She's a great place to be

Last updated 11:47 19/11/2012

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Twenty-six years ago, Tim Mordaunt established what has become one of the largest real estate companies in New Zealand.

Jono Galuszka talks to the man who just wants people to love and support Palmerston North, and was recognised for his contribution at last night's Manawatu Business Awards.

For a man who has done plenty in his lifetime, Tim Mordaunt sums up his approach to doing business in Palmerston North very simply.

"All I have ever tried to do is make this place a better place to live and for my kids to live in."

But the tale of how he started the company that enabled him to give back to the community - and win the Manawatu Standard Lifetime Service Award at the Manawatu Business Awards last night - involves a dash of Irish luck, an Australian thug and a 30-year overstay in Palmerston North.

A Nelson native, Mordaunt started out as a property valuer in Gore on St Patrick's Day in 1976.

Five years later he made his way to Palmerston North, but sticking around was never the plan.

"I came here for a year, like lots of other people, and woke up 31 years later," he says.

But it is a good thing he did stay, otherwise Property Brokers might not exist.

The idea to start the company came after his former employer was bought out by an Australian company in 1986.

He says a "fat Australian thug" flew over to visit the office and tell the people there it was the Aussie way or the highway.

Mordaunt chose the latter.

"I sat there, and I had a few kids, so me and a friend - Dan Brown - got together and thought 'let's have a go'."

On June 1, 1986, Property Brokers was born.

Since then, it has become a truly nationwide company, with branches from Matamata to Oamaru.

The company has sold thousands of houses, farms, commercial buildings and apartments over the years.

It also has a successful property management arm.

But starting out was hard, Mordaunt says.

"I had no money when we started, so we had to build [the business] out of income."

There were plenty of tough times along the way.

"A business is like a sports team - sometimes you catch and score, sometimes it's the opposition that catches and scores," Mordaunt says.

But now, Property Brokers covers every aspect of real estate, a point which has kept the company on the front foot.

"I always wanted to be in rural, but try to build a brand just on rural and you will have a lot of dry periods.

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"We never had a plan which said we wanted to be bigger.

"We just take opportunities and work them into our fabric.

"If I had known [how big it would get] I don't know if I would have ever started it."

While versatility is key, dealing with customers honestly and fairly is even more important, he says.

"It is an industry people like to kick, so we have to think about the next deal and not let people down.

"But as long as you pay the bills on time and look people in the eye, people will support you."

That support can carry on for 30 years or more, he says.

"We got clients who we've done 15 or 20 negotiations with; you become part of their life. It has had a lot to do with the longevity of the business."

While people have been more than willing to support Mordaunt and his business, he says he has always tried to give back to the community.

"There's 350 families who work for Property Brokers.

"Each of those families has kids at the local school, the parents coach sports teams or help at school events or arts events.

"What we try and do in the little towns we are in is support the local community."

In Palmerston North and the wider Manawatu, that ranges from sports, to arts, to community groups.

Property Brokers was a sponsor of the Manawatu Jets and Mordaunt was actively involved in the Save the Turbos campaign in 2009.

But it is the arts groups, like Centrepoint Theatre and Feilding Arts Society, Mordaunt says he has a fond spot for.

"It's in the arts that there is no money, and companies have to support them.

"If you lose this stuff, you don't get it back."

Supporting any community group is part and parcel of being part of the local fabric, he says.

"If you're in provincial New Zealand these are the things, I think, that you should be doing."

But provincial New Zealand, especially Palmerston North, needs to do things to help itself, he says.

"Palmerston North kicks itself a lot.

"The personality from the outside has always been negative.

"I try to say to people that you must be the supporters of this town." And Mordaunt is a big supporter of Palmerston North, willing to push the city as a great place to be at any opportunity.

He was part of the group that came up with the "Young Heart, Easy Living" campaign and has been involved in other city promotion groups.

He says there was a good group of business people who worked together to see Palmerston North grow, and it was encouraging to see a younger group come through.

"The 3 Keys group are doing some great stuff, as is Stacey [Cottrill] from blacksheepdesign.

"They're trying to make this place a better place to live."

While being active in this kind of work, he says he is not keen on getting into local government politics.

"People have said I should, but I like to do more from outside than inside."

Mordaunt says Palmerston North is a "safe place to bring up children" and easy to live in, and it is also a great place to do business.

He says he still does plenty of business by a simple handshake.

"I don't get burnt very often, if at all."

And he has no thoughts of expanding Property Brokers into larger areas.

"We will never go to Wellington or Auckland, because we don't want to. It's not all about the money, it's about growing something sustainable."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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