If there is something that motivates Susan Lloyd-Hurwitz (BA(Hons) '89) more than anything, it is people.
“The buildings, the things that we leave behind in our cities directly impact on the quality of people’s lives,” she says. “The reason I love real estate, and have loved it from the beginning, is there’s this very curious mixture of, yes of course, it’s a financial investment, but it’s also a human experience.”
Susan’s fascination with humans and their environment was triggered early in her life. At age twelve, her family sought a new life in Australia, emigrating from England to Asquith in Sydney, nine years after leaving Northern Ireland amid increasing political unrest.
“We emigrated during the winter of discontent, the coal-miners’ strikes and fire-brigade strikes. My parents were 40, they knew not one single person here and they uprooted their family to go all the way round the world in a search of a better life for us. I didn’t understand it at the time but now I do.”
She began studying a Bachelor of Arts-Law at the University of Sydney, but switched to undertake honours in urban geography, “enthralled” by studying humans and their connection with the world.
“I remember studying Centrepoint shopping centre, now Westfield, in the city, looking at the three different levels, what environment they were creating and how people were behaving in those spaces. I look back on it now and think, ‘That’s exactly what I do now’.”
Susan went on to hold senior positions around the globe with LaSalle Investment Management, LendLease Corporation, MGPA and Macquarie Bank, and was appointed Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of the Mirvac Property Group in 2012.
Under her direction, Mirvac has become one of the top 50 companies on the ASX, its stock price growing by almost 60 per cent since 2013. Named the world’s most sustainable real estate company by the Dow Jones Sustainability Index in 2017, Mirvac’s employee engagement has soared from 37 per cent in 2012 to 90 per cent in 2019. It’s no surprise, given her focus on the human experience.
Staff engagement, she says, is “the single most powerful predictor of business performance”. But achieving it is no magic trick.
“If I tell the story now it sounds very neat and very planned and you just execute these things,” she says. “But it’s actually really messy along the way because there are human beings involved. It’s making the best possible work environment and asking, ‘What’s our purpose as a public company?’ It’s not just to make money. It’s far broader and deeper than that.”
As a wife and mother of three children Susan passionately champions work-life balance. More than 75 per cent of Mirvac workers have some kind of flexible work arrangement.
“It’s not spin and it’s not just ‘tick the box’,” she says. “It’s genuine - people’s lives are different, because they can take their dad to chemo on Friday or they can take their kids out to breakfast on Monday, or whatever it is they need to do.”
Refreshingly honest about her own everyday challenges, she admits to nerves during public speaking, the complexities of a dual career family and equal parenting, and “that peculiarly female thing of imposter syndrome”.
She also recalls one powerful lesson about owning your success. A while ago Susan gave a speech, and a woman approached afterwards with feedback.
“She said I had used the words “fortunate”, “blessed”, “serendipitous” and “lucky” more than ten times to describe my career. She asked me to stop doing that.
“I was saying a woman is lucky to be in a position where they have influence. I was thinking I was being humble and I genuinely felt lucky. But it was undermining my, and all the women in the room’s, achievements. I learned a lot that day.”