Iwan Sunito’s earliest memories are of his small fishing village in Central Kalimantan but his entrepreneurial instinct has landed him on different shores. Today the head of one of Sydney’s most prestigious property investment firms, Sunito, shares his insights with GlobeAsia.
As a small boy growing up in a village in Kalimantan, Iwan Sunito never imagined he would leave Indonesia – nor make a fortune abroad.
From an early age, however, he knew he wanted to be his own boss rather just another name on the payroll.
“That was a defining moment, realizing that and daring myself to start up my own business in a country I wasn’t familiar with,” recalls Sunito of his decision to leave a position at Australia’s largest architectural firm, Cox Richardson Architectures, to start his own property firm.
Given his love of drawing, dreams of designing waterfront properties drove Sunito to take a bachelor’s degree in architecture followed by a master’s in construction management from the University of New South Wales in Sydney.
Sunito says he knew his future lay in Australia, a place he considers a more transparent and hassle-free place to do business.
It may not have been an easy start, but with capital of Rp55 billion – about A$6 million at current rates – Sunito made his debut by developing a housing area of 55 units located in Sydney’s Bondi Junction, he tells GlobeAsia.
The project was a tri-partisan effort with two good friends and after a healthy result they agreed to unite by establishing the Crown International Holdings Group in 1996.
In 2010, the company reported Rp1.7 trillion in revenue and expects it will book Rp3.5 trillion in 2011.
The market has been kind, explains the 45-year-old of Crown’s success. Although residential sales are falling in some areas in Australia due to declining purchasing power, Sunito is optimistic his business is well-placed.
“Sydney’s market is still big, there’s room to fill and to grow. Especially with Australia’s mining industry boosting the global economy, many people are moving to the big city,” he says.
“There is a good market for residential, office and shopping mall developers,” says the father of three, adding that his core focus is on residential property.
Given the conducive market climate, Crown International is forging ahead with nine projects planned for the 2011-2012 period, most of which are apartment buildings. “It’s easier to build low high-rise buildings due to space necessities and that’s what the market prefers nowadays, especially in New South Wales, there is good demand and it’s the right time for us property developers.”
Despite the housing bubble and the financial havoc it caused in the United States, Sunito says the global downturn was actually a blessing in disguise for Crown.
“We were not injured by the crisis and property prices were flunking, which meant it was a good time for us to buy and build,” he explains.
Although the market slowed between 2004 and 2007, 2008 proved to be a breakthrough year for Crown when it acquired the right to build a residential project above Top Ryde City Mall. The 650-unit apartment block is worth Rp5 trillion, with an average selling price of Rp5 billion for a one-bedroom unit.
“It was quite an exciting time for us,” says Sunito, acknowledging his luck. “We started with a project that cost Rp288 billion and today Crown International manages projects worth Rp1 trillion at the least.”
Investing Down Under
Like a true businessman, Sunito is adroit at recognizing market opportunities. While most of his buyers are Australian, he has recently teamed up with Ray White Indonesia to promote his latest developments and invite buyers from Indonesia.
A number of Indonesian students and families have purchased properties from Crown because its developments are simple, efficient and high-quality, says Sunito. Crown’s developments are predominately located in quieter inner-city suburbs, which appeals to Indonesian buyers.
Djohan Boyke, CEO of Ray White Indonesia, says the number of Indonesians investing in Australia is quite large, sustained by a steady stream of students and Indonesians seeking jobs abroad.
“The price is quite reasonable nowadays and AirAsia flights to Australia are quite affordable,” smiles Boyke.
Crown’s engagement with Ray White Indonesia was based on Sunito’s observation of how Boyke brought the Australian company to Indonesia as well as the credibility of Boyke’s leadership.
“Djohan was once a student in Australia, so he knows the trends and the behavior and not much has changed. He is in the same industry as I am and I believe it’s a great opportunity for both of us to expand our network,” explains Sunito.
Although investing abroad might seem daunting to most, Sunito says that with the right guidance it’s a win-win decision. “If you decided to buy a property in Sydney, say for your children or even for yourself, then later decided to sell, you can still sell it at a higher price,” he says.
“Sydney is a good market for Indonesian investors, especially in the Rp5- to Rp10-billion bracket,” adds Boyke.
Whether Sunito exports his own developments plans to his homeland remains to be seen. “I might, one day but not today. And it’s hard to control long distance,” he says.
“As for now, I’m just visiting Indonesia and enjoying not having to do business yet.”
When asked about the secret of his success, Sunito says the trick is to know how to read the market and when to make the right move.
“This industry is highly competitive, but there is a lot of space to grow. That is why we have to be smart in reading and forecasting the market. Aside from that, it’s always God’s blessing and support from family and friends that brings success in life.” GA