ON the outside of the building that houses HSR International Realtors, a sign reads 'HSR Property, the #1 real estate group and largest real estate company in Singapore'. Inside the 80,000-square-foot compound in Toa Payoh is a karaoke lounge, games corner, spa, gymnasium, billiard tables, coffee tables and shades dotted around an open area for alfresco dining.
The provision of such elaborate amenities is to remind staff to take a break and achieve work-life balance. 'HSR is not only a workplace to them. It's like a second home or mini country club. They can bring their family members along and enjoy our facilities,' says the company's CEO, Patrick Liew.
A winner of the Enterprise 50 Award last year, HSR was founded as Hap Seng Realty by Lau Gek Poh and Helen Lau, with Kellie Lim the first executive director. It was renamed HSR in 1992.
Apart from the recreational facilities, the HSR building houses various subsidiaries which together provide a one-stop solution for real estate advisers and clients. For example, HSR advisers can print their flyers at the printing company while HSR clients can use interior design company Paxel to beautify their properties - all on the premises.
The focus on staff is pertinent in an industry where it is common for agents to switch to competing companies. This was exactly what caused HSR to hit a low in 2002-2003.
'Our management team left suddenly, and it dawned on us that for a company to flourish it is important to have people who have a sense of belonging and loyalty,' says Mr Liew. 'We are not just property agents. We see ourselves as advisers, providing the best advice for our clients. That is why we strive to provide the best for our staff. If we sincerely mean well, they will stay with us. It's not just about profits - it's about creating a better life for our people, and that will make them want to contribute.'
This strategy contributed to a six-fold increase in sales between 2004 and 2007 to $300 million. In 2007, the group netted a profit of some $5 million. According to the company, it has 41 per cent of the private resale markets - residential, commercial and industrial - and 36 per cent of the HDB resale market.
Other than a conducive environment, HSR is big on getting the best out of its people through education. Advisers can choose from a range of more than 30 courses. 'We see every one of our people as an F1 racing car,' says Mr Liew. 'Our job is to create a championship track for these racing cars to move further and faster.'
Staff with top sales records undergo in-house training courses to be recognised as trainers. And through training, they share their rich sales experience with fellow advisers.
All HSR advisers have to go through a continuous 20-hour boot camp. Beyond this, each can choose to sign up for other HSR courses that interest them. Courses are revised regularly, depending on the market conditions. 'When the market was booming, we set up leadership courses to help our advisers lead their teams better,' says Mr Liew. 'When the market is down, we set up negotiation courses to help our advisers work with clients to close their deals more readily.
One of our goals is to make sure our advisers attend at least six hours' training per week.'
HSR's training is backed up by a guaranteed income plan. 'If our advisers are not performing well, it means that we have not done a good job coaching them and we will compensate them,' Mr Liew says. 'We put our money where our mouth is.'
Besides courses, HSR has created an award-winning SMART Plus technology system to assist its advisers. This is a Web-based sales management system that allows advisers to match suitable buyers with sellers, and facilitates course enrolment and in-house communications. HSR says it is the only player in the industry that has implemented such a system. Human error in transactions has been minimised, while transaction processing has accelerated. The SMART Plus system also makes it quick and easy to monitor and assess the sales performance of the company's 8,000-plus advisers.
Advisers are also kept in the company loop through a monthly letter. As a part of its philosophy, HSR takes pride in its corporate social responsibility initiatives.
In 2007, it raised $50,000 by organising Glass-a-thon, when a record was set for the most number of people walking on broken glass. Some 521 HSR advisers created another national record by breaking arrows on their throats to help raise money for the President's Charity Challenge.
All HSR advisers are also given three days' additional leave to do charity work. Besides enhancing HSR's efforts to give back to society, this helps bond HSR advisers with one and the company.
In the midst of recent public frustration over dodgy real estate practices, HSR was very much unfazed.
'Every HSR adviser carries a Code of Honour with them everywhere they go. They recite it every time before a meeting or training course starts. Our advisers want to promote and protect our client's best interest in whatever they do,' says Mr Liew. The golden rule in the code is: 'I will do to others what I want others to do to me. I will not do to others what I do not want others to do to me.'
Mr Liew speaks plainly: 'If an unethical adviser breaches this code, we will not hesitate to turn them in to the authorities.'
The writers are students of the NUS Business School
Source: Business Times, 28 July 2009