In his sixteenth year at Frasers Property, Anthony Boyd has come up through the business with a level of authenticity and integrity that's made him the kind of man people want to follow.
We caught up with him in a wide-ranging discussion covering everything from leadership, social and global change, and what energises him. Along the way we found a
few unknown gems about his love of rom-coms and bin night at the Boyd household. But most of all, we found a man with a clear vision for improving the way we live in Australian communities.
You began in October last year as the new CEO of an established business in the biggest social upheaval in our lifetime. Good timing?
Absolutely! A lot of people have said you couldn’t have taken over at a worse time, but I guess I always look at these things through a more positive lens. It’s such an awesome opportunity. I’ve been connected with this business and the leaders in this business for so long I had a big head start. So, when I took over the reins, we were able to get moving at speed.
What was your first priority?
We’re living through a period of so much societal and technological change, and that has profoundly impacted the way cities function and people communicate with each other. For me, the first priority was clear: how do we, as a developer, ensure that our obligation to create opportunities for people to live happier, healthier, more connected lives comes to fruition?
As a business we’ve looked at that question as forensically and as honestly as we can, and for us, it means not being content with merely being a creator of ‘nice places’ to live, or work, or shop; we want to go further than that.
I think our obligation is actually to use what we do — our unique and century-long experience — to create opportunities for people to feel they belong and unite them in a shared hope for a better future.
“We’re in the business of improving communities and cultures, and changing people’s lives for the better.”
That seems like a big, lofty goal for a developer to have. Why should people trust that a property company cares about such things?
I understand that people would think that. If you look at the concept of ‘development’, it is by its very nature a kind of change that can be very confronting. You’re talking about densification of cities, about urbanisation, fluidity of space, and infrastructure. At Frasers Property, we live and breathe these issues all the time, but for the people who belong to these communities, it can be a source of real anxiety to see a developer move into their neighbourhood and start changing things.
What we want to always be striving toward, is creating the kind of change that lifts people up. So, the biggest focus in our business is striving to understand how people’s lives are changing and adapt to serve their needs. More broadly as an industry, we must understand that we are, in fact, facilitators of change, and that it is our responsibility to make that change work for more people.
Everyone is passionate about their way of life. Everyone has a view on what works well and what doesn’t in their neighbourhoods. And when there’s a third party coming in and developing places where people already feel settled, there are fears and frustrations.
If we’re being honest, people have a fear that they have no control over what is being developed in their local area. They fear we could stuff it up. And you can’t expect that through simple words like, “just trust us”, those fears will magically go away. Taking the time to understand these emotive drivers — as well people’s desire for a better way of life — is so powerful when you realise, we’re all searching for a place to belong and a better future together.
Speaking of “better futures together” what do you think is the biggest challenge for us living as happy and cohesive communities?
The real challenge, by far, is in the way people interact with each other these days.
Take the mobile phone as an example. These days everyone’s got their heads down, looking at their phones. When you think about that more deeply you realise people are less aware of their surroundings, and as such people are less able to read body language. We are, in some ways, losing our skills to connect and develop social bonds.
Then you think about what’s happening in your own street. Something as simple as bin night, for example. These days, you realise it’s bin night, pause Netflix, rush out then rush back in; no time to chat. No social interaction. I remember when I was a kid, my dad would often be gone for half an hour on bin night, talking to our neighbours and catching up. We’d have to go out and tell him dinner was ready and come back in.
I think we’re missing too much of that these days and missing far too many moments because we’re engrossed in screens and not real life.
Can you give us an example of what we’re missing out on?
The other day I was mowing the lawn, and because our house is on a corner, I can see the road go in both directions. I could see two young people coming from opposite directions. The girl is probably sixteen and she’s walking her dog. Coming the other way is a boy about the same age, also walking a dog. And maybe this is me having watched too many rom-coms, but I’m thinking this could be the start of a true romance, right here. Two sixteen-year-old’s who don’t know each other, but they live in the same neighbourhood, both walking the dog at the same time, about to bump into each other. I’m hoping they’ll smile or say something and then in years to come they could well be getting married and telling the story of how they first met. How cool would that be?
You know what actually happened? Both of them were looking at their phone and neither even saw the other person. I just thought it was a lost moment and a missed opportunity of connection — even if they never saw each other again.
So, you believe we have fundamentally changed in the ways we connect these days?
Don’t get me wrong — I’m not sitting here lamenting the good old days. I completely get that we’ve moved on and much of what we have now is so much better. People connect in different ways now. But what we have to think about is, how are people remaining properly connected? How are people feeling like they’re part of something and not isolated, or lonely, or left out?
And what’s the answer?
It’s all in the ability to facilitate a connection. We do it all the time when we develop new neighbourhoods and communities in outer suburbs. But we also do it in what we call ‘infill’ development — where we are actually building within an existing community, either in an urban fringe or within a city. New residents are moving into an established area, which creates a different combination of people. So, you have this combination of history and pride and familiarity from the people who may have grown up there, mixed with newcomers who want to be a part of that history and culture too.
Our job is to make it easier for those communities, helping people to find a sense of belonging together, through the neighbourhoods we create. We know people are excited to learn about each other and find new ways to enjoy life if the spaces are there to enable that.