Iwan Sunito’s heart-felt innovative designs and brilliant entrepreneurial streak cast him as ‘Sydney’s King of Property’.
Text by Jan Yong | Photography by Crown Group
Former Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono described him as ‘King of Property in Sydney’ (translated), and he was the recipient of the prestigious EY (formerly Ernst & Young) Entrepreneur of the Year 2014 Australia award. Iwan Sunito, Co-founder and Group CEO of Crown Group, a major property developer in Australia has certainly reached the pinnacle of success in his career.
An architect by profession, Iwan’s journey to the top in his adopted country, Australia, has been attributed to his upbringing, his mentors and wife, and his own unique vision of ‘always redefining the perimeter of innovation in property design’.
“My vision is to always redefine the perimeter of innovation in property design and I’m pleased to have had the opportunity of creating great homes. In the future, I’d like to further explore business in Indonesia,” he told Asian Property Review.
Iwan was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth – of all places, he grew up in a small, remote, almost unheard-of place called Pangkalan Bun in Central Kalimantan. His family home was a stilted house above the water. Years later, he likes to joke that when people say they live on the waterfront, a luxurious home by any measure, he would say, “that’s nothing compared to my house where I grew up, it was on the water.” He counts it a blessing to have grown up in that environment. More so, he credits his parents for instilling in him principles to live by which stood him in good stead when facing challenges. “My dad taught me ‘endurance’, and my mum encouraged me by saying, ‘Next year, you can do better’. These words always remind me of the oldtime favourite song “Ming Thian Huei Geng Kao” and “Tomorrow will be better”.” Others who have shaped his thinking include some of his lecturers at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) like Russel Jack and John Gamble. In business, he has mentors like Robby Djohan, the former Chairman of Garuda Indonesia and Bank Mandiri; and Ciputra, the founder of Ciputra Group, one of the largest property developers in Indonesia.
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Iwan, a devoted Christian also says he has been blessed and inspired by many Christian pastors around the world especially Obaja Tanto who pastors a church of 25,000 people in Solo. But most importantly, the woman behind his success is his wife, Liana Sunito, ‘who never stops speaking words of hope in our life and business’.
Q & A
1. Why did you choose to study architecture?
I had an early fascination with drawing and sketching. I would sketch airplanes – I loved the futuristic look and I was fascinated with innovation. I also had a fascination with woodwork and intricate wooden designs.
There are three architects who had great influence during my studies and early on in my career – Richard Meir, I. M. Pei and Japanese architect, Tadao Ando.
I’m also inspired by the work of architect-turned-UShotel developer John Partman, a man well known for his creative and artistic approach to design including designs with bright atriums at their heart. Architecture was actually the second choice in my list of career choices when I was at school. My first preference then was aeronautical engineering. However, I decided architecture was best because it would give me a platform to start small – and grow a small business into something bigger. 2. What made you decide to venture into property development?
I felt it’s my entrepreneurial instinct that led me to become a developer. Also, I have always wanted to have the freedom to build based on my own designs and as a developer, I can determine the direction and the ideas of our buildings. 3. As an Indonesian immigrant in Australia, what were your challenges?
My father encouraged me to pursue my career in a new way that was different from other Indonesians. As an Asian, you must work harder to get what you want. You will never appreciate the opportunity you get in Australia unless you think what Australians think.
As a foreigner building a career/business in Australia, the lack of connections is a challenge but also an opportunity. At a time when many property developers folded, Crown Group survived the 2004 and 2007 economic crises and continued to spread its wings, chalking up another AUD1 billion of projects in the pipeline.
In 2013, I won the EY (formerly Ernst & Young) Entrepreneur of the Year Eastern Region Industry award as well as the Entrepreneur award at the Congress of Indonesian Diaspora. 4. What was the most defining moment in your life?
When I reflect on my life to date, there were a few key defining moments which respectively had a different impact. My motorbike accident in Bali when I was a teenager changed my perspective on life. Of course, meeting my wife, Liana, was one of the most important moments in my life – as were the moments when each of my three children was born.
From a career perspective, three moments stood out:
i) Buying a site in Bondi for Crown Group’s first project;
ii) Overcoming a recession in NSW which led to the establishment of Crown Group’s unique brand based on a passion for design and luxury; and
iii) Being named EY Entrepreneur of the Year in 2014. 5. What does economic sustainability mean to you?
In terms of property development, economic sustainability refers to simple, innovative and functional architecture. For me, it also means an innovative, forward-thinking and simple lifestyle that foresees the future life and showcases infinite possibilities; it’s a fluid and futuristic concept, striving to create something new and exciting in a natural way. 6. How do you ensure sustainability is built into all your projects?
Our projects combine innovative apartment design with simple and elegant interiors. Additionally, we pay particular attention to natural light and public space while designing. Most of our projects feature facilities such as pool, spa, gym, music rooms, theatre, concierge, sky lounge, etc. to show the different functionality.
The final design of our projects also include significant consideration of public benefit and the future needs of the area. With all the functional facilities and forward-thinking design, our apartments perfectly interpret an infinite new lifestyle that embodies futurism, realism, simplicity, and innovation, which we believe is the new trend. 7. In terms of your architectural achievements, which one is your favourite design?
Is your creative input imprinted in all of Crown’s building designs? I believe that all projects are unique. However, one building that seems to be the talk of the town around Australia and globally is Infinity by Crown Group in Green Square. Awarded the 2014 UDIA NSW Concept Design award, the 20-storey, 401-apartment challenges conventional residential apartment design with a unique looped shape and 1,180-sqm open-air garden plaza surrounded by retail outlets, restaurants and cafés. The opening in the building was designed to capture sunlight to the piazza while the infinity shape building design by Koichi Takada has captured everyone’s imagination. 8. Why Sydney? Do you think there is a property bubble in Sydney now?
Australia is the destination for a growing number of students and tourists – with Sydney the frontrunner. Sydney is a living city with cultural and sporting events, iconic architecture and accessible historic buildings. It is a city of commerce with a healthy economy and strong government investment. It attracts tourism and immigration as it’s voted the world’s most liveable city by Price Waterhouse Coopers in 2014.
I think that’s why Sydney has become a city of education with an international student population of 500,000 rising by 30% by 2020, and contributing around AUD19 billion to the local economy by 2020.
Further, in recent years, dozens of high-profile companies are shifting their workforces to Parramatta and bringing executive level jobs traditionally located in the CBD to Parramatta. These executives work hard and want their home to match their lifestyle; they don’t want to settle for average apartments. So there’s a growing demand for high-quality apartments with resort-style facilities in Sydney and the whole of Australia.
Parramatta’s population is forecast to grow 24% by 2036, from a total of 190,495 to 236,864. Its property values are forecast to grow 6.7% in 2016, according to Your Investment Property Magazine. The city was also ranked the number one highest performing property market in NSW in 2015 by realestate.com.au.
Hence, I believe the real estate market will continue to be very strong in Sydney due to a shortage of residential apartments as the population grows closer to 5 million. 9. Who is your target market?
Around 30% of our buyers are from overseas with Hong Kongers/Mainland Chinese representing the largest proportion. We have seen demand for our residences skyrocket in both local and international markets. Last year, our landmark Arc by Crown Group development sold more than AUD170 million in apartments within hours of the same-day local and overseas sales launch. The reason? Simply because it’s beautiful architecturally; it has all the resort-style facilities as well as proximity to transportation and iconic tourism destinations like the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge – all within walking distance.
Likewise, hundreds of buyers rushed to secure apartments at Infinity by Crown Group in Green Square at the launch in August, with sales reaching an impressive AUD380 million by the end of the day.
Downsizers, investors and the younger generation now demand more from their apartments. Our iconic five-star resort–style amenities and grand foyers appeal to buyers even as we constantly seek to push the boundaries of innovation with every development. 10. Would you consider developing outside of Sydney?
Having established deep roots in Australia, we are actively looking at expanding our business throughout the world. We have already established offices in Singapore and Indonesia. Ten years from now, we hope to be a global market-leading brand not just in residential property but retail and hotels. 11. What are your views on the slew of new rules recently which aim to clamp down on foreign purchases in NSW, Victoria and Queensland?
Locals make up 70% of our buyers; so far, we have not seen any major medium to long term negative effects of these rules. It’s important to note that overseas buyers are buying homes in Sydney not just for pure investment purposes – they have business and personal ties in Sydney and see home purchase as a lifestyle investment for themselves as well. They are not looking for speculative purchases which are what these rules target. 12. What are your views on the Indonesian property market?
I think the Indonesian market remains attractive. For the medium and long term, Indonesia’s property sector is promising, one reason being that property prices in Indonesia are still among the cheapest in the Southeast Asian region. Moreover, high demand for property will persist as Indonesia’s population is large and young (meaning many more first home buyers are still to come), and urbanization and higher living standards continue to contribute to the demand.
However, the focus might shift to other regions than the Greater Jakarta area, Surabaya and Bandung. Given the continued increase in demand for housing and comparably low price level with neighbouring countries, I believe the Indonesian property market is full of potential. 13. Have you already built your dream project or is it still in the planning stage?
We plan to continue to disrupt the industry by creating innovative buildings designed for the future, but we also plan to expand our scope beyond residential development into hotels next year; followed closely by the creation of an entire city – which is currently in the discussion stage. 14. How do you spend your free time?
I like sports such as jogging, badminton, ping pong and swimming. I also like to spend time with my family and my wife and do charity work. I always have the heart to help the underprivileged and the broken, and mentoring young professionals. 15. Your favourite quote.
“It’s not the big that beat the small but the fast that beat the slow.”
I think this is even more relevant than ever today as companies which are willing to think outside the box and disrupt their industry are the ones that survive and thrive!