On a Sydney winters morning, so brilliant even the most world-weary had smiles on their faces, a yellow hatted audience stood spellbound. We were gathered at the peak of Mirvac’s newest, and boldest, Sydney development.
It was the topping out ceremony of St Leonards Square, two triangular towers of 27 and 35 storeys, soon to be occupied by 527 apartments, 33 commercial suites and retail tenants. It’s a game changer for the lacklustre Sydney suburb, offering an exciting option for shoppers and workers in its sunny plaza area, and panoramic luxury for the skyscraper residents
The trip to the top of this construction has taken just three years. For the woman behind the Mirvac brand, the trip to the top has been a little longer, and perhaps not as direct. In 2012 Susan Lloyd-Hurwitz, the first member of her immediate family to attend university, became the CEO and managing director of the diversified property giant, Mirvac.
As she mingles with co-workers, media and dignitaries at the ceremony, she seems more than at ease with her hard hat and safety glasses. This is indeed not her first rodeo, and one senses even if it were, her focus and commitment would see her ride it out effortlessly.
She is proud but nonplussed with the success of this timely development.
“It is not an unusual time frame,” she says in response to the idea this project has swiftly come to realisation. “I think it has been a very efficient process from buying the site [in 2015] to releasing apartments, and now we are coming up to settle the first tower in October ….”
Efficiency is a driving force and a frequently used expression when describing this much awarded and sought-after CEO. She was working in London, as Managing Director of the European arm of LaSalle Investment Management when she was approached by Mirvac.
It was reported to be a move by the Mirvac board to accelerate cultural change within the company and improve communication with stakeholders. For some this may have seemed a sexist decision – the need for a softly, softly CEO.
How wrong they were. Lloyd-Hurwitz is an internationally acclaimed businesswoman, self-described as a person with ruthless efficiency, and has proven to be an ideal choice and a CEO who on one hand does not suffer fools, while on the other she has created an enviable workplace environment that celebrates diversity and inclusion.
The profit results for Mirvac released in August confirm the talent at the helm. With a headline profit reportedly over $1b for the fourth year in a row, this is a company that has survived a challenging economy, and one that has thrived in an industry which, in NSW at least, is currently rife with problems.
This is not something the eminent CEO dodges. In her speech at the morning’s ceremony Lloyd-Hurwitz included the line “So much is going wrong with developments in NSW”, referring to the ongoing disaster for resident sand developers of defective sites such as Mascot Towers.
When we asked her about that afterwards, she did not back away or rephrase, while revealing the bad press has been good business for the established and respected Mirvac brand.
“It’s actually playing to our strength, because people come into our office and say my ‘friend says I can only buy from Mirvac’. But for an industry as a whole, for people to have entrusted their life savings to buy something they can’t live in, is an appalling situation.”
Lloyd-Hurwitz, who only recently finished her presidency of the Australian Property Council, passionately believes the way to stop ongoing faulty construction practices within the industry is industry-wide reform.
“For people to do what we do; for peer review of structures, which is something we do routinely and not many others do - and they should.”
They should also, one imagines, be following the direction in which the company is heading with regard to other social issue stances, objectives held dear by the head of the company.
“We’ve got a project that we’ve called the House with No Bills. If you could live in a home where you never had to pay a water or energy bill again how good would that be for a customer and it’s all designed around sustainable technology which we are pioneering.”
Which leads us to smart houses, smart cities and the smart companies and CEOs who can see that value over the horizon.
“We’ve invested in a company which has a unique way of getting solar battery access to apartment dwellers,” she says.
And on a larger scale?
“On a commercial perspective smart buildings are absolutely essential if you want to maintain large corporate tenants into the future. The control they want over the environment, with a focus on wellness and health in buildings, it will be enabled by technology of the future.”
Every industry considers the shape of its future, however in architecture and in particular the design of soaring structures that shape the skyline of cities, and occupy the view of residents, and workers and just regular people in their everyday lives, this work has a long-term effect. This is the business of legacy.
“People at Mirvac do talk about being really proud to walk around and say I built that or I designed that,” says Lloyd-Horwitz, a genuine smile breaking in the shade of her hard hat. “There’s a real sense that we will leave something really good behind.”
Do her kids know how smart she is? Do they realise the legacy their mother is building?
“Oh gosh no!” she answers with laugh. “No, they don’t. I think they will…” and just for a moment this focused, forthright head of a multi-billion dollar company seems, for the briefest moment, to be introspective.
The moment passes as fast as it happened, and we are back to discussing the competition in development between Sydney and Melbourne.
“The advantage Melbourne has is it is half the price; half the price for a house, half the price to rent office space. There is a reason why its growing faster than Sydney.”
And with that Hurwitz’s assistant tells us we are out of time and as she goes for the lift, we ask for some pictures. With grace the request is satisfied, but there is a sense that there are many other more important things for this powerful businesswoman to be doing with her time.
Many published articles have referred to Susan Lloyd-Hurwitz as the woman behind the property giant. But she’s not. She’s right out there in front, leading it.