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PropNex CEO: We've built a culture that can't be replicated

Toh Ee Ming
Toh Ee Ming • 8 min read
PropNex CEO: We've built a culture that can't be replicated
Gafoor: PropNex’s decision to protect consumers’ interests and upgrade professionalism set the pace for the industry to follow / Photo: PropNex
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Investing in property is one of the most important decisions every Singaporean has to make. The property market is full of complexities, and any wrong move to enter or exit the market can be costly.

So firmly ingrained is this belief in making informed decisions that PropNex’s CEO, Mohamed Ismail Gafoor, has been advocating consumer education for the last 10 years.

Starting with simple booklets detailing the latest rules and policies distributed door-to-door, the company has gone on to organise over 100 consumer seminars yearly and a massive property show at the Singapore Expo, which draws over 100,000 consumers yearly.

Just three years ago, during the pandemic, Gafoor developed its own Monopoly PropNex Edition experiential learning tool to teach financial literacy and real estate investment.

Customised to the local context, it includes title deeds that accurately reflect areas in the Core Central Region, the Rest of Central Region and Outside Central Region, as well as navigating various property cooling measures such as the additional buyer’s stamp duty. Some standard Monopoly rules have also been tweaked to allow most games to be completed in under an hour.

On top of holding national competitions, PropNex also partnered various organisations to organise Family Day events on the weekends. Hundreds of families came down to play the Monopoly game and left with its own limited-edition set and shopping vouchers. “Through the game, we get people to relive their childhood and learn about Singapore’s property market. We’re very big on that,” says Gafoor.

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Bold steps to make-over cowboy town

Not many people know that PropNex’s consumer education journey was sparked by “a major shake-up”, says Gafoor.

In the 2000s, PropNex had just started to grow in size. But the industry was extremely unregulated, and anyone carrying a name card could claim to be a property agent. It was a “cowboy town”, in Gafoor’s words.

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He recalls they took bold steps, requiring tremendous courage on the part of the management team and senior partners.

They made the “painful decision” to terminate 2,800 agents of its housing agents in a move to ensure the professionalism and reliability of its associates. It was the first local real estate agency that made sure every agent was covered under professional indemnity insurance.

This decision to protect consumers’ interests and upgrade professionalism set the pace for the industry to follow. After the Council of Estate Agents was formed in 2010, it became mandatory to have professional indemnity insurance.

Becoming the largest listed property agency

PropNex’s meteoric rise to become Singapore’s largest listed real estate agency with over 11,000 real estate salespersons has been touted as an inspiring success story.

It all started in 1996 with the founding of two companies, Nooris Consultants and Prulink. Following a 13-year career at the Singapore Armed Forces, Gafoor started Nooris with his wife, Nooraini Noordin. It was then a small real estate agency focused on serving the Malay market. PropNex directors Joseph Lee and Alan Lim started the real estate agency, Prulink, the same year.

The two companies joined forces, and PropNex quickly gained a reputation for service excellence, eventually adopting the tagline “Service You Trust” in 2008. This belief in service has propelled PropNex to be a market leader with a sizeable share in both the public and private markets.

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Pioneering ideas to differentiate

What makes PropNex different from other companies? There is a hunger to continually dream up new ideas, says Gafoor. The dual-career path is a pioneering idea developed in 2000.

Property agents could have the option to make sales for their entire career or become a manager and leader over time, because “we know after 10 to 20 years of business, you will not enjoy standing at the void deck every Saturday and Sunday”, he says.

The company has a dual-career path for these team leaders to incentivise them. Slowly, more agents entered the fray, and it became the ideal ground to groom future leaders. “PropNex has many team leaders, and I’m very proud to see many leaders out there who have grown,” says Gafoor.

Another innovative move was to introduce the team leader pension scheme. Team leaders have a 10-year Loyal Bonus and Pension Fund cycle from 2006, emphasising team performance and team size growth. This could accumulate to half a million dollars, depending on the team leader’s performance and a full disbursement after 10 years.

PropNex looks after its consumers, property agents, and even its developers and investors, says Gafoor. “It’s important for us to have a huge amount of engagement with our stakeholders, salespersons, staff, partners, developers, analysts and shareholders, updating them on what is happening in the market and what we are doing.”

A culture of doing good for others

PropNex’s competitors are always keeping a close eye on its every move. Gafoor has observed how others have replicated its training curriculum and designs.

Unfazed, Gafoor says that the competitors will not be able to copy the true culture of PropNex, because their intent and objective may differ. For him, PropNex’s culture is “unconditional love, giving without expecting and being united as a team”.

He cites the example of its regular boot camps, held 12 times a year and attended by 2,000 of its property agents each year. Held over two days from morning till past midnight, its facilitators — comprising the highest-earning managers and leaders in sales — sit down and mentor the agents without getting paid a single cent.

“It’s about a culture of doing good for other agents… Many other companies can’t hold this water,” says Gafoor.

Reflecting on five-year listing anniversary

According to Gafoor, PropNex became a listed company in July 2018, a “happy and proud moment” for the Singaporean brand.

But that euphoria was immediately dampened by the cooling measures, which came less than a week later. At that time, additional buyer’s stamp duty rates for Singapore citizens were raised to 12% for second properties. This move surprised many, and PropNex’s share price was affected.

“Many investors, friends and people who trusted me thought, ‘How can we not be aware that there will be cooling measures?’ They felt that they had been taken for a ride… It was one of the most challenging moments,” recalls Gafoor.

Instead of dwelling on the negativity, Gafoor focused on how they could “get out of this”. During Singapore’s “circuit breaker” lockdowns, the company devised an intensive Zoom training programme to help its property agents level up, focusing on topics like leadership and Zoom viewings, among others.

That galvanised the staff to stay resilient and forced them to rethink their digitisation approach.

The management invested more in proprietary tech platforms, increased its headcount in that department and changed the way transactions took place, switching from in-person to virtual transactions.

This ability to keep thriving has helped them overcome crises and resulted in breakthroughs.

Last year, PropNex posted over $1 billion in revenue for the first time in its history.

Passionately doing good

Looking back, Gafoor has come a long way since he grew up in a one-room rental flat with four brothers and a younger sister. He had helped his father sell and deliver newspapers then.

It was when he signed on with the Singapore Armed Forces and rose through the ranks that he discovered the investment potential of the property market.

Gafoor and his army friend used to take a bus along Cavenagh Road. The friend told him how his uncle had made a huge profit of about a quarter of a million dollars by investing in property.

That boggled his mind on how people could build their assets and sparked his lifelong mission to become an entrepreneur. He wanted to make a difference to others by helping them to navigate the real estate trends.

That is why he urges people to look beyond the accolades. “All the rewards and recognition are just a by-product of anyone working passionately with the belief to do greater good for mankind… The key ingredient is discipline and a never-say-die attitude,” he says.

About PropNex

PropNex is Singapore’s largest listed real estate agency group with 11,887 sales professionals as at April 1, 2023. As an integrated real estate services group, PropNex’s key business segments include real estate brokerage, training, property management and real estate consultancy. The group has an established presence in Singapore’s residential market, even as it continues to expand its suite of real estate services in Singapore and grow operations regionally. PropNex already has presence in Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Australia.

About kopi-C: The Company Brew

kopi-C is a regular column that features C-level executives of leading companies listed on SGX. The series is curated by SGX Research in partnership with Beansprout (https:// growbeansprout.com), a MAS-licensed investment advisory platform, and is aimed at helping investors better understand the individuals who run these corporations.

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