Trevor Elburn is co-director of the TAE group of companies and has held corporate roles in education and occupational health, and as an executive and consultant in national real estate companies.
AIM: Before you went into the real estate industry, you had roles in education and occupational health. Why the switch?
Elburn: I am not really a real-estate man. I am more of an entrepreneur in the true sense of the word. We have a communications company and we have a real-estate company, Property Management Specialists. My joint managing director and partner is the expert in property management. He does the operational work and I do the entrepreneurial work, which is the developing and strategic planning. It is more an entrepreneurial approach, not a real-estate or communications approach. It is about expansion through strong partnerships, strong strategic alliances and joint ventures that give us minimum risk with maximum opportunity. I also have a firm belief in developing good character in business, rather than a skill set.
AIM: How long have you been in management and what made you decide to go into business for yourself?
Elburn: Twenty-five years. I saw most of my friends and family purporting to buy a business but really buying a job. Or they entered companies and corporations, and that was just dancing to somebody else’s tune. I saw a lot of these businesses as jobs for the owners, not as building true businesses that they could then sell. If a business depends on the owner to have the skill set, then it is not a business, it is a job.
AIM: Why are so many struggling to adapt to e-commerce?
Elburn: E-commerce is exciting and useful, but most senior managers do not really understand how it can help them to achieve their goals and where they want to go. They simply put it off until someone else in their industry competes with them with it more efficiently. So, they are forced on to paths that they do not necessarily want to go down unless a competitor drives them towards it.
AIM: Do you see it changing?
Elburn: Only as they grow out of the business or become redundant or are forced into it by competitive advantage. Or, alternatively, by younger people coming up through the business. Young people will use e-commerce in business without fear.
AIM: What are the successful elements of growth?
Elburn: The successful elements are innovation and building a good business reputation. We have a 20% youth-employment training policy, bringing in trainees who have potential and good character. We give them the skill set and we build a team around that. We expect a 10% turnover of staff, which we find is very healthy for the business and the industry because most of them go out and come back eventually. They take our skill set somewhere else, improve the industry, and bring back ideas from which we benefit.
AIM: Are your comments not at odds with the emphasis these days on staff retention?
Elburn: If the business is good enough to come to, they will. We try to make it attractive enough for them to stay. But, we also contract our employees.
AIM: What are the most common weaknesses of management?
Elburn: Many middle managers are set in their hierarchical ways. They think that because they have a senior position it somehow gives them leadership. By doing that, they just make the organisation too slow and unresponsive in a rapidly changing work environment. You have to be responsive to market forces and competition or it is taken out from under you.