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Going from local to global

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Dan Walker has done very well for himself. The Director in Charge Sydney North Office Leasing for Colliers International, Dan is living the dream with an office on the 42nd floor in North Sydney with spectacular 180-degree views of the whole harbour.

While attending the second worst performing school in NSW, a chance conversation saw Dan leave school and land alongside Mat Steinwede at the acclaimed McGrath office in Terrigal when he was 18. After learning from the best and wanting to move to Sydney, he transitioned from residential to commercial. He says, “I quickly realised that Colliers was the brand that aligned with me the best. I tried for three or four months, knocking down their door, and eventually got a start. I then spent four years or so really just breaking into that CBD leasing market. I had revenue increases year on year of 30 to 35 per cent. I won Rookie of the Year in my first year.” For the last six months, he has been running the Sydney North business. He says, “It is a very, very exciting time. Colliers as a business and myself - we're really looking to leverage on those opportunities which have arisen from the amount of infrastructure investment coming in from the State Government.”

At only 29 years of age, Dan is now in charge of a team of 50 people, working for an iconic Australian brand that has a global reach of 6,500 employees. All his staff work on an individual project He says “Our people become really, really specialised in whatever their chosen field is - be it office leasing, investment sales, capital transactions, industrial consultancy, real estate management, or property management. My aim is to basically drive that growth throughout the geographic region.”

What residential taught him

The importance of branding

Dan took some lessons from residential into the commercial side of real estate. He says, “Residential agents can make great commercial sales people because they understand branding. John McGrath - Mat and Jamie, the owners of that business on the Central Coast - really understood branding. What I've done, really, is implemented that branding and understanding of what it is, whether it's a personal brand or an office brand, into business. It's only going to get more and more powerful. One of the most powerful drivers of growth is being seen in the marketplace and being active in the marketplace.”

Dan also thinks being active on social media is crucial. He says, “The smart guys in commercial real estate have already picked up the importance of social media. They're ahead of the game. I reckon, 80-90 per cent of commercial agents haven't yet, like residential guys have. About a year ago, I read Fredrik Eklund's book, The Sell, and he had a whole chapter on social media, and I was on the plane on the way back from New York, and I thought, ‘Well, let me give that a crack. It sounds pretty good’."

Providing information

From his days at McGrath, Dan also learned how to market. He says, “I'm a big believer in providing information. The market reports that I used to do 10 years ago - I still do those today. Well, people can get information if they look hard enough, so why not be the provider of that information? You become a brand to them, basically, so Dan Walker's the main brand. Colliers backs it up with that leverage. This is not a short-term game. This is a long-term game. When the time does come for them to do something property-related, I want to be the first person they think of.”

What's different

Dan has also benefited from the larger canvas commercial offers. Colliers saw the first wave of capital coming out of China before most. Dan says, for larger commercial assets, “We saw this coming before it happened, so the systems and processes were put in place.” The company created an Asian markets division with specialised agents who speak Mandarin, Cantonese - whatever it needed to be to handle the level of enquiry. Believing the wave of investment from China is only the first wave, Colliers goes outbound as well. Dan says, “For properties of a certain price-point, we usually do an Asian road show once every quarter. So, when some of our team jet across, they'll do 10 cities in four days, road-showing these potential opportunities for Asian investors in China.”

The big guns

At Colliers all information is shared and a number of years ago, Dan explains “Colliers commissioned Microsoft, and they built our own centralised data platform for the whole business. Everyone knows everything and everything's easy to track. The database actually tracks from everyone's mobile phones and landlines and who's calling who. If you hear of a client, or you see an asset that you think you might have a buyer for, or you want to know more about it, you can basically search for a client. Then you can see who's had the most contact with that client within the whole organisation, within the last month, six months, 12 months, years, basically, which gives you a real insight. You can simply just call that person directly and say, ‘Hey, can you put me in touch with so-and-so? I'd really like to get in touch with them. I've got a great buy for their asset’. It's much more of a targeted, proactive approach, as opposed to just calling up a hundred homes and seeing who wants a market appraisal.”

The hard years in residential though have proved to be beneficial. Dan says, “When I jumped into commercial, I was like, ‘They've got a database of every lease expiry?’ That's why I think residential agents who are used to doing the hard work and the cold calls, when they get into commercial and they realise the resources are there. You can make really, really intelligent phone calls. Really warm calls. I was like a kid in a candy store. I was like, ‘What you do mean? You know when they're going to move? Oh, how easy is this?’.”

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Residential agents can make great commercial sales people because they understand branding.

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