When you ask Raynuha Sinnathamby what defines the family business she replies without hesitation. “We never give up. And if you don’t have that mindset you don’t fit into our organisation very well.” A petite woman, she speaks in a soft voice that belies a sharp intellect and a will of steel.
Just like her father, Raynuha is unfazed by obstacles and in that respect she is definitely a chip off the old block. She honed her tenacious business skills by starting her career as a property lawyer.
“Playing a legal role teaches you problem-solving abilities. Nothing that we’ve ever done in Springfield results from a rule book that says ‘this is how you build a master planned development’. It’s been thinking outside the square, being faced with a problem or a challenge and having to find a solution for that. I think that is probably the biggest asset I’ve brought to the company,” she says.
Raynuha liked working as a lawyer and was doing well so it wasn’t until her father tapped her on the shoulder in 2003, when she was aged 28, that she even considered working with him.
“At that time dad wasn’t very well and he said ‘look, why don’t you just come and try it for a year and see how you find it and then just make up your own mind’ and when you’re still in your twenties I thought it doesn’t really matter with timelines. By the time I came over I just never looked back because of the whole range of opportunities that you get at Springfield are unique.”
“It was a smooth transition and while we had external lawyers as well, I was able to come to grips with the different structures of the projects pretty quickly and use that knowledge to help us leverage to build better agreements for the organisation. Some of our key partnership infrastructure agreements I played a role in helping to negotiate.”
Working with her dad is a vastly different experience from working as a corporate lawyer. Raynuha says she works hard at behaving like any other employee.
“If that means you stay back late, then you do what is expected of everyone else. I wanted to set the example but also ensure that I don’t receive any special treatment or favouritism and that’s how I’ve conducted myself in the organisation.”
The Sinnathamby’s had a number of projects happening around Queensland in the early days of Springfield but once they could see how much time the development was taking up they bit the bullet, let everything else go and moved out of their inner city offices and relocated to the site in the State’s Western Corridor, the fastest growing region in Queensland. Greater Springfield is spread across 2,860 hectares and has been cleverly planned to be a fully independent city.
According to the promotional write-up the urban development is ‘a place where people can live, learn, work and play’. It has its own education city and health city and is underpinned by world class technology.
“We realised what a mammoth task Springfield was and we just rebuilt the organisation around that. The residential was the first to take off and we then did the deal with Delfin in 1999. We were very much cutting up the blocks of land ourselves and selling them and we never really got out of that business until we built the golf course,” Raynuha says.
“Once we built the golf course we decided to project manage that whole thing ourselves and for about two years we were actually out of residential development. Then we got back into it and really why we got back into it was because of Brookwater, which we didn’t want to hand over to anyone else,” Raynuha remembers the early days fondly when there were just 11 employees.
“I just took it all in my stride. Because we were such a small staff we basically did whatever had to be done and so dad got me involved in many other areas which we just took up and ran with.”
“We certainly had a joint venture partner at the time but Brookwater was setting a benchmark in terms of living, in terms of prestige goals and in terms of price point and so we wanted to control that because it affected the rest of our development.
“We had to pick up the skills as we went along because we had never built a golf course before and so we had to, I guess, steel ourselves up in that area but also bring in expertise that could assist us with delivering a Greg Norman-designed world class course.”
This practical, get on with it attitude clearly works for the Sinnathamby family and is a tactic often repeated.
“We built an education city and none of us had built an education city before and so bringing in expertise when we needed it plus using our own nous and general commercial skills to make sure that one; we keep our head above water at all times, two; we keep our debts very low as an organisation and three;we can still deliver world class facilities in Springfield.” Raynuha says this gives the business peace of mind.
“Every bit we add to the project, even if it’s less profitable, does add value to the whole community at large and to the land holding at large. You just keep chipping away, you’ve got this master plan and you’ve just got to deliver it.”
Now 110 people are employed by Springfield Land Corporation and Raynuha says the secret to the success is never giving up on a decision even when challenges are thrown in your path. The heart of the project is the Greater Springfield CBD. At 320 hectares, the land area is twice the size of the State’s capital, the Brisbane CBD.
“Our focus over the next 12 months is to deliver our job target of one job for every three of our residents. So we have a very strong focus on the style of our project being designated a Commercial Business District and making sure we deliver that CBD status.
You just keep going at it until the end,” she says relentlessly.
This dogged determination saw Greater Springfield recently win the coveted Urban Development Industry Association (UDIA) President’s Award in addition to a category award. The family is very pleased with this acknowledgement.
The project at inception was called Springfield because it was adjacent to an area named Spring Mountain. The Sinnathamby family are not mountain climbers but this project could be seen as their own personal Everest.
“We will now use the UDIA’s recognition to help us convince more businesses and people to call Greater Springfield home. Other developments may claim to be ‘master planned’ to suit their marketing brochures, but there is really only one master planned city and that is Greater Springfield,” she says with pride. “There is nothing like Greater Springfield in the whole of Australia and we are so glad the judges recognised that. Our biggest challenge and our biggest success is making people believe.”