Ben Fitzsimons can credit his remarkable life and success in property to a unique education among the rich and famous on white, sandy beaches.
He didn’t go to University, instead he witnessed first-hand the development of Queensland tourism destination, Hamilton Island.
The now famous island was developed by entrepreneur Keith Williams from the mid 1970s, and Ben’s father was his right-hand man.
“As a kid I’d go up there as many times a year in school holidays and bounce around in my Dad’s Buick, and go to all these meetings with engineers and architects and accountants and basically sit in the corner and not say anything, but just instead of playing with pencils or whatever, iPad’s these days, just listen to what was going on,” Ben told Bushy Martin on the Get Invested podcast.
“And then fast forward into my twenties, it dawned on me that I’ve had this amazing education about property development and hospitality and lots of different aspects of property development.”
Ben would also study the most successful people on the island, and wanted to know how they could afford holidays, time off and enviable lifestyles.
“I tried to work out and get my brain to understand that, and just came back to these people who were able to control their own lives, they control their own business, their own investments,” he said.
“They weren’t employees, which was the big takeaway. And so, I decided that going to university was only going to educate me on how to be a good employee, which isn’t what I wanted to do.”
Ben became a friend not only to wildly successful business people, but also the rich and famous.
“My dad had a birthday party as his house once. He’s born on Australia day, so it ended up being quite the party for the island and all the staff and I remember leaning to my left and asking this lady who I didn’t recognize who she was and she came back and, ‘Well, I’m the queen of Denmark.’ And this is on the back deck of my dad’s house having a barbecue,” he said.
“George (Harrison – the Beatles) ended up buying a house on Hamilton Island and whenever he’d come to Adelaide I’d get the phone call from the man and we’d go to the races together and hang out, which looking back is kind of bizarre, because I’m a teenager getting phone calls from someone like that saying ‘I need you to come hang out with me because I don’t want be there by myself’.”
It showed Ben that there really are no limits, especially for those who understand the power of their network.
“One, anything’s possible. Two, ‘no’ is just an opinion and if you don’t ask you’re not going to get,” he said. “People who’ve got influence will want to help people, because they want to demonstrate their influence. It’s just a simplistic human trait.”
Ben threw himself into property in his early twenties, buying in Adelaide’s inner north. In favourable market conditions, he was able to keep buying and rapidly built his portfolio.
It would bring him instant wealth, and hard lessons.
“So, I sold them all, bought the Lotus sports car and thought I was an absolute rock star because ‘look at me, how good am I, I’m 23, 24 years of age driving around in a $50,000 car’,” Ben said.
“And years later you realise what a mistake that was, but I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t make that mistake.”
With a little more wisdom, Ben took to renovating properties, with limited success, then decided to focus on buying old homes, knocking them over, and replacing them with two new homes.
Again he was given another taste of success, but this time he was taught a powerful lesson about cashflow.
“(I) got trapped or bedazzled by making $200,000 or $300,000 a year, but I ended up slitting my own throat to some degree, because I just got rid of all of my cashflow to service the debt,” he said.
“So, then I ended up having to burn two or three properties that I accumulated, that I wish I still owned, because that’s what you end up doing.
“And I just refocused on the early lessons, cashflow is king. It’s not cash, it’s cash flow for me and I got back into cashflow producing properties, which is for me it’s commercial (property).”
This move into commercial property would pay off and become a long-term play for Ben, who soon found that great deals were falling into his lap.
“What happens in the commercial space is it’s probably like anything, agents go and fish where the fish are,” he said.
“So if you’re out there doing deals, that means commission to an agent. If you’re sitting on the sidelines not doing any deals, the agent is probably not going call you and say, ‘hey I’ve got this or I need a tenant here or a building there’ or what not. So, you need to be doing deals, because you’re going to be standing in front of the money truck more often than not.”
Listen to the full interview here.
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