After 6 years of appearing regularly on Money News, Aussie founder and Executive Chairman John Symond, has made a life change and moved to London. We wish you the best Johnny!
Introduction: Aussie John Symond, Thanks for 6 years
Ross Greenwood: For John Symond who is the founding chairman and also the creator of the Aussie Home Loans Group, life was not always easy. He’s one of Australia’s wealthiest men now. He’s pretty much remaining as the chairman of Aussie Home Loans, but he’s also going to put it straight up a little bit more, and I thought of getting him on because this is Work, Life, Money. I’ll tell you about the work, the life, and the money of John Symond. He’s on the line right now. Hello John, how are you?
Interview: John Symond, Founding Chairmain of Aussie Home Loans Group
John Symond: I’m great, thank you Ross.
Ross Greenwood: Can I first ask you, where is Crookwell in New South Wales?
John Symond: Crookwell is about 45 minutes south of Goulburn, small country town, population a thousand, it’s quite remote, and it has very, very cold winters. I recall my mum used to say she used to shrivel up whenever you mention Goulburn, but that’s where my dad with his parents came, Lebanese Christians, dad was only four. When they came to Australia, my grandfather, he came out before bringing dad and dad’s mum out. That’s what migrants did, established himself, get a couple of hunger quid, he was a skin dealer, a hawker, and a caffeine Crookwell did everything necessary to put food on the table and afford to bring his children and wife out to Australia, and Crookwell was it.
Ross Greenwood: This is the amazing part about this. You grew up one of seven children, I understand, in Crookwell in New South– But it wasn’t just Crookwell, because you also spent a lot of time in Brisbane as well, didn’t you? How did the family move from Crookwell in New South Wales, a little country town in to Brisbane?
John Symond: Mum came out with her parents, again Lebanese Christians. Mum was only five, and they ended up being to Sinai, north of New South Wales country town and mum’s family end up moving to Brisbane. Mum’s family was Brisbane-based, dad’s was Sydney-based, and they take it in terms of warning to be near their families, so we went from Sydney to Brisbane, to Sydney to Brisbane back to Sydney.
That’s what we used to do when mum and dad would just open a little green grocer store, build it up, sell it like a few hundred quid, we’d all hop on the back of the food truck, my older brother and sister in those days moved to another suburb, build up a green grocer. We always lived either on top of the shop or the back of the shop, come home from school, we’re around to 10, 11, 12. We go straight to the back of the shop after school, weigh up the pay days, polish the apples, help mum and dad.
Ross Greenwood: What age were you when you started working you reckon?
John Symond: 10, and we used to man the shop on Saturdays and Sundays, we’re taking in turns, and even though I didn’t realize that as a kid, we never had a whole day ever, but I didn’t know what a whole day was, and neither did any other friends. We were just working class and that was our life.
Ross Greenwood: All right, sounds like as you moved around a bit, you would have gone to a few schools. How many schools were there?
John Symond: 11 schools, Ross.
Ross Greenwood: 11.
John Symond: It wasn’t just moving at the end of the year. We would move any month of the year, whatever was the circumstances of mum and dad, selling the green grocer and buying a new one, hop on the back of the food truck with the fridge and the washing machine and the lounge. We didn’t have a car, couldn’t afford that, and we just kept moving and that’s what we did. But as a youngster, I didn’t realize as a 10, 12, 13-year old I was learning to embrace change, look after customers in the shop. As mum always said, “Smart Johnny, we want the customers to come back, really look after them”, and the work ethic that my dad showed and the integrity, all those important traits helped me in life a lot.
Ross Greenwood: It seems as though someone in the family was absolutely hell-bent on getting you educated. Because you did go right the way through high school, didn’t you?
John Symond: Yes, and on the Uni. Mum and dad never went past probably second or third class, and this is in the 1920’s Ross, they couldn’t continue school because they had to help their respective parents, rise their brothers and sisters and work because they had to help put food on the table, and that was their priority.
Ross Greenwood: Where was the whole issue there with you and your brothers and sisters getting through school and going to university?
John Symond: My parents, particularly dad, he always knew that an education was really, really important and they just worked for their kids, worked to make sure we got a good education, and even though they couldn’t help me or my brothers and sisters with homework, they would know that you had to do it, because education was paramount. I say to people I went to 11 schools, two universities, but my best education was from my two parents who had very, very little form of education.
Ross Greenwood: Where did you formally study in university?
John Symond: Sydney Uni and New South Wales. I suppose I wasted a few years doing art, and then I switched and I even did a year or two of dentistry [laughs], I hated that.
Ross Greenwood: Oh really? Seriously? You could have been a dentist, for goodness’ sakes.
John Symond: My mates were doing it. They’d always wanted me to be a doctor. I knew I didn’t have the academic ability to study medicine, but if you went in and did well in the first year of dentistry, you could switch to medicine.
Ross Greenwood: [laughs]
John Symond: I ended up doing what I wanted to do, and I went and did my solicitor’s admission board which was law part-time at Sydney Uni whilst I got my job as a young articled law clerk, and that’s when I latched on to financing people into their homes, I loved it, I love property and I love finance, and that really catapulted me into that space.
Ross Greenwood: You were one of Australia’s very first mortgage brokers, I know this, and it’s well documented. You and I have spoken about the situation of the economic crisis when the State Bank of South Australia went broke in the 1980’s, and that really brought your business at that stage to its knees as well, but that negative situation at that time almost created what is now Aussie Home Loans. I meant that’s where it came from, didn’t it?
John Symond: If it didn’t happen and I was facing bankruptcy, my marriage didn’t survive, credit is not at the end of the door, and the fact that I was treated so badly by the bank and its receivers, the State Bank, which was owned by the State Government of South Australia. I was naive, I never thought that I would go bust but they did, and the treatment that they put me through me. Lies, deception, unfairness, made me realize that thousands of Australians were going through terrible, terrible circumstances, being sold up, kicked out of their homes, and it made me very sensitive to the need to change.
If that didn’t happen, Aussie would never been born because I didn’t have a vision or a strategy, I was hell-bent on trying to change the system. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, I was broke, I had no money, I was facing bankruptcy, didn’t go bankrupt but was as good as bankrupt, and really it’s the old story. It takes a storm to create a rainbow, and if I hadn’t gone through all those terrible life experiences, Aussie would never been born because in 1992, there were no home loan finance brokers, there was no non-bank lenders, and you had to be a deposit taker to get funding to lend out.
Of course the banks were complacent, knew I was in financial trouble, knew I wasn’t a deposit taker. Unfortunately for me, I was complacent and I was left to survive, and then I partnered in the second year with Macquarie Bank and we were the first to go and tap the global credit markets to overcome the deposit taking, and we kept global financiers and introduced securitization which put billions of dollars into Australia at 3% cheaper than what the banks were gouging people with, and mums and dads in suburbia got the benefit of the 3% reduction, and it changed everything.
That was copied by RAMS, and then Wizard, then a whole industry was born and I feel very proud that I had a great, and still have a great team who supported me, shared my vision, and went out there to give consumers a fair go, and it’s like a miracle, Ross. Quite a miracle.
Ross Greenwood: It really is. One last question for you. Over a period of time, this success of the business has created enormous wealth for you personally. There’s no doubt about that. How do you reconcile that with the kid who was working for his mum and dad in the fruit shop? Because the one thing I would know, having known you for a long time, is you are down to earth, you can approach and chat with anybody around the place. How do you reconcile that with the young fellow at teens, sweeping out the back of the fruit and veggie shop?
John Symond: I just spoke few minutes ago to a young lady saying, “Look, I said, I’m old-fashioned, I grew up with no money, our parents had no money, but my biggest advantage was growing up in true working class Australia, understanding the plight and the difficulties the average suburban families go through, going nearly bankrupt, being treated badly, having to sell off my home and everything else, going through a failed marriage. It makes me appreciate today, it makes me appreciate the money, it makes me appreciate the good things in life, it makes me appreciate what a great country Australia is.”
Ross Greenwood: I’ll tell you what. The executive chairman of the Aussie Home Loans Group, and a great story there of success, coming from very humble beginnings. It’s a terrific Australian story and John Symond, you’ve been a mate for a long, long time, but I really appreciate your story today.
John Symond: Thank you Ross.
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