Just prior to the grand opening of Woodlea, the successful 7,000 lot master planned community in Melbourne’s western suburbs, members of Grant Thornton’s Real Estate & Construction team sat down to discuss the development and trends affecting Victorian residential property development with Executive Director of Victorian Investments & Properties Pty Ltd (VIP), Mr Peng Hong Wong.
Woodlea is a joint venture between VIP and Mirvac and is considered to be Melbourne’s most progressive master planned community. It continues to be Melbourne’s fastest selling new development, having welcomed its first residents during the first quarter of 2016.
Upon approaching Woodlea visitors immediately appreciate the accessibility of the development. Existing infrastructure including the Rockbank train station, Western Highway, Deer Park Bypass, Melton Freeway, and the proposed Outer Metropolitan Ring Road all contribute to the community’s appeal.
Once inside the development it is clear that this is more than just a normal residential property play. Thirty percent of Woodlea is dedicated to open recreational spaces, including walking and cycling paths, playgrounds, and environmental features such as the protected River Redgum woodland, wetlands and the Kororoit Creek corridor.
For Peng, a sense of community is very much at the heart of what they are trying to achieve with the development, while also ensuring they are at the forefront of infrastructure technology. This includes an Australian-first ‘smart’ street light system, which also provides video surveillance, beaming footage in real-time to a central location via wi-fi technology.
The Chairman of VIP, K.T. Lim, acquired the Woodlea property 15 years ago. VIP's journey has not been without frustration, including the denial of rezoning in 2006. However, Peng’s passion for the region, having grown up in Victoria’s West, has been a major driver in the realisation of the group’s ambitions for the development.
Strategic partnerships and relationships – including those with governments – are paramount to how VIP and Peng approach business. Despite the frustrations of prior delays, Peng explains that open, respectful and consistent communication with government, with both the immediate and longer term in mind, is absolutely critical.
Peng Hong Wong is a spiritual man which is the source of his drive, passion and strength. In business, this plays out through a concept of “community first”. For Peng, prioritising this sense of community has not only contributed to the success of the development, but has snowballed into attracting strategic partnerships.
Peng observes, “if you do something good for the community, the spiritual dimension will connect you to strategic partners.” During our conversation, he referenced a number of strategic partners who have either been involved (or plan to be) in the Woodlea development or more broadly with VIP. He would never have thought to approach some of these, but the partners have nevertheless found their way to VIP, often through referrals and existing relationships.
Experience and intuition
The VIP approach to designing a community includes many tried and true mechanisms for this type of project, but Peng stresses that experience, intuition and “gut feel” can never be underestimated.
Peng’s leadership style is firm and team orientated. He refers to the “geese squadron” in his management sessions, describing an arrow-like formation with people stepping up to lead at different times; the sum of the parts being far more important than any individual member. Acknowledging that at different times and depending on the situation, various people may need to step up and lead is important to him and to the success of his team.
Peng’s passion for the community reverberated through the words he uses and his body language during our discussion. Peng shared that earlier in his career he was driven by meeting KPIs. These days, he feels he has evolved into a more spiritual and community-centred individual.
“One cannot necessarily separate business from personal life,” he said, and went on to make the point that “self-centred rewards come with sorrow.”
When asked to expand on this he continued, “when a person is self-centred, everything is one dimensional. However, if you are centred more outwardly, your rewards are broader and far more satisfying.”
We spent some time talking with Peng on his passion for mentoring and developing people and communities. Peng also alludes to drawing inspiration from renowned thinkers such as Steve Jobs. Peng has asked his team, “tell me what our communities will need tomorrow?” His philosophy is to always be ahead of the curve, and notes that his “geese squadron” not only needs to execute in the immediate term, but also have one eye on the future.
When assessing the success of Woodlea, pure economic returns will be important, but not the only factor. For Peng, it is clear that the residential feedback and satisfaction levels will be the ultimate measure of their success.
Peng sees the private structure of VIP as a clear advantage. “Within Australia, VIP will always be private. We can’t afford to lose our agility and be bogged down with bureaucracy.”
We ended our conversation by asking what’s next for VIP and Peng? As with all property developers, they will need to adapt and stay ahead of the cycle, so a combination of commercial CBD and residential projects will continue to add to the VIP portfolio. However, with the amazing success of Woodlea and Peng’s passion for community engagement, Woodlea will remain central to their strategy and a key launchpad for a broader VIP community development journey.