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Take 5 with Owen Wilson

Owen Wilson

We chat with Owen Wilson, CEO of REA Group, a leading global digital advertising business, specialising in property.

We chat with KPMG alumnus Owen Wilson, CEO of REA Group.

Owen Wilson
Last role at KPMG Senior Audit Manager
Time with KPMG 1987 – 1993
KPMG office Melbourne and London
Current roles
(as of December 2019)
CEO and Executive Director of REA Group

Owen is the CEO of REA Group, a leading global digital advertising business, specialising in property. The company’s residential property platform, realestate.com.au, is the market leader and reaches an audience of over one million people every day across desktop, mobile and app. Owen was REA Group’s CFO for four years before becoming CEO in January 2019. His vast experience extends to the information technology, recruitment and banking industries.

Prior to REA Group, Owen was CFO and Company Secretary of Chandler MacLeod Group Ltd, one of the largest recruitment agencies in the country. Owen previously held senior leadership positions with ANZ in both Australia and Asia, following his time with KPMG in the Audit division in Melbourne and London.

 

Can you give us insight into your role as CEO of REA Group?

I have the privilege of leading a highly talented and passionate team of people across Australia and Asia. Our teams around the world are committed to delivering on our purpose – to change the way the world experiences property. A core focus of mine is to work with our executive leadership team to ensure we have the right strategy in place to achieve success, and that the organisation is set up in the right way to deliver on this. I take great comfort in the support and guidance that I receive from our Board, with whom I am in regular contact. One of the most enjoyable parts of the role is telling the company’s story, on behalf of all our people, to our many and varied external stakeholders – customers, analysts, investors and the media to name a few.

 

What’s the next step for digital media in the property sector?

REA Group has grown and diversified substantially over the last 25 years as a result of its continual focus on innovation. The business has been transformed from a 1990s property-search model, to a 2020s lifetime-relationship-with-consumers model. This means we are proactively matching solutions to consumers’ individual needs throughout their entire property journey – regardless of whether they are buying, selling, renting or sharing.

Within REA, we are constantly looking at developing and growing new business models as the industry evolves. We are always experimenting with the latest technology and finding ways to create innovations that solve problems for property seekers.

For example, our Hometrack business helps consumers navigate the complexities of the Australian property market by providing in-depth property data and insights. Through our Financial Services business, we’re giving home buyers greater choice, convenience and confidence when it comes to not only finding their homes, but also providing access to finance.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is no longer science fiction or a purely academic pursuit – it is impacting everyone’s life and being adopted into businesses around the world. At REA we continue to invest in our data capabilities to ensure we capitilise on the benefits AI can deliver to our customers and consumers. This year, REA also investigated and prototyped new virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), positioning us well should the appetite from consumers evolve in this space.

 

You have experience in IT, recruitment and banking industries. What led you to transition into the real estate sector?

Like many Australians, I’ve always been passionate about property, both as an owner and investor. I bought my first property during the boom-time in the ‘80s when mortgage rates were at 19%! Fortunately, at the same time I bought my property, I was moving to London with KPMG. I was able to save hard and send money home when the Aussie dollar was converting to over $3.00 to the pound.

When the opportunity was presented to join REA, I jumped at it and have never looked back.

 

How did working at KPMG help shape your career?

KPMG taught me about professionalism and having the highest possible standards when interacting with customers. We also learned to work hard and play hard! Probably the most important aspect was to try new things. I was given fantastic exposure to new industries, new markets and new clients. Adopting a willingness to explore new opportunities and learn really quickly provided me with a great grounding for the rest of my career.

 

How would you describe your career journey?

Unplanned! I have always believed that as long as you enjoy what you’re doing the opportunities will present. If you’re prepared to take risks, and not shy away from challenges, career opportunities tend to present themselves to you.

 

What is the biggest risk you’ve taken in your career?

Joining Chandler Macleod at the height of the impact of the GFC. Recruitment companies were battered and there was almost a complete halt to recruitment. We also had a contingent workforce that was significantly dialled back. The business was in real trouble yet the CEO convinced me that we could restructure, right size and rebuild the business into something special. We undertook a huge transformation program – no stone was left unturned. Eighteen brands were consolidated into one, a state management structure went to national, and we introduced a private equity partner and refinanced our bank debt. Let’s just say it was a rollercoaster ride, but an incredible learning experience and hugely rewarding. Six years later when the business was acquired by an offshore company there had been a five-fold increase in revenue, we had reached profitability and the market cap had grown from $33 million to $350 million.

 

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I’m pretty much an unpaid Uber driver taking my four kids to various sporting events or social engagements. I’m also part of a ‘pot and parma club’ – a 14-year tradition where I get together with a group of mates on a monthly basis when I’m in town to sample Melbourne’s finest parmigianas. I have a love of all sports and enjoy eating out – Peking duck is my favourite food.

 

Best tips for time management?

Find the time in the day where you’re most productive and where it’s possible make it sacred. For me it’s the window between 7:30AM – 9:00AM. I can generally squeeze about three hours of work into that precious 90 minutes. I also prefer shorter meetings and try to avoid the ‘standard’ hour long meetings – the topic will always expand to fill the space provided.

 

What motivates you?

I get a lot of energy from the people I surround myself with. I also love building businesses and new products and services. To build something and then watch it grow gives me enormous satisfaction. Being part of REA Group’s international expansion has been hugely motivating. Our exposure to some of the world’s largest and fastest growing property markets through our interests in Asia, India and North America, present opportunities that I’m extremely excited about.

 

Describe yourself in 3 words.

Fun. Optimistic. Energetic.

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