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Warwick Hemsley at his Dalkeith home. Picture: Bill Hatto/The West Australian.

Leading by example can be a powerful motivator, the QWest chairman tells Ben Harvey.

Biggest or best career break?

Meeting Tony Lennon and the opportunity to invest in Peet Limited (then Peet and Co) and become a director, and later the managing director and chief executive. I met Tony during my time as head of property operations at the State Planning Commission. At the time, Peet was in urgent need of fresh capital and new property expertise, and Tony and I worked on acquiring a major interest in the company. In early 1985, I joined Peet as a director with Tony as managing director. I was only 28 and with a dedicated team we built up the company over the next 20 years and floated it, listing in 2004 and raising $120 million.

Describe your leadership style.

I try to have a well-documented business strategy that is understood by everyone in the team. I’ve found the old saying, “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail” to be very true. Leading by example is incredibly compelling. It is important for a leader to show boundless enthusiasm for and faith in the organisation. I also feel the organisation’s ethical commitment has to start at the top and be known, understood and respected by every person in your team. Finally, I try and “share the love” and make team members feel warm, welcome and respected.

Most memorable executive experience?

Listing Peet on the Australian Securities Exchange. Coming from the property world, albeit with a finance and accounting background, it opened a door into the world of capital and equity markets. With our lead managers and underwriters UBS, and with great support from a range of WA broking houses, we met with numerous institutional investors to tell the Peet story in the lead-up to the float. It was hugely satisfying and an incredibly interesting time.

First or most unusual job?

As a uni student I worked during my holidays as a builder’s/brickie’s labourer. It was a lot of hard work but unbelievable money in the building boom of the 1970s. I met some incredibly colourful characters and I remember one brickies’ team I was labouring for. They were a rough crew. They were all very loyal mates and when at some point my services were no longer required they said to the foreman “if he goes, we go too”, so I kept my job. Another time, I came in for some heavy flack when my picture appeared in The West’s social pages with my then girlfriend Liz. We went on to have a 30-year happy marriage. The occasion was the opening night of a WA Ballet season in the summer of 1973-74. I got a roasting on the building site that day.

Best way to improve productivity?

Have your team on-side and ensure they understand the organisation’s objectives and being committed to serving clients’ best interests. That’s what we try to do at QWest.

Do you use social media?

QWest uses Facebook and LinkedIn to share the latest news and property-related information. Social media provides an immediacy that no other broad-based communication channel can match and also allows for two-way conversation between organisations and the public. I think it is important for businesses to embrace social media’s potential and use it to open a dialogue with clients and people in their network.

What do you do in your spare time?

What’s that? I do love family time and with four grandchildren under the age of three, this has recently become an even greater pleasure and priority. After that, boating, reading, attending live performances and exhibitions. I am also involved with a wide range of extracurricular activities, including the Advisory Board of Curtin Business School, various arts roles, Anglicare and Churchill Fellowships. These roles expand your circles, your mind and hopefully help in some way.

Last book you read?

Bulls Bears and a Croupier by Matthew Kidman, former chief investment officer of Sydney fund managers Wilson Asset Management. My daughter Meredith works at WAM and she recently gave me the book. It is compulsory reading for anyone investing in the sharemarket and sheds light on many of the myths, theories, practices and personalities in the listed sector. On a less technical note, the book Perth by David Whish-Wilson gives a great historical perspective on Perth and is fascinating reading. My partner Melissa gave me An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris for Christmas, which was also a thrilling summer holiday read. All this summer reading did necessitate the odd bottle of wine for company so I did reference Ray Jordan’s The West Australian Wine Guide 2015 occasionally.

Favourite holiday destination?

We have so many beautiful destinations in WA but if I had to choose one spot that I think is as nice as our own State, it would be the Cote d’Azur region on the south coast of France. If it weren’t for WA, I wouldn’t have been too upset to have been born there.

What is your outlook for the residential and commercial property market in 2015?

WA is facing tough times in 2015 as we continue to struggle with the impacts of the mining downturn. In terms of the residential sector, we will see stagnated prices and a continuing influx of properties on the market. This is good news for those in steady employment as property prices will be more realistic for those looking to enter the market. Commercial property is experiencing an influx of supply due to major construction activity that was kicked off during the boom. While some of the major projects going ahead are fantastic for Perth’s future, they will flood the market initially with office and retail space, and demand may not meet supply in the shorter term. For investors looking to take advantage of the softening market, the traditional theory of buying the worst house in the best street still holds and as Perth gets bigger and more congested, closeness to public transport will continue to move up the scale of importance.