Taking on the helm of residential development for industry leader, Mirvac, is no mean feat – and after a little over a year in the position, we asked Stuart Penklis to share his views with us on what it is that fuels the organisation’s collective passion for building enduring communities.
As a graduate with a degree in land economics, Stuart Penklis began his career in valuations for First Pacific Davies, where he gained a very broad view of property, working across multiple sectors – before landing a role as Assistant Development Manager at Mirvac whilst the legendary Bob Hamilton was still running the company.
Out of the gates, his enthusiasm for the organisation is palpable. “I’m biased,” he says, “There is no better place to be working. Everything we do is about nurturing a positive legacy. Which means we don’t take on a project unless we are confident it will contribute positively towards communities and, ultimately, the Mirvac brand.”
It is immediately clear that the opportunity to have this ‘meaningful impact on communities’ is the driving force behind his passion for the organisation.
The diversity of Mirvac’s projects, from boutique residential to complex large scale urban regeneration, coupled with a truly holistic approach provides an unparalleled opportunity to enhance the quality of life for so many.
What does Mirvac’s catch cry of “Reimagining urban life” mean and why is it important?
“There has been a lot of discussion in recent time around how big we should be as a nation – and as cities – in the context of population growth. At Mirvac, we stopped discussing this question years ago. Population growth is going to happen. That’s a given. The task that consumes us each day is responding to this phenomenon through the delivery of design and lifestyle excellence that supports healthy, connected communities.”
Penklis goes on to reiterate that Mirvac views itself as a developer of communities rather than buildings – and cites Green Square town centre in partnership with Landcom as a flagship project whose planning and execution goes to the heart of ‘Reimagining urban life’.
World-class public space and amenity will see Green Square blossom into one of Sydney’s most vibrant new communities, delivering well designed housing on a grand scale, complemented by a lively retail and commercial offering, with community-building amenity such as a contemporary public library, plaza and aquatic centre being delivered by the City of Sydney.
The importance of sustainability.
“We’re a heavily technology-focused business,” he says, “and sustainability is a significant consideration in every new project we undertake. It is part of the Mirvac DNA and we’ve been pioneering in this area for many years.”
The example he brings to light is the near 20-year old Sydney Olympic Village, which became Australia’s first solar suburb.
“While many corporations will talk about the importance of sustainable development, we can actually point to environmentally sensitive design solutions in every project.
It is embedded in our ethos – and our ‘develop, design and construct’ model means we’re constantly learning and improving upon technologies and outcomes through each and every project we undertake.”
In Victoria, Mirvac have established a project they call The House With No Bills. Here, they have built a house and selected a family of four to live rent-free for 12 months, in order to monitor their use of energy and water. Armed with this data, Mirvac will seek to develop sustainability measures to reduce energy costs across future developments.
Early and extensive community engagement supports every project that the company undertakes.
“Ultimately, the level of engagement with communities from early on in the piece is what determines the degree to which a project delivers a successful outcome.
We begin a formal engagement with communities that goes above and beyond any statutory planning process, working with them to better understand their needs – and, in fact, helping the communities themselves to better understand their own needs.”
He sites Mirvac’s Harold Park project in Sydney as an example: “I spent a lot of time talking to the community during the initial planning phases, which shed a lot of light on their needs– and was particularly helpful in the context of an extremely diverse community.”
Fast forward eight years, and what was once an area exclusively for visiting the trots, is now a vibrant, thriving community thanks to the delivery of exceptional public spaces, the Tramsheds’ transformative dining and retail hub and outstanding community amenity, making for a destination precinct that has had a meaningful impact far beyond the residents, into the surrounding suburbs.
The greatest satisfaction according to Penklis is seeing locals who had opposed the development being converted to staunch supporters.
The commercial impact of a holistic approach
When pressed on this point, Penklis defers to the wisdom of founder, Bob Hamilton.
“When I first started at Mirvac, Bob Hamilton would say that if you get the project attributes right, the commercial returns will follow. We come at things in a very different way because of our focus on the attributes. Of course, commercial returns are critical – but Bob’s philosophy is proven right time and again – so our focus remains firmly on producing the best possible outcomes for our clients in every facet of a project.”
There are two compelling commercial arguments that he touches upon, being repeat customers and the importance of reputation in a moderating market.
Impressively, Mirvac has a staggering 25% – 30% repeat customer on many of their projects. As he points out: “that doesn’t happen by accident.” And with the phenomena of a market coming off the boil and a clear flight to quality, 45 years of delivering outstanding product has got to count for something.
As a publicly listed company, how do Mirvac’s core commercial principals stack up in the context of the current market fundamentals?
An urban focus
“If you look at our strategy that we redefined in 2013, it ensures that our future projects and pipeline would gravitate around key forms of public transport; St Leonards Square, for example, which is located 150m from the new Metro station at Crows Nest.
“This type of transport-oriented development underpinned by substantial pieces of infrastructure and associated amenity, coupled with design excellence, will stand the test of time.
“There is a lot of talk about headwinds at the moment but the reality is that if you have these fundamentals in place, they will underpin viability and success regardless of where you are in the cycle. With this strategy in place, moderating markets, in fact, hold some appeal to us in the form of reduced competition for key sites and locations.”
Flexing activities through the cycle
Diversification is the key to Mirvac’s ongoing success. Mirvac Group operates across the residential, retail, office and industrial markets across Australia.
“Within our residential business, we’re fortunate to operate across four states and in multiple sub-markets, from master planned communities and apartments to land subdivision and medium density housing. With this level of diversification, there are always markets within states that are performing better or worse than others – so we don’t take a broad view on the market. We have the flexibility to gravitate towards demand.
“For example, at the moment, while Perth has been slower, we’re now seeing increased activity. Victoria is still a strong market generally speaking and within NSW the projects that we’re in, are well situated, owner-occupier developments.”
When asked to list a few of the projects about which he is most excited, Penklis again takes a state-by-state approach, siting Ascot Green in Queensland, the trophy Green Square project in New South Wales, the Woodlea master planned community and The Eastbourne in Victoria – and finally, Osprey Waters in Western Australia, which has won a number of awards for parks and landscaping.