He believes in giving back to his staff and charity
Mr Mohd Ismail started PropNex in 2000 and the number of sales staff has grown to 5,452 as at the start of this year, while the volume of transactions was 32,839 last year. -- ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM
AS CHIEF executive officer of PropNex Realty, Mr Mohd Ismail, 51, has had his fair share of multi-million-dollar deals. But the one close to his heart is from when he first started out in the business more than 20 years ago.The driver of a taxi he was in lamented that he had been retrenched and his daughter was starting her polytechnic studies. Mr Ismail helped the man sell his Toa Payoh three-room flat and buy another three-room in the same block with his Central Provident Fund money, leaving him with more cash to spare for his daughter."The man was at a loss and felt he couldn't make a difference to his family... (The sale) gave him a complete boost," Mr Ismail recalls. "The commission was very little, but I saw the delight on his face. The deals I remember are about people and adding value. Other deals are just deals." "Adding value" is something Mr Ismail firmly believes in, and the phrase often comes up in conversation. It is why he started PropNex in 2000, merging his firm - Nooris Consultants, then the largest Malay-Muslim real estate company with 200 agents - with several partners. "When you are small, you are at a disadvantage. You cannot add much value to your people as you don't enjoy economies of scale. Today, I have a training manager, an in-house legal department. All these people add value," he says."Only the day we formed PropNex did we have the guts to negotiate a special contract with a developer so that all my agents will enjoy a discount." The company has also been spending large amounts on training - $1.5 million last year, with another $1.5 million allocated for this year. That is partly how he motivates agents in a down market. PropNex also organises conventions four times a year, with 1,500 to 2,000 people attending each time, bringing in ministers and other leaders to talk about macro policies and outlook. The management will also share about the company's direction.It all seems to be working. The number of PropNex sales staff grew to 5,452 at the start of this year, up from 5,153 last year and 4,436 in 2013. The volume of transactions is at an all-time high at 32,839 last year, up from 31,255 in 2013 and 31,480 in 2012. "I am absolutely sure that both numbers will increase this year. And it's not because Ismail has a most brilliant strategy. It's because my people are so energised, they will perform," he says. "They will perform, not because they want the company to be No. 1. It's because they do the right thing - so they can take care of their loved ones."For that is his credo, reiterated at many conventions: "The day my company fails to add value to its people is the day people should leave for elsewhere, for the sake of their loved ones."This motivation to give to the people in his company guides and energises him, day in, day out, he says.PropNex was the first property agency in 2000 to start a dual career path, where a person joining the company can be a salesman or, with one or two years' experience and a certain number of transactions, start recruiting people and build a team. "Once you're a leader, you become a partner of the company. How do I take care of you? For every 10 per cent I get from an agent, I give out 4 per cent to managers and leaders. So that's 40 per cent of company income that's distributed to them. "From that 10 per cent cut, the company also takes out another part for a pension programme, which he introduced about 10 years ago. Some of his top team leaders have a pension fund of over half a million, while many others have about $100,000 or $50,000, he said. Today, most real estate agencies have a dual career path in place. But agents stick with PropNex because of its willingness to share profits. "At the end of the day, yes, all of us need to make money. But I think it should be shared... Money can be earned, but how much can you spend on your own? It's important to love your people; give to them and to charity when you can. "PropNex contributed $300,000 to the Community Chest last year and will give $500,000 this year as part of SG50, he said. Part of it will be raised through agents, with the company matching dollar for dollar and topping up further if required. Separately, Mr Ismail gives $25,000 for student bursaries yearly; this year it was $50,000. But while it may seem like he lives a charmed life today, success was not a certainty from the start. From the age of seven, Mr Ismail and his siblings would wake up at 4am daily to deliver newspapers for his father, who was a news vendor. There were five boys and one girl; he was the middle child. This went on till he enlisted in the army. "Life was difficult for my parents, who wanted to make ends meet. My father - who immigrated here from India in the late 1940s - was also supporting relatives back home. "But he learnt from his father the importance of hard work, the value of money, perseverance and discipline, he says. Mr Ismail later signed on as an army regular, becoming a commander and operations officer. But he decided to quit at 32, even though, as a pensionable officer, he was guaranteed a payout of over $1 million at age 50.
"People said, 'Have you gone nuts?' But for me, when I make a decision, I move on. It's not that I didn't like the army, but I thought there could be greater opportunities, maybe I could learn new things... In hindsight, it looks good, but it could have been foolhardy. I left for a simple reason: I didn't want to, at the age of 50, regret that I learnt only about being in the army."
But Mr Ismail still loves the army and, despite his real estate work, serves as a colonel and brigade commander with three battalions. It has also taught him organisational skills, and the values of leadership and self-belief, he says.
At the time, though, he had quit without a plan. Three days after he left, he was hospitalised for a few days with chest pains; the doctors decided it was a case of stress.
He took a trip with his wife to Genting Highlands, came back and started off as both insurance agent and real estate agent.
"I realised real estate suited me better... People warmly welcomed me for my knowledge, for my ability to connect with them and also plan their priorities."
He then started Nooris Consultants in July 1996 - a combination of his wife's name, Nooraini, and his own - and "there was no turning back".
While his job does take him from his family - he has a 16-year-old daughter and 10-year-old twins, a boy and a girl - he spends time with them on weekends and on cruises, which he goes on four times a year. "It could be the most boring cruise, but it's exciting for me. If it's eight days, I have 24 meals with my family and they cannot run away.
"People always asked me where I get my energy from... It's the people around me. I love and am happy to see my people. They give me a lot of energy."
The Straits Times / Money Published on Monday, 6 April 2015