A 16-year-old Dave Skow was sent to the principal’s office, again. But this visit would turn out to be a little different from the rest. He looked up at the wall and saw the face of American football coach Vince Lombardi, paired with these sage words:
“The dictionary is the only place that success comes before work. Hard work is the price we must pay for success.”
While the somewhat wayward teenager didn’t know it, these two sentences would set him on a course that would see him become Director of RE/MAX Elite in Wagga Wagga, one of Elite Agent’s Top 50 industry influencers, and a finalist for AREA Property Manager of the Year.
Despite Lombardi’s advice, Dave finished school without a clear idea of where he wanted to go or what he wanted to be. Inspired by earlier work experience, he found a job at a local real estate agency as an administrative assistant, and worked hard to get to the point where he was selling small parcels of land himself. By the age of 21, the big city was calling, so Dave moved to Sydney and found work as a trainer at the Real Estate Institute of New South Wales (REINSW).
Moving back to Wagga Wagga in 2009, Dave returned to the same agency he started at, spending two years establishing and growing a property management division. He was soon offered a job as general manager of a larger office, a position in which he learned invaluable business skills. Now armed with a more complete skill set, Dave felt ready to venture out on his own.
Captaining his own ship
In January 2014, Dave established Wagga Property Management—the town’s first specialist property management agency. Up until then property management had been treated as the poor cousin of sales. Dave saw a gap in the market, and committed to filling it.
He started the business on his own, growing the rent roll organically through word of mouth. Within four years he had built a hard working team and listed over 800 managements. Subsequently, in late 2018, an opportunity arose to purchase a local competitor: RE/MAX Wagga. The businesses were soon merged into RE/MAX Elite with a combined team of 20 staff.
The importance of team culture
The experiences of fast growth and mergers have highlighted the importance of team culture to Dave. There have been challenges, he says, particularly around growing pains and mixing old teams into new, but he’s worked hard to develop a culture of camaraderie and support.
Success is measured in staff retention, which is not a strength of the property management industry, Dave readily admits. Despite this fact, he proudly states that RE/MAX Elite has excellent retention rates, and, perhaps more pointedly, has never seen a staff member leave for a competitor.
He puts this down to recruiting for attitude over skill. While having to teach an inexperienced new team member almost everything can be a time consuming process, he has found that the value of employing the right personalities is so much greater to the organisation.
“We’ve got a good team and we want to retain a good team,” says Dave. “We want to make sure that they’re not burnt out, that they feel supported in their roles, and that they are the highest skilled, most experienced and best paid team in the area.”
Work comes before success
Throughout his journey Dave has often returned to that moment in the principal’s office, glancing up at the Vince Lombardi poster. Those simple words have helped to light the path before him, and continue to do so.
As a business owner, he says, you not only have to be good at juggling a lot of balls, you have to have the right level of commitment. Without it, you’re doomed. Dave spent four or five years with his nose firmly to the grindstone, and even now that he’s in a more comfortable place, the long hours, hard work and sacrifice don’t stop.
“Behind the scenes there’s a lot of slog that people don’t necessarily see; sacrificing holidays, spending time away from family,” he admits, “but I’d do it all a thousand times over.”
Someone to lean on
The two things that stand out when talking to Dave Skow is his modesty and approachable nature; traits that can be rare in someone so hardworking, driven and successful. When asked about advice he would offer to promising property managers, Dave stressed the importance of mentors and community.
Lombardi aside, he cites his family, all honest, hardworking folk, and his first boss John Mooney as early influences. As his career developed, he began to lean on others in the industry—Hayley Mitchell, Hannah Gill and Elite Agent editor Samantha McLean are a few that spring to his mind.
“Get in touch with people who have done the same thing that you want to do,” he instructs. “You will find that most people are very willing to give you information and advice.”
Dave himself generally fields one or two such calls a week, spending 20 or 30 minutes answering questions, sharing experiences and offering advice. “I’m always more than happy to take those calls and offer my opinion,” he grins.
Perhaps you haven’t had a worldview-defining, Vince Lombardi poster moment. Perhaps you’re still trying to work out whether property management is the career for you. But whatever stage you’re at, Dave Skow’s journey is replete with lessons, not least that there’s never any substitute for hard work.
Humans of Property Management is a series on the PropertyMe blog that showcases the lives and stories behind the property management industry.