With almost 25 years in the property industry and four property businesses under his belt, Hugh Jones, property expert and entrepreneur, has a long track record when it comes to this line of work. In reality, his true passion lies in helping people, and the property industry provided Hugh with a platform for discovering this. “It wasn't so much the property management or the property transactions that I enjoyed. It was my natural interest in people buying or selling the property and becoming their trusted advisor through the ups and downs of life. To do that, I needed to have cash flow, and that's why I started a property business,” the Director and Founder of Garcia and Jones explained.
Hugh has always understood the importance of hard work, even as a teenager. “In school holidays, I used to work with my cousins in a family law firm. From a young age, we spent about half our school holidays working in the family practice. So, we learned about working hard from a relatively young age,” he shared. After a brief stint studying Economics at University, Hugh deferred his studies for a year and made his first move into Property. Since then, there was no turning back for Hugh as he continued to hone his proficiency in the industry.
He started his first property service business at the age of 25, with his age being one of his biggest obstacles. “When I was 25, I probably looked like I was 18,” he joked. “It was hard to establish credibility. To be treated seriously was certainly an issue. Establishing a brand from scratch was hard,” he continued.
As many entrepreneurs would know, setting up his first business was an uphill climb for Hugh. “I set up my first business with a partner who dropped out quite early. Although I made a good sales manager and salesperson, I didn't truly understand what it took to establish and run a business from scratch. It was probably underfunded and didn't have enough structure and organisation to it. I didn’t regret it though, as each mistake was an opportunity to learn and do things differently the next time.”
Disappointment and frustration was part of the process in those early years. The first cornerstone that Hugh emphasised was cash flow. “There was always stress on cash flow because we were trying to grow. So, we're always reinvesting, either in the business or personal wealth. Up until more recent times, cash flow has always been the biggest problem for us to manage, particularly given the cyclical nature of the property industry.”
Hugh has also been involved in various development ventures, not just on the residential property. But the property development industry is a challenging space, especially for entrepreneurs. “It's a very long cycle between when you purchase land and when you take profit,” according to Hugh. “It may take almost four years in between, with no cash flow during that period. Plus, some factors can tilt the scale, such as changes in planning regulations, alterations in the financial landscape, and shifts in market preferences.”
The property advisor explained, “You have exposure for a long time, which makes you quite vulnerable. The rewards are great, and the return on equity can be fantastic. But there are also considerable risks during that period. It’s feast or famine.”
Having worked for other businesses in the past, Hugh found that despite the risks, working in his own business provides him with the ability to control his destiny, whether good or bad. With all the challenges that come with the position, being an entrepreneur is something that Hugh regards as incredibly rewarding. For him, one of the rewards of running his ventures is sparing him from politics above him, which is a big issue in large corporations.
Nonetheless, his major disappointment was not money. “The biggest highs and the biggest lows have been around people, particularly senior people, whether they are business partners or people who have been with me for a long time,” Hugh explained.
As Hugh realised that he didn’t know how to manage a business, in the beginning, he tried to surround himself with the right people to fill the gaps in his expertise. His business was still small then, composed of only about ten people. “I decided that I had to be able to do anything that had to be done in the business myself. If required, I had to be able to step into any role that was there. So, I had to upskill myself. I had to work harder. The problem was trying to focus, trying to balance creating revenue with running a business, managing staff and problem solving,” narrated Hugh.
Recognising that people are key to every business, Hugh learned that the best practice is to treat people as to how he wants to be treated by others. Secondary to this was understanding the numbers. During the early years of his business, it was all about driving revenue from sales to fix most of his problems. Lastly, he saw how vital it is to shift from a high-level perspective in running a venture to going down to the details on a regular basis to understand every aspect of the business.
From the initial enterprise, Hugh has accumulated more lessons along the way, providing him with enough insights to sharpen his knowledge as he built his succeeding ventures. Since then he’s had four property businesses that he started from scratch, built them up and sold them. In the process, he acquired more understanding in running a business.
He enumerated these learnings, “Number one for me always is building a business model that is sustainable, one that creates real value for the customer. Number two is gaining information from people who are best of breed in the industry, rather than trying to learn everything myself. So, it's to find out who the best person is and learn from him first. Number three is financial rigour, not just around compliance, but more also on management accounting, understanding cash flow, return on investment, profit and balance sheet. Next, I'd say, business is about relationships – both with clients and your team and providing value to these people. Value works both ways. It must solve a problem for them, but also be profitable for the business. Then, last but not the least is your reputation. In an industry like property, your reputation is everything, and your actions can damage it.”
Identifying the significance of obtaining acumens from the best in the industry, Hugh has tapped into the knowledge of two mentors, who both started off as his clients. The first mentor he had was when he was just 21. “He mentored me around property development, funding and money. He even helped fund some of my early investments. We did many projects together. He taught me about managing costs, buying property well, and building what the market wants,” he remarked. The other mentor he had was when he was in his early 30s. This mentor was a CEO of a large business. Hugh grasped from this corporate leader a different perspective on business, particularly on human relations, which helped him run his subsequent endeavours with more efficiency.
Apart from these industry experts, Hugh also gathered a lot of insights from EO Melbourne. To him, “The biggest things would be that all businesses seem to have the same problems. They're normally around HR, cash, profit or market. So, there's not one big learning that I could say that changed my life. But I think that the benefit of EO was the thought-sharing, from many different perspectives which makes us all much more rounded business owners. It's the thought-sharing and the idea-sharing.” The ultimate thing about EO Melbourne that he found enormous value is the forum, particularly the forum retreats. He has amassed amazing learnings during those activities, which he regards as the highlights of EO for him.
Based on his experiences and the knowledge he garnered from other business owners, he considers optimism, tenacity, good judgment, leadership, and financial skills as qualities needed to keep one going on the entrepreneurial journey. These are tools that helped him go through tough times and emerge successfully.
Amidst all these, with several businesses he’s involved in, he has learned to juggle his time efficiently. “I work about 50 hours a week, and take about two to two and a half months off a year. I work in a very disciplined way. The biggest challenge is managing personal resources. Obviously, this applies to money. But you must manage your time and energy in the same way you manage your money. So, I put a lot of effort into managing time and energy. And anything which is not adding to me, I jettison quickly,” he disclosed.
Given that, he provides time and energy for his family and interests, such as motorsports, fishing, travel and food. This 44-year-old business owner is a family man who lives in Beechworth but works in Melbourne three to four days a week. He loves that he gets to enjoy the balance between the two. “After scaling back from a larger corporate role, I purchased a winery in Beechworth. Now, I divide my time between the country and the city. It provides me with a balanced approach for myself and my family. My wife and I are establishing the vineyard and launching our first wine brand later this year,” Hugh says.
With all these things he is relishing now, the future seems more exciting for Hugh. “I think that I'll always have an interest in the property industry. I think that if I could spend most of my time between a successful vineyard and a successful property consulting practice, I would like to reduce my hours, but I’ll still have interests in all businesses. I enjoy it too much not to,” he shared.
His entrepreneurial journey has taught him a lot of things. “Be tenacious about success. Do the right thing by people,” are his words. Doing the right thing includes passing on his knowledge to the future generation. “I have been hugely motivated by mentoring and seeing the development of younger people in the property industry,” he pronounced. That philosophy of doing the right thing to others, whether they are staff, clients, customers or investors, has contributed to his consistent success in a changing landscape.
Hugh’s interest in people never wavers. After nearly 25 years of helping people in the property sector, he’s still out to do more. Now, how do you keep up with someone like Hugh Jones?