04 Jun 2019
Words ResortBrokers Informer Issue 94
Carl Wu: Trailblazer for Chinese Building Managers
So often, the stories of immigrants to Australia are both humbling and heartening. They remind us how much can be achieved from so little when you pursue opportunity with optimism, tenacity and hard work. In the case of Chinese management rights trailblazer Carl Wu, success is also built on another important quality – generosity.
Carl Wu came to Australia as a student in 1989. Well educated, he had been a chemical and mechanical engineer in China for three years. But he was shocked by the turmoil unfolding in his home country.
This was the year of much unrest leading to the Tiananmen Square ‘incident’, when protests and demonstrations by students and others culminated in the now infamous brutal government crackdown, or as most in the west would term it, massacre.
Carl, determined to find a secure and better life overseas, was one of the lucky ones (he was studying English here at the time) to find refuge when Prime Minister Bob Hawke granted thousands of Chinese students permanent residency in the wake of that horror.
But Carl was only able to study English for five short weeks before he was forced to find a job to support himself. He’d arrived with only a suitcase and a few hundred dollars.
“My first night in Australia was spent sharing a room with another Chinese student at the back of a shop in (Brisbane suburb) New Farm,” he recalls. “There were no beds, so I slept on the bare cement floor with no mattress.”
As was common, his first job in Australia was as a kitchen hand in a Chinese restaurant. But, after a few weeks, a friend from his Chinese hometown arranged a cleaning job for him at the Wintergarden shopping centre in Brisbane’s Queen Street Mall.
Carl worked from 11.00pm to 5.30am cleaning. Then he took a second job in a furniture factory from 7.00am to 3.30pm, working 15 hours a day to get ahead. Steadily, he built his resources.
In 1994, Carl married a Chinese girl and, by 1996, she was able to join him in Australia. That same year, he established his own furniture manufacturing business, Golden Cabinet & Pine, which produced timber cabinets for supply to retail outlets.
Prosperity followed, though manufacturing in Australia was proving too costly. So, in 2000, he moved his manufacturing facility to China, from where he was able to ship furniture to major Australian chain stores, including Harvey Norman and Amart, Carl also opened his own retail store along with a furniture wholesale warehouse. But, just when the future for his young family (which now included a son born in 1999) was looking secure, along came the GFC.
It was a significant setback. He sold his manufacturing facility in China and started a new shop fitting and home renovation business in Brisbane. It did well, but Carl was back to working day and night to meet demanding shop fit-out deadlines.
Once he worked his way up again to a position where he could invest in new opportunities, Carl identified the management rights industry as offering a secure path with growth potential.
In 2014, he bought his first management rights business, a 62-unit permanent townhouse complex in Mango Hill on Brisbane’s northern fringe. And it was while undertaking the required residential letting agent course that he met fellow Chinese immigrants in the building management business.
“These were the early days of Chinese operators, and they were not always well accepted,” Carl says. “The managers I met spoke of difficulties with discrimination, outside letting agents deliberately targeting the letting pools of Chinese managers to erode their businesses, even industry bullying.”
Carl felt a strong obligation to stand up against it, to unite Chinese managers with a common voice.
With his encouragement, a group of seven managers contributed $3,000 each to launch the Australian Property Management Alliance (APMA) with the goals of:
- uniting Chinese managers to counter competition from outside agents,
- building positive relationships with strata managers, and
- gaining the benefit of group buying power to drive down costs for all members.
“APMA started in 2014 with just 25 members and now there are more than 1,200 members achieving these aims and enjoying the benefits of group buying power,” he says.
As president of APMA, Carl makes himself available day and night to help Chinese managers via WeChat, phone and email, through articles, and at regular gatherings and seminars. His is a strong and reassuring voice both within and on behalf of the community.
APMA helps connect managers to specialist industry suppliers, professional consultants and service providers. It represents Chinese managers in organisations such as the Australian Resident Accommodation Managers Association (ARAMA) and Australian Building Management Accreditation (ABMA) organisation.
It also promotes industry advancement through education and political and government advocacy.
“We foster and build strong relationships with the major political parties through community groups and we lobby government and regulators for improvement to the Property Act for the benefit of all management rights owners,” Carl says.
He now owns three management rights on Brisbane’s north side, having added a 48-apartment building in seaside Margate and another permanent townhouse complex of 21 units at Dakabin to his portfolio. And his passion for both the industry and his Chinese community are clear.
Carl now sits on the ABMA Building Code Review Panel, representing APMA member interests, and is an ARAMA committee member in Brisbane.
“I deeply appreciate the start that I was given by the people who helped me when I first arrived in Brisbane in 1989, and I want to give back to both the management rights industry and the wider community,” he says.
Back then, the opportunity to move and contribute to a new country was not a possibility for most of his compatriots. But things have changed.
“Many young Chinese can now choose to go overseas to upgrade their academic certificate or directly seek out opportunities to live in western countries,” Carl says.
“They arrive with family financial backing and migrants are often the only child of two families. They wish to invest and settle in western countries such as America, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.”
Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why Carl is so highly motivated and committed. He is passionate about teaching more students and passing on his industry and life experiences to today’s generation of immigrants.
“Management rights businesses are safe, secure businesses with less rsk, steady income and flexible working hours.” He firmly believes in the adage: give = gain. So the giving continues.
Most recently, Carl has established the Brisbane North Chinese Association and Multi-Cultural Queensland organisation, with a mission to unite people of Chinese origins and those of other cultural backgrounds, with a view to opening up more business, community and social opportunities.
And he is also heavily involved in not-for-profit community organisations helping new migrants coming to Australia, and now particularly those people who are seeking asylum protection and refugee status.