We sat down with David Lennox and Hamish Ferguson, co-founders of Vision Property & Finance, to get to know more about who they are and how they established Vision Property & Finance.
Tell us a bit about your background.
Dave: I completed a business degree in the early 90’s and worked for a big accounting firm for six or seven years. After that, I took the leap out. Vision was conceived in one of those ‘sliding-door, the movie’ type moments – you know how in life you might sit next to someone and the conversation you have with that person leads to a particular path – well that’s what happened for me.
I’d always known that I wanted to be self-employed and when a rugby mate, Matt Ivers, and I happened to be in the same car coming back from the Mudgee 7’s rugby tournament, we got chatting about business ideas. It was in those three hours that we got to discuss the mortgage broking industry. We were both at a stage in our lives where we were ready to go really hard and make a big success of the right opportunity. Four months later Matt and I started Vision. That was in January 2000.
Hamish: I come from a strong retail and customer service background. I was a manager for Woolworths for four years. I worked in a family business for about five years and as a manager at McDonalds for five years before that.
Woolworths was great for training but it was during my time with them that the realisation began to grow that my personality wasn’t designed for big business and the corporate world. My heart lay with owning my own business and having more of a sense that I was able to influence my career. My background has always been very customer service focused and when I worked in the family business, I sensed that self-employment would be my thing.
I started the Vision Newcastle office a few months after Dave and Matt opened the Sydney office and have been here ever since. Dave and I have been school friends since we were 12 and have shared many chapters of our lives together. We used to work together in my father’s Nelson Bay pharmacy in summer holidays. It has been great journeying with someone that I have known for so long.
Who are some business figures that you admire?
Dave: I’m an investor in the stock market and a lot of my business heroes are people who have quietly led successful listed companies to amazing success. There’s a guy called Dr Brian McNamee who was in charge of a company called Commonwealth Serum Laboratory (CSL). Investing in that has changed people’s lives, including mine. Dr McNamee’s just such an astute leader, quietly spoken but very sharp, and always ethical. I’ve always liked the understated people. They’re guys you don’t hear about much, who go on to achieve great things.
Hamish: Whilst there are lots of business people that I have admired, I do find it hard to narrow this down to one or two. I love Richard Branson’s story and have reflected on this a lot over the years, particularly his constant drive to be innovative and think outside the box. I also admire Frank Lowy, who founded the Westfield shopping centres. I like that they both started businesses on the smell of an oily rag and turned them into trendsetting companies.
What are some of your passions outside of work?
Dave: I love spending time with family and friends. I have three kids aged from eleven down to six. They are involved in lots of activities and I tend to get involved with organising some of the sports they play.
My mum has an East European background, so I grew up in a warm, open house where people were always dropping in and eating with us (it felt like we were always eating). I like creating a vibe where people can feel welcome in my own life, whether at home or in business; the kind of place that feels warm, and people can feel comfortable and well looked after.
Hamish: For many years, I have enjoyed playing basketball and I am part of a social team which hits the court a couple of times every week.
I’m a Christian so I go to church on Sunday which is a big part of my community involvement. I’ve been married for twenty years and have five children, with the eldest being nineteen. So that keeps me pretty busy.
Why do you think Australians have such a vested interest in property?
Dave: It’s something us Australians feel that we can control. It’s seen as an asset class that doesn’t crash as sharply as some other assets. People lose faith when stock markets yo-yo and retirement savings fall on the back of decisions which are out of their control. Property is seen as something more solid that that we understand. There’s just such a strong history of continued growth. It’s seen as a way for middle Australia to get ahead.
Hamish: Dave makes some good points there. I think property ownership has just been something which has always worked for people. The track record of it is incredible. In a city like Sydney there has been consistent growth where, year in and year out, the seven to ten year rule applies and house prices have doubled in that time.
The mentality of “my house, my castle” also fits in. Growing up in Nelson Bay, people in my neighbourhood would talk about going to Newcastle as an annual trip. I don’t know if Australians are avid travellers but they certainly value a comfortable and cheerful home. Having somewhere which they can always feel happy coming back to, counts for a lot.
How old were you when you bought your first property?
Dave: It was 2000, and I was 28, and I really felt that was late, as prices had doubled in the previous 4 years. There was this perception, after the Sydney Olympics there would be a crash, but by 2005 prices had doubled again.
Hamish: I was 30. It ended up being a very good time to buy, although, like Dave I wish I had started earlier.
What does a typical day/week look like in your role?
Dave: Every day is different which is something I value highly. I spread my time across three stakeholders: staff, lenders and clients. Although this tends to be a lot on my plate, I always put the effort into tending to clients first. Lenders are a key part of our business so I’ve got to make sure they’re happy with what we’re doing. And I am always talking to the team, we work as a fairly tight unit, so we share each other’s experience and bounce a lot of ideas off each other. Mainly, I am constantly looking for ways of improving what we do to ensure we maintain our relevance for our clients.
Hamish: It depends very much on the day. My role can sometimes be more varied than what Dave’s is as I’ve got two businesses in three different locations. Usually the first half of my day is spent replying to emails, returning missed calls and walking round the office and catching up with the staff. After lunch, I’m preparing for appointments.