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CB Richard Ellis moving forward

AGREEING to his first formal interview since arriving in Perth, CB Richard Ellis Perth managing director Graeme Russell said he prefers not to discuss the very public controversy surrounding his arrival two years ago.

Then, as now, he did not let it phase him. He put his head down and went to work on the brief he had received from CB Richard Ellis’ Australia and New Zealand president, Bill Chillingworth. He refused to answer the critics, who he knew had no knowledge of the situation inside CBRE.

His task was to duplicate in Perth the profit turnaround of CBRE’s Parramatta office west of Sydney.

Mr Russell had jumped at the chance to move from Sydney to WA and, despite his reception, says he has no regrets.

He said the timing was right for his family, and he had always loved Perth. His father had business interests in the State and he had visited frequently.

“He (Chillingworth) offered me the position on Friday and I was here the next Wednes-

day,” Mr Russell said.

In 1999, CB Richard Ellis, one of Perth’s leading real estate agencies, underwent a purge that publicly divided the Perth office. The company’s UK parent had merged with US real estate giant CB Commercial the previous year and a new broom was sweeping the group’s 250 worldwide offices.

In Perth, six senior staff walked out the door, including well-known former managing director Gary Ryan and former director John Corbett. Others followed in a statement of solidarity and protest. Messers Ryan and Corbett subsequently joined CB Richard Ellis’ competitor, Knight Frank, taking some of CBRE’s South-East Asian clients with them.

The changes under way at CBRE were “leaked” to local newspapers, which publicly followed the upheaval. Mr Russell was painted as a Sydneyite and an intruder into Perth’s very closed commercial property scene.

Mr Russell said all that was very much in the past. He and his family are firmly entrenched in Perth and loving it.

In retrospect and from a corporate perspective, the move has paid off. This year the Perth office achieved its best profit levels in five years with little change to the size of the company.

“The best thing about when I arrived, OK about half a dozen directors had departed, but there were some very talented people still here,” Mr Russell said.

He made those talents directors – Andrew Denny, Stewart Nuttall, David Weaver, Fred Clohessy and Bill Quin Schofield.

Another change was the appointment of a female director, Helen Woodley-Page, as director of retail asset management. Alison Robertson and Jenny Duffield were both made associate directors.

Underperforming business groups within the Perth office have been turned around and Mr Russell said he was ready to tackle the next area on his list where the group is not well represented – shopping centre management.

“I’m pretty comfortable with the way every thing else works,” he said.

Mr Russell sees his job as making sure the leaders of the different business groups within CBRE are market leaders. He believes that is now a reality and said it has been “fantastically satisfying”.

“The Perth office is on track for future plans and the business lost with the departure of Ryan and Corbett has been more than recovered,” he said.

“We have about 80 staff, roughly the same as before I arrived. Our aim is to grow the business by 20 per cent per annum, and we are on target.”

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