Stockdale & Leggo Chief Operating Officer Anna Thomas
Five years is a long time to wait for a holiday but when Anna Thomas gets her claws into a job, she doesn’t let go easily.
Relaxing over lunch in Melbourne’s Hawksburn, the real estate executive is excited about a long-awaited family trip, which is only days away.
Life hasn’t always been easy for Thomas. She was kicked out of home at 18, had to fight to continue her education and worked two jobs to put herself through university. Then she lost almost everything in her 20s, but her strong desire to be successful kept her going.
Stockdale & Leggo’s chief operating officer, Anna ThomasPhoto: Supplied
Five years ago she left a bright consulting and corporate career to join her husband’s real estate company. Initially, there was some negative reaction to the CEO’s wife coming on board and she had to focus on building her own credibility.
Thomas initially moved into the family firm to help her husband who wasn’t well at the time.
“I knew nothing about real estate franchising but I gave it the best shot I possibly could.”
Now chief operating officer at Stockdale & Leggo, Thomas has carved a definite role for herself at work – and in the real estate industry – as an innovator and as a champion for women’s advancement.
“I realised early on that I was going to have to work twice as hard as men to get to where I want to get to,” says Thomas.
That work ethic has earned her a slot as finalist in the Telstra Business Women’s Awards in 2016 and a finalist in the Real Estate Business Awards this year.
Thomas grew up in Richmond where her parents ran the MCG pub. Her dad was a hospitality veteran and her mum imported shoes.
She says her mum believed “girls were meant to be barefoot and pregnant”, which led to friction when Thomas was growing up and she had to fight to finish school. With her grandmother’s encouragement, she continued on to university.
Her mum died suddenly when she was 21, leaving her some money, which she invested in her first house in Hawthorn.
Sadly, her progress almost came undone with a bad relationship and she ended up paying her partner’s debts.
“I lost it all through choosing the wrong partner,” she says. “Never give your power away.”
Career highlights included being the youngest female in a senior management team at Colonial State Bank and working with blue-chip clients such as Commonwealth Bank and Telstra. In 2002 she launched her own consulting, recruitment and training company.
“I’ve taken all the skills from all the different industries I have worked in and everything I’ve learnt I’m able to put it back into what I’m doing today.”
In an industry that is changing rapidly, she has helped revitalise the Stockdale & Leggo brand, transform technology platforms and incorporate a range of extras such as financial and relocation services for customers and training for franchisees.
She agrees the real estate industry has a poor image and needs to clean up its act.
“A lot of people say the real estate industry is smoke and mirrors, it’s not authentic, that does not sit with me at all. We should cut the BS and be real.”
In terms of the underquoting problem, she believes the industry will become more open with new rules but there is still room for improvement.
Last year Stockdale & Leggo opened 10 new offices and so far this year, it has opened 15.
And what does the future hold? “I don’t have a crystal ball I don’t know what the industry will be like in five or 10 years’ time but I do know it’s not going to look the same as today.”
She believes the worst thing you can do is stand still.
Thomas has been very active promoting and supporting women. She encourages workplace flexibility and wants to see more women in leadership roles. Often women lack confidence, don’t have the ability to negotiate pay rises and won’t put themselves forward for leadership roles, she says. Every year she organises the Empowered Women in Real Estate event to motivate women. This year she expects 400 will attend.
Thomas lives in the country with her family and a menagerie of animals on a nine-hectare property where she has an extensive organic garden.
Not surprisingly, Thomas, the executive and mother of two young children, finds it difficult to sit still and relax.
“I drive up my driveway, I finish all my phone calls and then I’m done. The minute I walk in my door I belong to my family,” she says.