EPMEPM: Cover Stories

Ashlea Merlo: Growth Leader

Ashlea Merlo worked extensively across property management businesses in Australia, driving growth as trainer and consultant, before seizing the opportunity to apply her knowledge and talent as Head of Property Management in one of Australia’s most exciting growth businesses, Clarke & Humel in Manly, NSW.

I’m a true believer in personal development and investing in yourself. I’m constantly learning and growing in the industry and as a leader. I’m not the best that I can be right now. In five years’ time I’m not going to be the best that I can be; but every single day I’m going to chip away at growing a part of myself and learning to do something better,” says Ashlea Merlo of the mindset that has propelled her to leadership.

Ashlea’s growth game is strong – and she is a leader who draws on experience, meaning and purpose to drive action and growth in the business and the people she is leading. From a background in the corporate world of real estate, driving property management excellence across a national network, Ashlea’s decision to put down roots at Clarke & Humel was born from feeling at home, surrounded by those driven to achieve in the same way.

“I’m about bringing out the best in people,” says Ashlea. “I do take ownership of it. I treat this department like it was my own business, where I build capability by supporting and challenging individuals to be their best to bring stability for growth.”

The opportunity to work locally and intensively with one team has allowed Ashlea to find reward in the growth of others, parallel to the growth of the department. “It’s amazing watching your team go from strength to strength, listening to the conversations that they’re having with people and ultimately helping them develop their skill set and knowledge base,” she says.

Growth in business is about redefining the standard of excellence and pushing those boundaries to reach levels of high performance and high growth. They cannot be maintained or meaningful, however, unless those within a business are committed.

“Ultimately, unless we up-skill ourselves and our knowledge base, there’ll be web-based property managers removing the personal connection.”

With a belief that great culture stems from great leadership, it is evident that Ashlea’s individual success, and that of everyone in her department, is connected to the success of the business and its core values.

“Our clients know that no one will work harder than us,” says Ashlea. “I’ll give you a leasing example. We aren’t restricted to Wednesday through Saturday open homes. We will show properties whenever we need to in order to get a property leased. Our clients, from that perspective, know that we will go above and beyond for them to make sure that we’re getting them the absolute best price and the best quality tenant, resulting in the best return on their investment. We wouldn’t want to limit their pool of getting the best tenant if they are unable to make it during those scheduled times.

“We know that we’ll never be out-competed by hard work and enthusiasm.”

When it comes to leading a team engaged in the unrelenting pursuit of excellence, Ashlea never loses sight of what people will ultimately need from a leader.

“I believe that you need to be human. The reason I say that is, as a leader, you have the ability to make someone feel a certain way. You know you have to have some hard conversations as a leader. Sometimes delivering that hard message could leave someone feeling incredibly deflated. Just understanding it from their perspective, like how would that make you feel as a person? Ultimately, crafting your conversation in a way that still delivers your message but has someone walking away from that conversation with a spring in their step.”

From a young age, Ashlea learned the power of positivity, and she counts two significant women as her leaders and mentors.

“There is my mum, who’s probably one of my biggest motivators and drivers. She had me at 17 years of age, incredibly young, and basically she gave up everything to have me. She’s an incredible woman. She’s been a single mum, and she’s bought and sold around eight properties by herself. She’s not a career woman or anything like that. She’s just a really inspirational and positive lady.”

“Cherie (Humel, Principal of Clarke & Humel) is the main reason why I wanted to work at Clarke & Humel … because of her values. She’s an incredibly inspiring and talented woman. I think it’s important to have great leaders and mentors around you as women that empower women,” says Ashlea.

And the respect is mutual. “Ashlea had a broad understanding of PM businesses and a fantastic depth of knowledge of property management, in which she was essentially helicoptered into and out of businesses across Australia, consulting on efficiencies in systems and processes to make them world class,” says Cherie.

“Now that Ash is with C & H, she has applied that huge depth of knowledge to implement world-class systems and processes and lead the PM team, focusing on exceptional service with a priority on growth and retention. She’s had to learn, and ultimately thrived in business development and securing high-end rentals, and led a team to manage the properties that have been secured. She’s also developed the grit to see problems through with both clients and staff development.”

Solving problems is the currency of the property manager. However, Ashlea’s example of excellence operates on a level that is connected to the decision-making of landlords and tenants. Connecting activities to a purpose builds trust, creates value and generates the type of loyalty that Ashlea enjoys from her position as trusted advisor to clients.

“I believe that really understanding why people invest in property and ultimately wealth creation, how you can help them leverage their investment portfolio, is going to give you a completely different competitive edge,” she says.

“Being able to give guidance and advice. ‘Have you thought about the market’s growth? You’d have a fair bit of equity in your investment since purchasing a few years ago. Have you considered about possibly investing further? We’ve got this property on the market for sale at the moment with the expected rental return…’ The ability to have high-level conversations with clients then ultimately adds value in what we do (as property managers).”

Ashlea believes by providing value in this way, and by growing to find new avenues of value to clients, property management can limit the threat of technology, defend the proposition of professional management and demonstrate the value of an investment in a premium service.

“I think there are still elements of the industry that are incredibly complacent and outdated. Ultimately, unless we up-skill ourselves and our knowledge base, there’ll be web-based property managers removing the personal connection. Landlords pay a one or two per cent fee, and they’re just doing the basic activities in line with legislation. You lose the relationship component.

“I also think, typically, the old-school property manager is all about just nurture, nurture, nurture. That skill is incredibly important. It’s important to get those fundamentals right. One thing we’ve done a lot with my team is understanding the sales and negotiation side of what we do and being able to articulate to a client why we do things to leverage the investment,” says Ashlea.

“It’s not just about calling an owner because they have a leaking toilet and they need to get a plumber. Understanding ultimately how we can maximise that client’s income and then minimise their exposure to risk; that helps us show clients why we do things and why we’re worth that one or two per cent higher fee than our local competition.”

Ashlea is the archetype of a property manager who is operating and leading in excellence. Excellence is dynamic; it changes. The goalposts to excellence always move, and you’ve got to move with them. “If you’re not going forwards, you’re going backwards,” says Ashlea.

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Sarah Bell

With a background in research and investigations, Sarah Bell married into the real estate industry in 2009 and has found a passion for both the business and its people. Sarah is the Editor of Elite Property Manager magazine and also a regular contributor to both Elite Agent and EPM Magazines. Contact Sarah sarah@eliteagent.com.au.

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