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Q&A: Andrew Tregenza, CFO, Australian Property Institute

What’s the 30 second pitch on the API? Andrew Tregenza: The primary role of the API is to set and maintain the highest standards of professional practice, education, ethics and professional conduct for its members and the broader property profession. The goal of the Institute is to be the premier professional membership association of choice for the broader property industry in Australia and to maximise the share of people who want to build a career on professional property skills.

What’s the biggest opportunity for your industry at the moment? The reforms under COAG for standardisation of National Property Licensing across all states and territories represent a great opportunity for API members and all property professionals. Such reforms will remove inconsistencies across state and territory borders and allow for a more mobile workforce. The API has actively worked with the government to progress these reforms.

What are the disruptive technologies that are likely to significantly change or impact business over the next few years? The sales of property data both retail and wholesale by both private organisations and the state and federal governments have the potential to be very disruptive. This dumping of unwashed data in the marketplace does not allow for a fair value to be placed on the correct interpretation and assessment of that data. A qualified valuer can provide a superior service to statistical models that are currently being used by some lenders.

Where do you see your organisation heading over the next five years? The API wants to be known as one of the best member services organisations both here and into Asia. The Asian property industry is beginning to embrace Occupational Health & Safety codes, training, and professional standards as they apply to the property asset management industry. The Institute is keen to benchmark with other members organisations, such as CPA Australia, who have been very successful in their expansion into this region.

What’s the biggest challenge for the organisation at the moment? The Institute was founded in 1926 as the Commonwealth Institute of Valuers, and has seen a great deal of change over this time. As the property industry faces further upheaval and change the API needs to ensure that structural reforms are implemented to continue to be relevant and to attract its share of property professionals to its membership.

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got to where you are today? Accountancy was always my first career choice. Towards the end of my degree I began working in the not for profit sector at an organisation called ‘Black Community Housing Service (BCHS)’. This was also my first role with a focus on property. BCHS was a company set up and run by a board made up of prominent South East Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community leaders with the aim of assisting with long-term housing and accommodation for indigenous people in the South-East Queensland region. At the time BCHS owned a significant property portfolio made up of existing and newly built houses and unit blocks, and was also constructing dedicated aged care complexes. At the time the property portfolio was worth around $20 Million. I introduced new accounting software and systems including a custom rental management system. It was a great first job, and my role expanded significantly outside that organization to incorporate roles in wider indigenous community events. It was such a vibrant & social environment as the community was very close knit - not only would I work with board member, but invariably I would interact with their entire extended family - if not in the office, at the many community events. 1993 was the International Year of the Worlds Indigenous Peoples, and I ended up on the committee responsible for organizing a host of events that year, culminating in the adventurous 2 day Indigenous Sports & Cultural Festival at Musgrave Park in South Brisbane. This event attracted tens of thousands of people not only from S.E. QLD, but all over the state and the country. The festival became an annual event and a Brisbane Institution and is celebrating its twentieth year next year. I then went on to work in the state government, in the QLD Department of Natural Resources & Mines. This role really solidified my skills in accounting, finance and management. There is obviously a high level of accountability in the government, and you very quickly learn to develop strong skills in maintaining meticulous working papers for everything you do. I was lucky to work with one of the top finance departments in the government for the better part of a decade, and we all contributed to maintaining and continuously improving a well-oiled and disciplined corporate finance function. The government also teaches you to embrace change, as it is constantly being re-structured every time minister changes, or you get a change of Government. It is amazing what you can achieve with well-motivated and skilled management.

Working in the government provided many opportunities for 'secondments' to a variety of finance related roles. This gave me the opportunity to hone specialist skills, under the guidance of experienced mentors. In the course of 8 years I undertook roles dedicated to budget & management reporting; financial policy development; financial accounting & even worked directly for the Queensland Premier.

My main role was as an accountant for the Corporate Services wing of the Department of Natural Resources & Mines which was responsible for budgeting and reporting for the Director General and Corporate divisions including Legal Services; Assets & Infrastructure; IT; Strategic Policy and internal Audit. The head of internal Audit was Bob McDonald, who at the time became the International President of the Institute of Internal Auditors. Bob was passionate about Internal Audit, which was how he got to be in such an esteemed position in the IIA. I was set for a secondment with bob as an internal auditor when he was offered a role heading an internal audit department in Canberra with the Commonwealth Government. I thought that was the end of that, until I thought - Hey, I can still work with Bob, just in a different capacity. That's how I ended up in Canberra.

Internal Auditing taught me a whole new set of skills. You have to be an exceptional communicator and exercise diplomacy as you effectively interview and liaise with the heads of departments. You also have to be a great report writer in this role. When Bob's contract ended he returned to Brisbane, while I stayed in Canberra and sought a new role in accounting.

Like my first foray out of university, I ventured back to work in the not for profit sector with a focus on property and commenced work at the Australian Property Institute.

Who’s your hero and why? At the moment I would have to say Conrad Hilton. I recently read his 1957 autobiography 'Be My Guest' and it was truly inspiring. What this man achieved in his lifetime was phenomenal. The central tenets he abided by where key to his enormous success, and offer lessons to all of us. He believed that there are ten ingredients which must be blended in each person in order to live successfully: Find your own particular talent; Be big (think big; act big; dream big); Be honest; Live with enthusiasm; Don't let your possessions possess you; Don't worry about your problems; Don't cling to the past; Look up to people when you can, down to no one; Assume your full share of responsibility for the world in which you live in; Pray consistently and confidently. Conrad Hilton’s legacy lives on in the current Hilton organization, and the continued focus on providing the best service, value and amenities has made the Hilton name one of the most esteemed brand names in the world. It proves that strong personal values can translate to sustained business success.

What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received? A very influential person has been Sir John Monash, the Melbourne Engineer who went on to become a very successful commander in the Australian Army during the First World War. Reading about Monash, I was struck with his organisational and planning skills. Prior to the war he was a very successful business man responsible for building many bridges throughout Australia using innovative techniques. He applied the same skills to planning major battles as he did to his engineering works. There is arguably nothing more unpredictable than the outcome of a major battle, but Monash would meticulously plan for such an event, fine-tuning every aspect of the plan, leaving nothing to chance. He would widely consult with all parties involved in the plan, and absorb all the facts and concepts put to him. Having witnessed some of the debacles of Gallipoli first hand, he essentially was not prepared to fight unless he prepared so meticulously that he was certain of victory. Monash commanded a comprehensive breach of German defences in the Battle of Amiens and followed up with a series of victories until the end of the war and was considered by many to be the most resourceful General in this conflict. King George the V travelled to the battlefield to knight him, the first time a king has knighted a commander on the battlefield in 200 years. I have taken the example of Monash to heart and strive to be as well prepared as possible for planned events and projects and the delivery of work objectives.

What are the skills that you promote and most respect at work? The foremost skills that I expect and respect is attention to detail and the tenacity to follow a job through to completion. If you can't complete a job thoroughly and without error, you might as well not bother at all, because someone else will just have to come along and fix it - usually me. If you have to work back after hours, so be it, but the goal should always be to put processes in place so that the next time that job needs to be done, all the groundwork has been completed, and you should be able to go home on time. Bottom line is, you should expect to put in some late nights and weekends here and there, but only so that in general, you can go home at a reasonable hour with the confidence that everything has been completed to the highest degree of competence, and with the confidence of your peers and colleagues.

What has been your greatest challenge to date as far as your career is concerned? The greatest challenges generally centre on the balance between the need to adopt new technologies to achieve greater efficiencies and enhance the internal/external users’ experiences and the identification and implementation of the right technology vendors and products to achieve that result.

Technological overhauls have becoming a necessary element of long-term business strategies for most organisations, but the risks involved are many and varied. All too often there are major conflicts of interest between organisations and software vendors.

In particular there has long been an unmet need for good software programs to deliver cost reductions and better management to membership associations in the not for profit sector. While there is no shortage of vendors promising to meet these needs, the reality is often disappointing. Thankfully, the traditional enterprise-software model is fading and new opportunities are arising in the software-as-a-service field.

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