Meet HIA's National President

Simon Norris talks about how he joined the home building industry, what keeps him going, and his plans for his two-year HIA presidency term.

Author

Laura Valic

Simon Norris
Simon Norris, HIA National President, addresses the crowd at the 2019 HIA–CSR Australian Housing Awards.

Simon Norris won’t easily forget the time he got hooked in his youth – literally line and sinker – while night surfing one Easter with friends at Kennett River on the Great Ocean Road. 

‘It was pretty cloudy, and I didn’t know there were a couple of rock fishermen off the reef. One of them landed his hook in the back of my wet suit and was trying to reel me in,’ he recalls. ‘He must’ve thought he was catching the biggest fish of all time!’ 

The HIA National President developed a lifelong passion for surfing while growing up in Victoria in the 1970s. It was an interest that led him along the east coast of Australia after graduating from university with an economics degree and property valuations diploma under his belt. Following six years of intensive study, adventure and a warmer climate beckoned. 

‘I felt like having my belated gap year, so I jumped in a combi van with some mates and headed north on a working and surfing holiday. We landed in Queensland and I never returned,’ Simon says. 

It was 1979 and the sunshine state was in the midst of high-growth activity, particularly in the south east. He was part of a wave of interstate migration chasing jobs, and a sun and sea lifestyle.

‘My father used to say Queensland was the land of opportunity. He could see back then it was like a boom state – and it has been,’ Simon says.

Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t long until he landed a graduate management role at ANZ bank, located first in Brisbane and then the Gold Coast where he was living. It was this move that put him in the way of a job opening that would change his career direction entirely. 

‘One of my work colleagues said her father was looking for a commercial manager at AV Jennings so I went and had a coffee with them,’ Simon explains. ‘I was sitting in the foyer and it struck me that everyone was walking at about twice the speed of the people at the bank, and I thought, “There’s a bit of energy here.”’ 

You might say he got hooked line and sinker once again because three decades after that fateful interview he hasn’t yet moved on from the home building industry.

‘They were a fabulous business to learn from,’ Simon says. ‘Working in a regional business unit like the Gold Coast, and the northern Rivers region which it covered, exposed me to all the different types of jobs you do in a housing business, from customer service to sales management, building and administration.’ 

It’s evident Simon values loyalty, and once earned, will offer his. For 14 years he happily worked for AV Jennings, thriving in a dynamic ‘market leading’ company and experiencing immense job satisfaction from ‘delivering people’s homes’.

‘It’s hard to beat the look on a home buyer’s face when their finance manager is telling them their loan has been approved and their dream is going to come true,’ he says.

So, it took the chance to work on a once in a lifetime project to lure him away. Headhunted by development and building company Mirvac, Simon was approached to establish and run the sales and marketing team for the Sydney Olympic Games’ athlete’s village, which was actually the development of a new suburb – Newington – in the geographic centre of the city. The job however would require uprooting his family from their comfortable Gold Coast lifestyle.

‘When we moved to Sydney my wife Kerry was crying on the plane because she didn’t want to leave. Then when we came back she was crying on the plane because she didn’t want to leave Sydney,’ he laughs. ‘It was a great three years for us.’

Simon says despite the steep learning curve – he was once asked by the managing director to present at a conference on marketing ESD (ecologically sustainable development) though had never before heard the term – the experience was a definite career highlight.

‘The project had a strong environmental base of credentials. By the time we opened the village, Greenpeace was calling it the world’s most environmentally-friendly suburb, and at the time it was the world’s largest solar-powered development.’ 

Scott Cam, Glen Simpkin, Simon Norris
Simon Norris (right) with HIA Ambassador Scott Cam (left) and Glenn Simpkin, Holcim at the HIA 2019 National Conference.
HIA National Board
HIA National Board (back row L-R): Shane Goodwin, Debbie Johnson, Graham Wolfe, Cathy Inglis, Alwyn Even, Greg Elsworthy. (Front row): Ian Hazan, David Linaker, Simon Norris, Pino Monaco and Bruce Robb.

When the games were over, Simon returned to Queensland to lead the land and housing delivery teams for Mirvac in Queensland, a big responsibility given the company’s work book subsequently grew to ‘approaching $2 billion worth of project revenues in their entirety’.

‘Some projects were all architect-designed product which was unique for volume residential housing,’ he says. ‘From my experience, Mirvac was one of the earliest to refine what you’d call a “fully integrated delivery process” and most, if not all the functions of housing delivery, were internalised within the business.’ 

Simon stayed with Mirvac for 12 years; a big drawcard was working for its founder and industry legend, Bob Hamilton in the first three years in Sydney. ‘It’s hard to think there’d be any better person to learn from or to see how excellence is achieved,’ he says. ‘If you get into the right businesses you end up staying there simply because there are good people around you.’ 

In recent times Simon thought he’d begin to wind down, especially since his three adult children have now flown the nest, but as he points out, ‘once the industry gets in your blood, it’s hard to leave’. 

And while he does make time to fine-tune his golfing game or paddle out at Mermaid Beach, today he juggles consultancy work, owning a self-storage business with a business partner, and managing his increasing commitment to HIA.

‘I never thought I’d end up in this role at HIA, it’s pretty humbling,’ he says. ‘I want to spend my two years as president assisting the organisation and Managing Director to continue to service HIA members and the industry.’

Finding innovative ways to reduce the complexity around planning and development approvals is an area he is particularly passionate about: ‘At the end of the day home buyers end up paying more than is needed for new dwellings in Australia and I’m driven by how we can do it better.’

 

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