enterprise?
Whether you’re aware of it or not, environment plays an active role in every business. In my view, there were inconsistencies that were apparent in the way things have always been done. I didn’t see an integration between the behaviours of people at the coalface, and what the long-term performance objectives of the organisation were – such as strong culture and diversity, and all the benefits a thriving, diverse community could deliver. I couldn’t see a traditional approach being able to deliver that for International Towers. So prior to the buildings being completed, I set out on a mission to scope what ‘success’ looked like for people who were to work here – just to be here – and that ultimately came down to the people that operate and take care of the place.
Companies and products don’t come to work at a place each day; it’s individuals – people – that come to work every single day, and their journey doesn’t begin when they arrive at the building – it begins when they leave their front door. Their experience began at home. And so as building managers, we may well be the first person they interact with each day as they arrive at work, so we had a big opportunity – and I believe an equally big responsibility – to make that interaction a positive one. Our goal was to ensure that we would interact with and influence the experience of every single person that came to our buildings.
Often, that interaction was very subtle and invisible – from simple things like our standards of cleanliness, or the physical ambiance of our public areas, or a feeling of safety and security. Also, the idea of feeling welcome, I thought, was critical to delivering that level of positive interaction. So regardless of who you were, you felt invited. That’s one of the reasons we moved away from traditional, fixed reception desks in some of our lobbies, so that there were no physical barriers to people flowing in and out of the space, and so any engagement with our concierge team could happen at eye level without a barrier in between.
Before the towers were complete, we commenced developing an internal culture program that we called ‘BarangaYOU’, which dictated the mind-sets of all of us as a team. Operating as a successful team meant everybody felt they were working for the same common cause; nobody was too important to take care of someone else’s task, everyone was part of the same journey. I could see a similar approach and philosophy happening in other industries, but I hadn’t seen it happening successfully in the area of property management.
What was unique was that these mind-sets weren’t just communicated to our management team, but to every occupier within the buildings, so that we could be completely transparent about what we expected from ourselves, and what they should expect from us. This would enable us to have a stronger, honest relationship, and ensure everyone worked towards the same goal.
Which leads to the idea of shared values. How did you arrive at the base values that would ultimately shape the foundation of the International Towers community?
We interviewed an extensive group of individuals – from facilities staff to customers – asking them what they expected when they came to work and, just as importantly, what wouldn’t be tolerated. It wasn’t just about what we should do, but also about what behaviours weren’t acceptable. There was an incredible amount of research
done to articulate what was going to work, and what wasn’t. These were real people that would be working in International Towers, providing us with their own personal views and insights, and this gave us a very powerful foundation on which to develop a values platform that would guide all of our decision making. It enabled us to really question what we were doing, and why we were doing it, and it created a mind-set around how we
should make certain decisions. When you can clearly articulate your values, then often decision making becomes very easy, because you have this very clear framework and reference point on which to base your judgements and actions.
Perhaps one of the greatest examples of this in action was our very first day of operations. In all my years of delivering major projects of this scale, with all that’s involved, I had never seen a first day run so smoothly. Ten days before going live, we took all of our tenant partners, service providers, and supervision and management team off-site for a whole day of immersive experience, sharing the mind-set and culture across International Towers. We had done a tremendous amount of work prior to becoming operational to ensure everyone involved in our community shared the same goals, the same culture, and the same mind-set.
"People can’t work in isolation, and that applies to businesses as well. We know that people thrive on connections, and connecting with others who are like-minded and share similar values." - Liam Timms
We know individual companies have a culture, but rarely do the buildings they occupy have a culture, especially one designed to foster happiness and success. Why was it important for International Towers to respond so differently to the traditional model?
Often, there are a lot of short-term decisions made relating to long-term relationships, and this simply doesn’t align with what I believed successful partnerships needed to thrive. So making that significant investment in establishing our values and our positive culture from the start was critical to the long-term success of the community – and the success of the individual organisations that formed the community. It’s much harder to try and ‘retrofit’ a positive culture and progressive values into an environment that is already established and lacks any of that framework. However, over the longer term, I believe we’ll see a significant return on the investment we made, because its very purpose is to nurture successful outcomes and relationships.
In addition, investing in culture also gave our community a significant point of difference. The decision to join our community is less about ticking boxes on a spreadsheet and more about sharing similar values and seeing the opportunities to benefit from the cultural framework that we’ve established in our environment.
We’re already seeing tangible benefits, much earlier than we anticipated. For instance, staff turnover rates within some of our service sectors are well below industry and CBD averages. Our security team is a typical example. In our first three years of operations, the turnover has been between 2.5% up to 6.5% against an industry benchmark of 24%. With our retention being well above 90%, this delivers great benefits in relationship consistency, significantly reduced cost of turnover and enhanced effectiveness, by reducing the extensive period of onboarding new team members.
As any organisation can testify, there is enormous financial cost associated with staff turnover – not to mention the loss of expertise and relationships – so we are already seeing the tremendously positive benefits of our early and continued investment in creating a positive environment and community. In fact, International Towers, Tower Two and Tower Three was recently named Best Managed Building at the JLL Asia Pacific Property and Asset Management (PAM) Awards, with our 22-member strong team, led by International Towers General Manager Tony Byrne, chosen from 17,000 staff in 14 countries within JLL’s Asia Pacific operations.
Tell us more about the values- based platform you created to help establish the positive culture within the International Towers community.
We spent a lot of time developing what would eventually be called the ‘BarangaYOU’ program. Everyone in the International Towers team, and the majority of our tenant partners and their teams undertake the program soon after joining the community.
It’s built on a fairly simple concept based on five key ideas: “We before Me”, which teaches us that when we work together, we can accomplish great things, much greater than the sum of individual efforts; “If Not You, Then Who?”, which is all about being the change you as an individual wish to see, and encouraging people to take action and personal responsibility; “Heartfulness”, which focuses on the mindful care for self, others and our place; “Incurably Curious”, which encourages creative thinking and not being afraid to have new ideas; and “Carpe Diem”, which invites us to seize the opportunities we are presented with each day, and to be the truest version of ourselves we can be.
I believe all of these philosophies are something we all instinctively relate to and aspire to, so by taking ownership of them, and adopting them as our ‘official’ values, we are setting the standard for which all of our decisions and behaviours are judged, and also the standard we expect our community to live by. And when that community is made of highly engaged, diverse, intelligent people numbering in the many thousands, and all adopting these values in their daily experiences, it creates a very powerful community capable of extraordinary things.
What motivates you?
Seeing people thrive. People are very capable, and will thrive under the right circumstances and within the right environment. I believe that wholeheartedly. Too many people are put into such prescribed positions where they don’t flourish, they don’t become the best versions of themselves. So, in many ways, a big part of my role is to create those circumstances and nurture that environment, and use my influence to open new doors or create opportunities for people. When people are genuinely engaged in what they do, that energy becomes infectious, so it just keeps spurring the whole team to stronger relationships and bigger and better things.
Great ideas don’t come about after exhaustive analysis, or trying to minimise the risk of any failure whatsoever. They come when people feel the safety and security to think differently, and when you have partnerships that allow you to trial new things. Not every new idea will work, but when it does, that’s when things become interesting, because you can present people with new opportunities, new inspiration and greater confidence.
How important is community?
People can’t work in isolation, and that applies to businesses as well. Too many organisations operate in a solitary state where their interactions are limited almost exclusively to within their own four walls – their own culture, their own processes. We know that people thrive on connections, and connecting with others who are like-minded and respectful. Take that to a higher level – we know businesses need connections to thrive, so how do we create that opportunity for companies to make positive connections?
That’s why it was so important for us to create a genuine community at International Towers. It’s an environment where individuals and organisations can interact with each other, often spontaneously and informally, with the idea being that everyone will learn new things, be inspired in new ways, form new connections and develop fruitful relationships. This is also why diversity is so important, because it can greatly enhance the interactions within the community.
Innovation and disruption will continue to impact the business landscape in the next five to ten years, which will no doubt change the needs of many businesses in terms of physical environment and workspace. So, having a highly diverse community – diverse in size, diverse in segment, diverse in expertise – with enterprises at varying stages of growth and with an evolving direction and focus, our community will continue to thrive. More importantly they will have the opportunity to adjust their focus. This includes their physical footprint – to reflect their business priorities as time goes by. There aren’t many workplaces in the country that can provide that level of flexibility and opportunity.
A place like Barangaroo
Everyone is a customer