E13 - Inclusion builds community - David Leitch, Master Builders Association ACT


David Leitch is the Director of Commercial Operations at the Master Builder's Association of the ACT. He is project manager for the 2016 highly successful Charity House Project that raised over $2 million for local charities with the contribution of over 75 local builders, tradies, suppliers, media partners alongside with a land grant from the ACT Land Development Agency. It's a remarkable story of collaboration for the purpose of Inclusion - including people with all abilities in the community.

We explore:

  • The virtuous spiral of 'do good, do well - do well, do more good' in business giving.
  • The extraordinary power of giving and collaboration to make a huge impact
  • How to fill gaps in leadership through others' talents

David will be sharing the Charity House Project story as a Case Study Presenter at the Edge of Leadership in Canberra, March 28, 2017.

Charities who benefited from the Charity House Project:

  • Boundless - $1,133,000.00
  • Hands Across Canberra - $412,000.02
  • Hartley Life Care - $309,000.00 
  • OzHelp - $34,333.33
  • Everyman - $34,333.33
  • Uniting Care - $34,333.33
  • St Vincent De Paul Society - $34,333.33
  • Early Morning Centre - $34,333.33
  • Salvation Army - $34,333.33

TOTAL: $2,060,000.00 funds raised

  • ACT Inclusion Council:  Disability Confidence Canberra is a speaking and education program for businesses, organisations and local community groups to equip them with information on disability, facts on disability employment, and practical tools to become disability confident.

Andrew Kerec, co-owner of Renaissance Homes, is riding from Canberra to Darwin by push bike:  Spine Tinging Ride

Media Partners: 

Mix 106 FM, Canberra Weekly, WIN News


Zoë Routh:    Hi. This is Zoe Routh and I'm so excited to be here today with David Leitch from the Masterbuilder's Association of the ACT. He's the Director of Commercial Operations here. He's got an extraordinary tale to tell of what Masterbuilder's has been doing with their Charity House Projects. He will also be case study up on stage telling us about what the MBA has done in the community which is extraordinary. Welcome Dave. 

David Leitch:    Hi. Zoe. Thanks for having me. 

Zoë Routh:    It's so good to have you on the show. Tell us a little bit about your experience at the MBA here at Canberra. 

David Leitch:    Okay. I look after marketing, sales, events, publications, internal and external communications. Generally, the non-building related aspects of what we do. 

Zoë Routh:    I know you do a hell of a lot of events, right, for the year?

David Leitch:    Yes. We do. We have a very big one in the middle of the year, our Excellence in Building Awards which is Canberra's largest black tie function of the year. Then the next level of industry dinners are about 300, a whole heap of boardroom lunches, information sessions for our members, award shows for our apprentices. It's a pretty packed event calendar. 

Zoë Routh:    Yeah. It's amazing. There are quite a few members in Canberra as well, right? 

David Leitch:    Yeah. We represent 1200 businesses and about 150 apprentices are part of our membership. 

Zoë Routh:    Yeah. That's a lot. Tell me a little bit about the Charity House Project. When did that start? How did it start? 

David Leitch:    The first one was around 2006 and they all start with a similar fashion that's working together with the ACT government, finding a builder that's happy to come on board then selecting a block of land, getting a design, involving members, getting it built and away you go. 

Zoë Routh:    Who's idea was this? Do you recall where the genesis was?

David Leitch:    I came in at the end of the first one so David Dawes was the executive director of the MBA back then. He's now the CEO of the Land Development Agency, someone that we work really close with from a construction point of view. David would have been the driving force behind the first one. Then I came in at the tail end and have been responsible for the second and third Charity Houses. 

Zoë Routh:    it's quite a remarkable story of collaboration. You have the ACT government agency, land development agency and then you have the MBA as an overarching representation body and then the individual builders and all the contractors and so on. Can we start with a little bit around the ACT government's Land Development Agency? Their job is to gift, is that the way it works, gift a piece of land?

David Leitch:    That's right. That's one of the two keys I think that you've got to get right first, that is the government donating a block of land or in the third one, blocks of land to the project. That's where we have the real opportunity to make some substantial money out of it by having the government donate the blocks of land. Then I think the second key is the selection of builders. In all three cases, the builders have been really happy to help and involve their sub contractors and supplies. In the current one, Renaissance homes, they directly save the build cost over 500,000 dollars by their supplies and sub contractors either working for nothing or just charging a little bit for the job, no where near market prices. 

Zoë Routh:    That's amazing. That's a huge amount of money. 

David Leitch:    Yeah. We had a part of the date with the government is they set a limit of we could spend 1.3 million dollars on the build project. We ended up spending about $750,000 so nearly half the build cost and marketing was saved through donations. 

Zoë Routh:    That's just an extraordinary story of generosity. What is it you think amongst your members that they feel called or compelled. What do they get excited about around this project? 

David Leitch:    In this case, there was a lot of loyalty to Renaissance homes. They are one of our really good name brand local builders that they've got a presence, build 50 houses a year so the people that they use have built their businesses around supporting Renaissance. There is a real loyalty factor there to start with. Also, one of the key objectives was for the benefits to support people with a disability in the ACT and Andrew's father Lud about 6 years ago unfortunately had an accident on a push bike and became a quadriplegic. There was a link there for Andrew and his team. They've known Lud for 20 years as well and wanted to support him through the project. There was a real close bond between builder and supplies and sub contractors and that made it very easy for Andrew to say look, we'd like to do this and people fit in around their pay jobs to help us out. 

Zoë Routh:    It's a personal story. I think that's one of the keys is when you know somebody who's directly affected, it highlights what the challenges are in a deeper, more meaningful way I suppose than just thinking generically about people with those challenges. Do you think that has been a significant contributing factor?

David Leitch:    Yeah. They know the people, they know the story, they know where the funds are going to help people. It's very personal and like I said the bond between the builder and the supplies is very strong. We packaged up a few other things around it that made the project work. I guess mostly my role is just from a project management point of view in making sure that we publicize it as much as we can to try to give something back to the people who have put in to acknowledge their support. In some cases, there had been donations of around 70,000 dollars in actual building materials which meant someone had to pay for those building materials and then just give them to us. 

Zoë Routh:    Yeah. I want to come back to that idea of giving back to the suppliers and helping them out and what you did around there. Let's delve into a little bit of details around this year's Charity House Project at Deakin. Can you tell us a little bit about this specific project because it's been the most successful one so far, right?

David Leitch:    It has. We spent more than 12 months working with the Land Development Agency on the right blocks. They were helping us at at time where land supply was short. The opportunities in the new Greenfield suburbs weren't exactly what I wanted. I did say no a number of times to some options that they came up with thinking it would be the same as the previous two. I had wanted to do something bigger and a bit different. Originally I was thinking we might build four townhouses and we had the land that we could have done that but when we got sorted advice from our real estate agent partner, the way to maiximise the blocks was to do detached housing. 

    The LDA were very patient with us and as it turns out, the blocks in Deakin came about through a land swap with the community housing department. Once that was settled, we went into a design phase or sorry, first we researched the maiximise the opportunities and then the design phase, this project was a little bit different than the other two because it wasn't Greenfields and there was derelict in 50 semi detached red brick house straddling the two blocks that had to be part of the project which was including demolition cost. That was something a little bit different to the previous ones. 

    The blocks had had some history of negativity around the neighbours because the original plan for community houses was to build four terraced homes there and the residents were not really happy with that. When we were given the opportunity to do something, and show that we wanted to build two high end houses, they were very happy with that and I think it suited the street much better than either a townhouse or a terrace option. In that part, things were very easy and we didn't get any pushback from the neighbourhood. Considering that we had two building projects going at the one time, there was disruption. The previous Charity Houses being in Greenfields when we were doing functions there, there wasn't a lot of other activity around. We had to close off the streets several times for the opening and for the auction but working with the neighbours, it all went off pretty well. 

Zoë Routh:    Absolutely. As I understand ... Tell us about the sale. What happened on the day it was at auction and how much you sold it for and how much you have. 

David Leitch:    Leading up to that auction day, we probably ended up being about two months behind schedule. We had a very wet winter. We were a little bit further in the year that we wanted to be. The real estate agent selected the Saturday to do it. We had a four week marketing period where both the real estate agent and the MBA opened the house up at various times so we could have people come through it. Our part was we wanted to showcase the houses to as many people as we could. The real estate obviously were working with their potential buyers. We got to Saturday the 5th of November and it looked like there was about 150 people gathered around. 

Zoë Routh:    Which is huge for an auction, right?

David Leitch:    A lot of people just interested to see what was happening. There was probably between six and twelve serious buyers there. We started with the single level house. We called it a bit of an empty nesters that had three bedrooms plus a lot of entertaining area. It suited someone, perhaps a second or third home buyer. It started out slow but the bidding was fierce. We were so happy with the final sale price, 1.625 million which was $425,000 above the reserve price. 

Zoë Routh:    Wow. 

David Leitch:    That was something that the LDA, they kept the reserve secret. They were two independent evaluations done and they handed the auctioneer the reserve price on the date and make sure there was no influence from outside sources. Moving on to the second house, it's a five bedroom, two story family home. The bidding wasn't as fierce. We just through some negotiation at the end got to our reserve of 1.4 million. Hindsight's a wonderful thing and we say maybe we should have just build two single story houses and it could have been different. You never know.

    We were happy that the total package between the two got to over 3 million for the sale. That meant that we were going to have once we took out the building cost, the small amount of GST, not so small but the amount of GST we had to pay, there was still more than 2 million dollars left over for at that stage three charities. One of the charities is Boundless Children's Playground who had a figure in mind of what they needed to do a second stage of their playground. Originally there was a percentage split between our three charities, Boundless Children's Playground, Hands Across Canberra and Hartley Lifecare.

    When we got this figure that was outstanding success, the board of Boundless said we're happy to take a reduced share. They actually generously reduced their share from 70% to 55% of the total pool which allowed us to lift one of the charity's share from 10-15% which is Hartley Lifecare and that was a recognition to Andrew Kerec and his team at Renaissance on what a fabulous job they had done building the house. It also allowed us, we had about $200,000 or 10% left to involve another six charities at a $34,000 roughly each additional charities. They were all thrilled to find out this week that they are going to be given the money and receive it, actually be able to use it before Christmas. 

Zoë Routh:    Oh my god. There's the three major charities, Boundless, which is an all abilities playground organisation, Hands Across Canberra which is a community foundation that supports 150 charities around Canberra and Hartley Lifecare which is supporting people with disabilities in their homes through their independent services. What are the six other charities?

David Leitch:    The MBA, we picked a couple that were close to our hearts. One is All Is Hope foundation. They support people in the construction industry, counsellors and guidance, drug and alcohol issues, suicide prevention, they do a fantastic job. Another group called Every Man. 

Zoë Routh:    They're great. 

David Leitch:    They work with guys who have fallen off the tracks. They might have issues with domestic violence or again, alcohol. The programs that they do working with men has got some great results. The AFP are recommending clients to every man as a part of a strategy to not putting them in jail or helping them if they've got an issue with a criminal case. They do a fantastic job. Construction is obviously a male dominated industry so things like that or what we can do to keep folks on track, we are very happy to be involved with. Then, the ACT government picked the other four of the additional charities. There was the Early Morning Centre, Salvation Army, Salvation Army United Care and St. Vincent De Paul's. Each of those six will receive a check for about $34,000 and once it's cleared through Hands across Canberra and get issued, they'll be able to use that money pre Christmas. 

Zoë Routh:    That's extraordinary. This story just keeps getting better and better. It's amazing. Over 2 million dollars raised for charity out of this building project, that's incredible. How do you feel about all that? 

David Leitch:    Really proud. Happy and confident that when we had the blocks we were going to do well. We had a figure of 1.2 million earmarked as the benchmark because that was roughly the value of the land. If we didn't do better than that, it could be just simply let's auction the blocks off and there's your money there without any effort at all. Pretty quickly into the project, you could see it was going to be bigger than that. A couple of people said to me you better rain it in a bit, don't count your chickens before they hatch. I couldn't see that it wasn't going to turn out any other way because we had the building costs under control and Deakin is a fabulous suburb and we figured we were going to get somewhere around 1.5 million dollars for each house. It was simple if we kept the building costs were under million and we got 3 million for the sale, there would be 2 million left over. It wasn't that hard.

    I thought that the opportunity was there and we had a pretty focused goal on keeping the cost down and without affecting any of the quality too because the type of the suburb it was in, we couldn't do an average sort of build, it had to be high end. Using an architect who lives in Deakin, he wanted to be happy every day that he drove past those houses that they fit in the suburb. 

Zoë Routh:    Speaking to the people who bought the house, it's obvious they knew these were charity houses. Have you had any feedback from them about what it's like to buy the property and know that their money is going to nine great causes. 

David Leitch:    In this one, I don't think the buyers got caught up as much in it being a charity house. Definitely, the house before, lovely lady, Cheryl Lee bought the house we did in Franklin in 2013. She told me afterwards she spent maybe about 100,000 more than she had budgeted because she got wound up in the charity house auction on the day and said I want this house. She spent $850,000 on the home which at the time was the 5th biggest sale in Franklin. That meant the difference between about $550,000 donation to end up being, no I'm sorry, the difference between about $500,000 and $600,000 that that project made. The scale of this I think was paperwork looking at the market value. I don't think the fact that they were charity houses meant that people kept throwing extra money at them. They wanted a purchase and thought well, all I have to do is move the furniture in, these houses came carpets, windows, furnishings, most of the white goods were in there. They just had to move their beds and their couch in and away they go. 

Zoë Routh:    It was an attractive property and well built house, beautifully equipped, a no brainer from I want that property. 

David Leitch:    Yeah. I think we did really well with the single level one. I think the family that bought the two story one got a pretty good deal. They all seem happy. The older couple that bought the single level one, they were downsizing from a house in Fadden  and the family lives a husband and wife and two kids, they'll have plenty of room to grow into the two story home. 

Zoë Routh:    Great. Let's come back to your suppliers and your builders. Obviously Andrew Kerec who owns Renaissance homes? 

David Leitch:    He and a gentleman called Mike Newman are partners in the building company. It's been around for 20 years. It was started by Andrew's father and Andrew 20 years ago but in the last couple of years, they brought another partner in and that's Mike Newman. It's a family owned and Canberra based company. 

Zoë Routh:    They have a very personal interest in this project because of Andrew's dad becoming a quadriplegic, obviously. What about the other suppliers? You talked about they were very loyal to Renaissance homes. Were there any other ones that, what do they feel about being involved in the project like this? What do they speak to in terms of what inspires them to put their hands up and put their hat in the ring for this project?

David Leitch:    That's a hard one to speak on behalf of other people. I spent most of the time, especially later in the project working with Mario from Blackshaw's in Manuka who they did a wonderful job marketing and auctioning the house. If that was a normal project, the commissions and the cost they would have received if they had have been paid would have been over $100,000 for the two. The effort that they put in doing it for nothing is fantastic. You could see that not just Mario, that his team also had a real commitment to making sure that it was not just another job but it was a really good job they were doing. Look, I'm sure there are personal reasons they are doing it but it's a great branding opportunity for businesses as well, getting involved. I don't think anyone does it because they want to get a pat on the back or increase their business but if these things are done correctly, there are excellent opportunities for the business to be recognised and to be seen to be giving back and that could influence other people's decisions down the track. 

Zoë Routh:    I think this is a really important conversation to have about charity giving through businesses because there is always this question, right. Do businesses support charity because they think there is going to be a kick back to their business and that is their motivating factor or is that just aside benefit? I think it's always when I speak to people about this who aren't in business, there is, I'm not sure if there is a question about optimism or a question of skepticism around it. What's your sense of the people that participate in these types of projects?

David Leitch:    If the result is good in the end, I don't think it matters either way. The MBA, we don't do it to increase brand awareness or attract more members or more sponsors to what we do but I don't think you should shy away from the fact that you're doing this really well and tell people about it. If you do get some positive feedback that people think that you've done a great job and they might choose your business over another one because you're got a commitment to the community. Well, that's fantastic.

    Some people, they would rather not be recognised and if that's what they want to do, that's fine. If someone wants to donate $100,000-200,000 dollars to a project and not be recognised at all, I think you respect that. But if you're doing something like this, I think you should make it part of your corporate profile, it should be on your website if you do a newsletter or if there is an opportunity to associate your business with a post promotional supplement, why not?

Zoë Routh:    I agree with you for two reasons. One, because I think when businesses do well, I think they can do more good and I think if you can do well by profiling the fact that you do good, it becomes a virtuous circle in my point of view. If your business is successful, it allows you to be able to contribute time, money, effort, etc. to these kinds of projects and people value that you make an effort to do so and therefore your business benefits and therefore you can keep going and doing it again. I think there's that virtuous cycle there. 

    And the other reason why I think people should be loud and proud about it and I've spoken to many business owners who are shy and reserved about their giving in the community because they are humble about it because they don't want to be tarred with the brush of I'm doing it because I want to get promotion out of it, they just keep it as a separate thing, a private thing. I think the reason why people should be loud and proud about it is it inspires other people to give as well. I think this is sort of one of the things people who are proud about it should consider when they keep it private, if their story inspires another business to take the bull by their horns and start a project like that or contribute to an existing project like this, it adds more to the pot in terms of being able to help more people. I think if that is motivation for people to be less shy about sharing their story. I think that's a good one. The more people give the more there is to give, the more the community benefits. 

David Leitch:    The MBA is probably a little bit different. I think that because we're an association representing a membership that there is probably an expectation for the MBA to get involved with community projects, not just the charity house. We try and employ a premises, we help develop the next generation of builders. We have something that's a little bit unique for us compared to other industry associations where we have a dispute resolution service and if a client, a building client has a concern or an issue with one of our members, we'll get involved and see if we can sort it out. That's a free service at entry level that we provide.

    We've got a full time licensed builder who is tied up totally with building inspections and working with people on their contracts and any person, it's restricted to our members because we can't offer that to non members because they are not bound by our code of conduct but if someone's concerned about making progress payment or the standard of the work or the paper work that is involved, they can come to us and get advise and we don't necessarily just fall on the side of the builder. If there is an issue, we will ask the builder to rectify it. There's that.

    We do other events not just the Charity House that involve raising money for community groups. Then there's the big ticket items. By making the most of it from a publicity point of view will make the next one easier to get people involved because they'll say gee, look at all these people that were involved in raising 2 million dollars. Let's make sure that we'll get involved with the next one. We'll have builders come and contact us and say if you do it again, can you consider us to be the builder next time. They'll have their own set of supplies and sub contractors to involve. We've got a few loose ideas about doing it again. It will be probably a 2018 project. We'll give our members a little bit of a break without twisting any more arms next year and then start talking to the government about the type of project and the land and the type of builder we need and go from there. 

Zoë Routh:    This takes an extraordinary amount of leadership to run projects like this and to engage the community and to engage all the stakeholders and so on. What's your particular view on leadership? How do you take a leadership role? Have you reflected on that at all?

David Leitch:    I think that, because I've spent most of my life in business in Canberra, I've sort of grown up knowing a lot of people in town. If I'm making a phone call to ask someone if they wanted to be involved, I probably know the answer before I'm making the call because I know that someone's going to be, that this group wants to help. If it's within their power to be able to do it, they'll do it. I guess the fact that I've been around in Canberra for a while makes some of those decisions easy. 

    From a leadership point of view, I think it's very important to be able to know your limitations and work within your strengths. I've got a certain set of skills that I can go to or fall back on if I need but if I'm looking at something that is a little bit out of the ordinary, I've got to step very carefully because I don't want to make a bold mistake and have something that is very important fall over because I didn't bring in the right person to help with the project and tried to do it myself. That leads to surrounding yourself with good people that you can trust, making sure that they know what their role is, let them do the role and you can get on with doing what you need to do as well. I think you've got to be focused, very determined. If you've got a goal, you've got to do everything you can to reach that goal. 

Zoë Routh:    That sounds like a very sensible, humble approach to getting stuff done, absolutely. As all these charities, is there one particular charity cause that you feel personally connected to throughout these projects that you've got going on?

David Leitch:    With this charity project, the ACT government nominated Boundless as their charity and because they delivered the big block of land and said that they'd like the bulk of the money to go to boundless, originally it was 70% but that was scaled back to 55%. The MBA chose Hands Across Canberra and Hartley Lifecare was chosen by Renaissance because Lud Kerec spent quite a bit of time there in rehab at their hydrotherapy pool. Andrew and Lud and their family wanted to give something back to them. 

    Me personally, I'm part of a group of business and government linked people, a group called the ACT Inclusion Council and our charter is one to put on the chief ministers inclusion awards each year that recognise people that do work in the disability field. We also try and build relationships with employers and encourage them to employ a person with a disability and last year there was a paper or a pack that people could get called Disability Confidence Canberra. It's a bit of a how to guide that if you're looking to employ a person with a disability you need to consider these things we're talking about access to buildings and how you go about it. Next year, we'll hold a series of events where we put business people in a room and talk to them about other groups that can help facilitate employing a person with a disability. I'm fairly passionate about that but as far as one particular group to support, not really. My goal I think once the charities were set was just trying to get that figure as big as possible and the rest would take care of itself. 

Zoë Routh:    You did an extraordinary job getting to that huge figure, that's for sure. I have one last question for you. It's about Canberra. You've been in Canberra, born and bred in Canberra? 

David Leitch:    I was born in Cooma but I spent a fair bit of my life in Canberra. 

Zoë Routh:    Long time Canberrian. What do you love about the city?

David Leitch:    Certainly you've got four seasons, they're very distinct. You've got the extremes from cold and heat and then Autumn is magnificent when it is calm and the days are very settled, great golfing weather. I like that. I like the idea that we're small enough place but we've got some big ticket items with us, government, arts institutions. We've got fantastic playing fields for kids to use and the institutions available to go and see are great as well. We're very lucky that we've got assets that only big cities normally have but we're 400,000 people so we're a big country town. 

Zoë Routh:    It is. It's a lovely place to live. I've been here 20 years. It's just such a wonderful, beautiful place. Easy place to live and I think the Canberra community is better for having Masterbuilder's here doing the work that they are doing and for having you be such a contributor too. Thank you so much for being involved with the podcast today and also as a case study where we get to showcase your story again in front of the conference, the Edge of Leadership in March next year. Thanks Dave. 

David Leitch:    No problems. Happy to help. 



Zoe RouthComment