LEADERS SURVEY: Property Council boss Mike Zorbas on the man behind his career and the push to build houses

Matt Mckenzie
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Property Council of Australia Chief Executive Mike Zorbas says an ‘extraordinary’ man inspired his career.
Property Council of Australia Chief Executive Mike Zorbas says an ‘extraordinary’ man inspired his career. Credit: Adam Taylor/Adam Taylor

Property industry veteran Mike Zorbas has revealed how his first boss inspired his career and outlined the Property Council’s proposals to tackle concerns of a national housing shortage.

It was advice from Mr Zorbas’ father that led him on the trajectory to eventually become chief executive of lobby group Property Council of Australia in January 2023.

“Early on my dad convinced me to go and work for a great leader, Jim Service, a former Property Council national president, instead of accepting a graduate job at the Defence Department as my first job,” Mr Zorbas told The Nightly’s Leaders Survey.

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“Jim was surpassingly bright, when needed his interventions could be thunderbolts, and he effortlessly commanded respect in a room or on a stage.

“Equally he was humble, generous with his time and polite.

“He made a real effort to help, and improve, me, as he did for many other people from all walks of life.”

The response on Mr Service’s passing in 2021 was “extraordinary”, Mr Zorbas said. He said Mr Service had mentored many people and served with “unfailing generosity”.

Mike Zorbas says he tries to lead with compassion.
Mike Zorbas says he tries to lead with compassion. Credit: Adam Taylor/Adam Taylor

Mr Zorbas said the greatest leadership lessons he had learned were to have vision and conviction, to empower teams and lead with compassion.

“I’ve watched many titans of politics and industry over the decades and the ones that leave the best legacies are invariably those who see themselves as custodians,” he said.

“(Leaders) whose primary obligation is to convey their clear purpose and then to help, and accept the help of, those around them in bringing that vision to life.

“Easier said than done of course, but worth a crack!”

His six years at the Property Council also included leading the policy and advocacy team. Before that, he was an executive at Lendlease, and had similar roles at construction business Grocon and developer Stockland.

But he has taken the reins at a time when the industry has been battling an enormous challenge.

The collateral impact of the building bubble has left nearly 100,000 houses unfinished nationally, according to the most recent Australian Bureau of Statistics data. A big, stimulus-driven upswing in builds was followed by continued slow completions.

LEADERS SURVEY

The Albanese Government wants 1.2 million homes built by 2029, a target which some have warned will be tough to hit. A $10 billion housing fund past Parliament last year to chase the ambitious goal.

Hitting the target will require a “creative government and business partnership”, Mr Zorbas said.

“Think more retirement living communities where people can downsize in their communities, more purpose-built student accommodation where people study and more build-to-rent housing choices for longer term rental security,” he said.

“Let’s also accelerate adaptive reuse of old buildings, expansion into the airspace above existing buildings, more prefabricated and modular building and governments spending more of Australia’s vast state property taxes on social housing.”

He also said Australia needed to roll out the welcome mat for overseas capital.

When asked what the industry wanted to see in the Federal Government’s May Budget, the Property Council has a long list of ideas.

That included boosting construction skills in the migration mix in “a smaller overall future intake” and further increases to Government spending on both the New Home Bonus and Housing Support Program, which are designed to encourage States to deliver more homes.

Other items on the wish list were national targets for student accommodation and retirement living, changes to taxes to favour build-to-rent projects, and changes to the Foreign Investment Review Board.

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