Leah Jay is a pioneer in property management. After managing rental properties at a Newcastle real estate agency for seven years, Leah ventured out on her own in 1994 to set up what was the first business in the Hunter region and quite possibly Australia, focused entirely on property management.
For over 22 years, Leah’s leadership example has carved out a business based on relating to people, both tenants and landlords, and creating a workplace environment that supports women.
Away from business, Leah loves mountain climbing and has set herself the challenge of climbing the Seven Summits, the highest peaks of each of the seven continents, with five already completed. She’s also a passionate advocate for raising awareness and funds for Motor Neuron Disease Australia.
- What journey led you to start your own business?
I had no intention of starting my own business. I worked for a real estate agency for seven years 25 years ago or even much longer now. I was working in rentals, as it was called at the time. Without any disrespect to anybody who is in real estate now, I just looked at it and I thought this could be done so much better. I felt that landlords and tenants could be better serviced.
I had no idea how difficult it was going to be and where the journey was going to take me, and I loved what we did at that office; but I just knew at the time that we could do it much better.
- Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I don’t see myself as an entrepreneur at all. So the answer to that is no. What I started 24 years ago now was just an opportunity. The time was right to go out and start a property management business and the aim was to have a job for me. I wanted to make a real difference to landlords and tenants.
It was all about my passion for property and people, and that’s how it started. It was never about the business that we have now. The business has grown, but through my eyes, I still see it as it was back then. That’s really all it was meant to be.
- What is one actionable task you ensure you incorporate into your diary each week?
I actually have two. The first one is about the people that work for us; our team. In my diary every week I make a point of touching base with everybody on the team. I like to know what’s going on in their lives. Not personally to pry, but I like to know about them as individuals. It’s real important to me to have conversations that might be brief with some and maybe longer with others, but are about stopping and actually centering them. It’s important that they’re reaching their goals during their time at Leah Jay and we are very aware of work and life balance here. We don’t always get it right, but I really do encourage it with the girls. We’re mostly female at Leah Jay, so that’s one thing that is real important to me.
The second thing is that I practice what I preach. It’s taken me a long time, but I’ve learned over the last seven to eight years to achieve a better life balance. At first, for the first 15 years of the business, I was full on seven days a week; nonstop. I learned from that and now I make sure I take time out. Exercise is important to me. Looking after my mind, my body, my soul; I really do practice that and make sure I do that away from the business every single week. Those are the two things that are really critical that I think flows through the business.
- What do you contribute your success to?
Leah Jay has been successful for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the timing of the business. So way back when it started, I think the timing was right to be able to take that challenge and that opportunity to be able to step out and create a property management department. We were probably the first one; we were definitely the first one in Newcastle, possibly Australia, to do that. It was a big leap of faith. The timing was right.
The people that have been on the journey with us over the time have been so important.
I think also seeing the changes in technology, trying to stay abreast of these, and coping with change has been pivotal.
- What local entrepreneur do you find inspiring?
I look to a range of people for inspiration. I look at lots of different people and I generally take little bits out of everybody to inspire me. Recently, locally, would have to be Alice Lees from Uprising Bakery at Maryville. I’ve watched Alice start her business, which was a humble little business back in about 2010 where she used to bake from her home and attend markets and local coffee shops with her products. To see that business grow over the last five or six years has been really fascinating.
I would bet that she’s had lots of challenges along the way. But she’s grown her business out of passion for her art. What she does is baking. I guess my passion, all those years ago, was property and people, and our business has grown on that basis. It’s really inspiring for me to sit back and watch her and her little business go.