Davide Bini: The Benefits of Testing Your Limits
Construction in Melbourne, corporate finance in London and Melbourne, commercial broking in Sydney, and property finance with Dorado. In his spare time: marathons, Ironmans, and a law degree. If you can name it, Director – Property Davide Bini has tried it. What inspires him to keep exploring?
Alright, so. What was your experience before starting with Dorado?
The chronology dates back to last century.
I did a construction management degree. When I came out of university in Melbourne I went straight into work for Multiplex, and I was with them for about five years on their cadet program, rotating around all the functionalities within the construction business, from estimating to on site construction management and business development.
At one stage I decided that the construction business was too much like hard work. I was in my early twenties, working six days a week, starting at 7am, finishing at 6pm at wherever they decided to put me. For example for eighteen months I worked on a site that was an hour’s drive from my home, so I was starting at 6am… I don’t know who would be that masochistic to do that so young.
So I volunteered to go on their business development rotation and decided to do an MBA at Melbourne Business School at the same time. Halfway through, I decided I needed to do it full time to take full advantage of the networking opportunities in the Masters program, so I went to finish business school full time at London Business School after some time studying in Italy then spent a couple of years on London having made my way out of construction and into finance; I was an Lead Advisory executive within Ernst & Young’s corporate finance business for a couple of years, which was giving corporate finance advice and structuring capital raisings for mid cap corporates across Europe.
How did you find yourself back in Australia?
After two years in London, the weather got to me and I came back to Australia. The first interesting role that came up was straight into banking with NAB in Sydney; that’s why I moved to Sydney specifically. NAB had a program where they wanted to expand the skillset of all their bankers; having a construction background, I was one of five non-traditional property bankers they brought in.
After two years with NAB I was poached by CBA to start up their commercial broking business, which was 95% property, within Corporate Financial Services, so it covered everything from SME to Institutional clients and property opportunities. That’s what was interesting about it I think; it didn’t just cover one segment of the industry.
After three or four years I joined Ash Morgan Winthrop. If you could pick the day the GFC happened, I joined them one week prior, and I was there for about a year to run their property finance business in NSW.
I returned to CBA after the GFC chaos had subsided a little and ran Commonwealth Private in Melbourne for about two years while still living in Sydney, so I commuted on Monday, came back Friday each week.
Very often finance doesn’t take you through from day 0 to completion, but it takes you from day 5.
Why not move to Melbourne?
I went back to CBA via an old colleague giving me an opportunity, and there was no intention of staying in Melbourne long-term. Just as I announced that I wanted to come back, they got me a role in Sydney. When they moved out of their role, the new guy that came in to run corporate CBA restructured things and my role no longer existed.
So I left CBA, and the next step was running the ultra-high net worth set with St George Private in Sydney. I spent three years doing that before I moved back into corporate property finance at St George for another three years. Then I joined Dorado!
So you studied in construction and then stayed closely tied to property throughout your career; what is it about property that draws you in?
I went into construction because I had this very concrete view that I wanted to be able to see, touch, drive past something I contributed to… to show it off, I guess.
I think that was a bit naïve, because that’s not why you should be doing what you do. That’s one aspect of it only.
The reason I moved into finance was that I realised I wasn’t terribly intellectually challenged in construction at the time.
Do you find you still get a similar reaction now, having funded a development?
It’s actually better. My original view gave me the idea that you’re involved from the day that you dig dirt, without understanding there’s a hell of a lot that goes on before that.
When you finance property you get to see that “hell of a lot of stuff”. Very often finance doesn’t take you through from day 0 to completion, but it takes you from day 5. I get a bit more out of it.
My one and only experience doing it made me gun-shy, so probably not again.
So why did you go towards a smaller lender instead of another big bank in your latest move?
There’s a number of reasons. For a long time, I had to battle the unproductive side of a bank. That was getting harder and harder. Coupled with that was having no control whatsoever; I was becoming a post-box. Essentially everything you’re doing, you don’t have any true value to add along that chain.
In a smaller business, you can take a far more commercial approach to things, which allows for far more input that directly affects what you’re structuring. I wouldn’t say there’s necessarily less politics, but you also have a better view about what the politics are and it’s easier to navigate when you’ve got better visibility.
Did you have, or would you ever want to have, experience running a business?
Yes I did; I had an involvement in a small start-up quite a while ago, where I put some trust in the wrong people, so it burnt me financially. I always wanted to, that was part of the reason for doing an MBA, but I think my one and only experience doing it made me gun-shy, so probably not again.
There’s an absolute view for me that collectively, if I let something drop, I let it drop for all of those people.
So, as a company Dorado adopts technology early on rather than being on the backfoot. Do you find you’re the same, or was that something you had to work on?
Nah I’m pretty similar. Maybe subconsciously that was an attraction of Dorado; that it could be so nimble to adopt new technologies into the process so early on.
I think just naturally I’ve always gravitated towards it. The small start-up I got involved in was nothing to do with property; it was in mobile self-storage, and I got involved in that because it was technologically driven insofar as it was a clever innovation.
Is that what drew your interest towards it?
Yeah, to an extent. It wasn’t highly technical, but it was trying to capture value out of digital advancements in how people did business.
Could a business survive if it didn’t adopt technology early on now?
Look, there’s plenty of traditional businesses that can continue doing what they’re doing without adopting technology because they’ve built up brand equity, but you’d be pretty lucky if you didn’t want to adopt technology and kept your business buoyant now.
Thinking of your work, what is it that gets you up in the morning?
It’s gonna sound cliché but, doing a deal, you know? Concluding something. That’s when I get focused.
I know naturally, psychologically, the process is something I have to work on versus the output, which I naturally crave. I’m heavily skewed towards wanting the output and not caring about the process. I’m very cognisant of that.
So I know that’s what gets me out of bed, but the other thing is, when you start a project you have so many people that are drawing value out of what you’re doing; consultants, developers, Dorado itself, Dorado’s investors, all the rest of it. There’s an absolute view for me that collectively, if I let something drop, I let it drop for all of those people.
I wanted to do construction because I wanted to be able to see, feel, touch what I was producing. That’s the same here.
It’s often a long process from finding a project to getting to the end goal. Knowing that you’re very ‘end-focused’, do you find it hard to get through that?
I wouldn’t say hard, but if there’s impatience that’s where it is. I get impatient if the final few hurdles draw things out. But part of dealing with that is knowing that it happens.
The other part of it is that with experience comes knowing that when you have things heading down a critical path, you have milestones, and those milestones become an output for me. So hitting a milestone gets me excited.
So do you set yourself a lot of goals to get that continued motivation and excitement?
I used to. I think it’s now become a bit natural so it’s less formalised. I used to write my own personal business plans that included driving an outcome, for the business and for myself, and I used to do that voluntarily. Often no one would see it but me.
Were these summaries, or were they extensive?
Oh they were reasonably extensive, but they were a way for me to contextualise what I was doing day by day and not forget why I was doing what I was doing.
That’s quite a disciplined process to keep up.
It can be. But it’s easy to be black and white about it when you’re in a sales environment. If you’re in a cost-centre, like marketing for example, it’s a bit fuzzier. I could sit there in sales and go, “I will do X deals and get X outcome”; you guys can’t do that, and that makes things trickier.
When I was younger that’s what drew me away from law because I’m a contrarian, I wanted nothing to do with it because they all did it.
Do you still do the business plans?
Because now I’m used to it, it comes naturally. It all goes back to this emotional ‘tactileness’. I wanted to do construction because I wanted to be able to see, feel, touch what I was producing.
That’s the same here. I’m in a front-line sales role because I can see my results: there’s the bottom dollar, right? If I was in marketing or accounts, it would drive me crazy because you can’t say, here’s my final result, without subjectivity; you can’t see what you’re producing. I need that black and white view.
You’re still studying now, in law, which is a very different area to your role, but is also very tactile in terms of outcome. Is that part of why you chose it?
My brother, sister, and dad are all lawyers. So that’s the first thing. When I was younger that’s what drew me away from law because I’m a contrarian, I wanted nothing to do with it because they all did it. Now I’m probably just more mature and I don’t need to be contrary to my family just for the sake of it.
But I also took the view that what I do as a profession, law will never be of no value to me. There’s value in what I’m doing in my study no matter what, but it’s not always front-of-mind in terms of what I should be focusing on. And I don’t prioritise it; I’m doing this reasonably progressively and slowly so it’s when I want to do it. It’s online, so that I can wake up at 2 a.m. if I’m not sleeping and study, rather than having to take away from what I do at work. But overall, it’s just intellectual curiosity.
So it’s kind of just to expand your own experience?
My best friend at school is an architect who, about ten years ago decided to do some study just for intellectual stimulus, so he went and studied astrophysics. Now, he failed first year, but the very fact that he was just wanting to expand his own knowledge base… he and I are good friends because we are similar in that way.
I’m not a scientist, and I’d never do astrophysics; it’s just down to… I get bored pretty easily. Part of what I do at Dorado is juggling multiple projects, and I think I handle it well. I’m able to go through three or four projects simultaneously at different stages, and that keeps me interested. It’s not right for some people, but it’s right for me.
I came back to work with a genuine sense of panic and dread before I even walked in the door wondering what the hell I was going to be hit with.
It’s like a different version of what Dave Giles does; getting involved in lots of different projects and hobbies so that he has a lot of different aspects to focus on, not just singularly on work.
Yeah, no I’m pretty similar. So I’m part of my surf club and help patrol there, and that’s another outlet for me.
So do you ascribe to the ‘work life balance’ ideal, or do you integrate things a bit more like Tim?
If I ever had to have a discussion with somebody about the hours I’m working, it would be hard for me to describe it. I’m often not there 9-5, but maybe 7-4, and then on the phone on the way home and checking emails at home for a bit. In this role you have to be available at all times, and I actually really like that.
I deliberately went on holiday for two or three weeks a number of years ago and turned off any ability for people to contact me from work.
How’d you find it?
I hated it. Hated it. I came back to work with a genuine sense of panic and dread before I even walked in the door wondering what the hell I was going to be hit with. And I was hit with a lot!
You can be proud of big achievements and that pride might last years, but the proudest single moment where I got the biggest chemical rush from my own achievement was crossing that line. I don’t even remember it, but apparently, I just screamed.
So you’d have rather been tapped in with work?
Yeah absolutely. If someone tells me, “we need you do go away and have a break and de-stress”, I’d tell them, “well you’re doing the opposite by not letting me do that”. I’ll stress more if I don’t have that opportunity.
There seems to be a pretty balanced split at Dorado of people that prefer integrated working and those that prefer the balance.
I don’t think you can do it in my role. I’m not charged with sitting down and working for hours on a model, which means shutting yourself away and concentrating to get it done. I actually can’t do that. One of the worst things for me this week was submitting a few assignments for my studies: one was a long essay and one was a short exam.
Well the quick exam was awesome, I thought, “I only need to concentrate fully on this for an hour and then it’s done”, and I blew it out of the water. The long essay? I’ll be lucky to pass. I procrastinated so much that I handed it in late, because I didn’t want to do it.
I don’t know what that says about me, but it’s linked to that want to have lots of short things coming from left and right, rather than one huge task that I need to concentrate on for hours.
How do you keep yourself mentally fit?
Physical exercise. Everything I’ve just said is counter to what I do physically, health wise; it’s all long distance. I will swim a long time, watching that black line, or going in the ocean and soaking it all up and wandering around like a bit of a vague idiot. To others that’s incredibly boring.
It’s probably a bit dangerous but I have found myself suddenly snapping out of something (usually running) and thinking, “Christ I don’t have a single memory of the last five minutes”. I couldn’t tell you what buildings I passed or anything; it’s almost like you black out because you’re just meditating. It happens a lot running.
I struggle to do things like yoga even though I know it’s good for me, but the idea of doing exercise over long distances somehow just calms and destresses me.
Which is interesting given that you get stressed out if you take that approach in any other area.
Well yeah, that’s about concentration. Long distance running and swimming and stuff, you don’t really have to concentrate. It’s my meditation…I’m going to try and do yoga. I’m not going to enjoy it, but I know it’s good for me.
It wasn’t just the 10 hours it took to do it; it was the months of work beforehand I put into it just all culminating into that one moment.
So when you have a few spare moment in your day, where you don’t have time to squeeze in more work, what do you do?
I used to be far more social than I am these days, but that’s more about contentedness. I’m quite happy to vege out and watch a movie, or exercise. Boredom for me is alleviated by going for a run, usually.
Ok last question: what is your proudest moment to date?
Well, I think it’s pretty boring but: finishing an Ironman triathlon, about ten years ago now. You can be proud of big achievements and that pride might last years, but the proudest single moment where I got the biggest chemical rush from my own achievement was crossing that line. I don’t even remember it, but apparently, I just screamed.
You’ve done other long distance, huge events before and after that; why did that Ironman in particular give you such a huge reaction?
It was just the finish. It wasn’t just the 10 hours it took to do it; it was the months of work beforehand I put into it just all culminating into that one moment.