From One Side of the World to the Other: How David Giles Found Dorado
Having spent years building a career in North America, Australian-bred David Giles returned home to continue his passion for property investment while living the uniquely West-Australian lifestyle. As he explains below, his unique head-on approach carries across work and life, proving with a bit of passion, a full work-life balance is possible in the always-on world of property investment.
Before you started here what was your working experience?
Before coming to Dorado I was living in North America, working for 10 years with a group called Tricon Capital Group in Toronto, Canada. I was originally introduced to Tricon after completing an exchange at Queens University, a few hours East of Toronto, and I made the decision that I wanted to go back up to North America. They are a real estate private equity business that focused exclusively on the US and Canadian markets, although the vast majority of the business was in the U.S., and almost all of our business was in equity joint ventures and structured equity investments with residential property developers.
What did you do there?
I started out as the junior guy in the investment team, a team that was probably 15 people when I joined. Of the 15 people, there were 6 on the investment side and the rest on the accounting, support, administrative side. When I started I was the analyst. Basically, the #@^$-kicker. From there I grew with the business, and before I left I was a Vice President, responsible for originating new investments and managing existing investments in a number of difference regions around the US and Canada.
I studied engineering and finance here in WA but had decided I didn’t really want to go the engineering route… I decided to look for work in Toronto.
So why choose to go into property?
Ha. That is a very good question, and one I probably don’t have a good answer for. I got lucky, is the short answer. I studied engineering and finance here in WA but had decided I didn’t really want to go the engineering route, so I was looking for opportunities on the finance side of things. I had decided to look for work in Toronto and lucked into an opportunity with Tricon; I figured it would be a good stepping stone into both finance and North America, and in the end, I realised that I really loved the property and development sides of it.
I got to utilise some of my engineering skills as well as other bits of common sense and financial aspects, and I found the investment process and property analysis really interesting. I love actually getting down and seeing the places in which we invested. We would typically manage three or four regions in the US at any time from Toronto so I’d be getting on planes and really getting to understand the cities and the specific neighbourhoods there, learning who the developers were, getting a good feel for the markets. I really enjoyed that process.
Why did you decide to come back to Australia?
Well, I grew up here, and my family is all here. So, when I achieved what I wanted to achieve at Tricon and I made the decision to leave, the decision tree was either stay in North America and either get a new job or try start my own business there, or come back to Australia. I figured if I stayed in North America I would never have come back, and well, I’m Australian. I missed the bits of Australia most do when you travel abroad, being close to family, and having access to all the wonderful amenities we have here in Australia – the lifestyle, the beach, the outdoors.
So did you move back here and then look for a job, or secure that job first?
I moved back here without having anything lined up. I actually went travelling for a year and didn’t really want to have a fixed end date.
For what we do at Dorado, there aren’t very many larger shops around that do it, especially in Perth.
Where did you go?
All over the place! I did two or three months in Europe, travelling around visiting different cities and countries, visiting friends. Then I slowed it down a bit and spent a month and a half in Brazil, mostly in a small village on the north coast and then about two and a half months in South Africa. Mainly indulging my hobby of kite surfing.
You had a decade of experience at this point, so I imagine it would have been straightforward to get into wherever you wanted. So why choose to come to a smaller business over a bigger one?
I think I prefer the small business environment. Tricon was a small business when I got there, by the time I left it was significantly larger and was listed and so it had become a lot more institutional. That wasn’t in itself a problem, but I missed many of the aspects of being in a small business, so that’s always had a bit more of an allure for me than being a small cog in a bigger machine, I guess.
Which parts in particular did you miss?
Well I think one of the problems of being in a larger business is that you end up being stuck in a very small box in what you do. You are the person who does ‘X’ and you repeat ‘X’ over and over again. Whereas when you’re in a small business you get to put on many different hats and get involved in a large number of different aspects in the business. So that excites me more than being limited to the very specific job description, I guess.
The other bit of it is, for what we do at Dorado, there aren’t very many larger shops around that do it, especially in Perth, so you can try go work for the big US/International funds or whatever but Australia will always be a bit of sidebar for them, or you can work for a business like Dorado who’s wholly focused on Australia and is pretty dynamic, so we can move in and out of things that we think make sense quite quickly.
What are the biggest differences between the way America runs compared to Australia? Are they different?
Ahh, you know broadly I think we are all pretty similar. I have found in my travels that the average person in most places is helpful, caring and genuine. People are curious about other cultures and so it’s never hurt to have a foreign accent when I’ve travelled, it’s a great ice-breaker. Specifically between the US and Australia, I think culturally there are definitely some small differences, but that’s not to say that either America or Australia is better than the other.
If you had to pin me down to something, I do think the work culture in the US is a way more ‘live to work’ than Australia. Not that we don’t work hard in Australia, but I think there is a more pronounced divide between work and the ‘rest of your life’ here, and maybe a little more respect for that division. Then again perhaps that is just a cultural trait of Dorado!
We’ve had a couple of transactions where we’ve been put under very specific time pressures and have also been pushing the envelope.
I’ve heard that America is pretty notorious for long hours and low productivity.
And you’ll find people working for those companies who disagree, but I guess it’s what you’re used to.
You mentioned earlier when you were making your next career move you were considering starting your own business. Is that still something that interests you?
Yeah look I’d like to think I am entrepreneurial in a lot of what I do, and I guess I feel quite lucky that I get to be entrepreneurial within Dorado.
It’s like you got a lot of the result without having to take the risks yourself.
What would you say so far is your proudest moment with Dorado?
Ooh, proudest moment… Look we’ve had a couple of transactions where we’ve been put under very specific time pressures and have also been pushing the envelope on what we’ve done in the past. We knew the opportunity was a step up for us but we also had to deliver under a tight time frame, which we did. The aspects that made me really proud were not necessarily that we did a deal, we do a lot of transactions; it was that we all recognised that there was a challenge on, that we all had to move together to get there and everyone committed and did their bit. If we hadn’t all put everything into the process and worked together as a team it wouldn’t have happened.
And I guess that’s another plus of being in a small team.
Yeah you can be nimble.
So as a company Dorado is pretty into adopting new technology early on. Are you the same in how you like to interact with technology?
I personally do like to be on the bleeding edge, but I think it’s more to do with my engineering background than necessarily adoption of new bits of software in my own personal life – I like having the new phone and new laptop and that sort of stuff. I’m probably a bit more of a laggard when it comes to using tech to better my own personal work flows but I’m getting there.
Do you pick and choose which of the software Dorado uses as it suits?
I think it’s important that for those things to be successful they have to be a) useful b) easy to use and c) not forced on people to use in a way that might clash with their own ways that they work. So, you know we use DropTask and I think it’s a great collaboration tool. I know some people like to use it in the graphic mode and link everything together so it’s quite visual, I work better on a list process so it’s great because it allows us to do both, and I’ve got a lot more use out of it since they made that change.
See when I use it I do like to zoom out every now and again to get the big picture, but use the planner as my main ‘to do’ tool.
See that stresses me out! If you keep zooming out to see all the tasks it can be a little overwhelming.
You do what you can, you try to create that work life balance, but you’re deal driven; when it’s busy, it’s busy.
Do you think there are particular personality traits that someone should have to start their own business?
I think you have to be willing to take risk or at least accept that there’s risk in what you do. If you don’t like the idea of risk, then starting your own business would be daunting. But that’s a spectrum, if you’re really risk averse you go work for the government or a big corporation. The other end of the spectrum is that you’re very risk-happy and have strong conviction…bull-headed some might call it… Then maybe that’s something that’s very appealing and you’re comfortable with that.
Then there’s a whole range in the middle. But I think there are a lot of people who stumble into starting a business, and they get there, and they really enjoy It because they’ve found something they really wanted to do. And there are others who have chased after it and wanted it really hard. I don’t know if either makes a difference. I also don’t think that necessarily everyone who starts a business is the right person to keep it running when its established. There’s so many different personalities out there.
For me, I wouldn’t want to do it alone because it can be quite lonely at the top when you have to wear all the pressures and priorities by yourself. The good times are great but then who do you celebrate with, and the bad times who do you console with? So, having someone who compliments your skill set and personality type, is there for the journey and can share the load as you go through good and bad, I think would be important for someone like me.
Do you go through your work life routine or do you wing it?
I don’t think anyone has ever accused me of being an over planner. There’s a semblance of things that I want to do, and I tend to have a list of those things, and for routine stuff you want to set up processes so that that stuff operates regularly, so that its an automated system or you know that you’ve blocked off those times, but other than that it really comes down to, because were in the investment world, what’s on your plate at the time, and that’s hard to plan. You do what you can, you try to create that work life balance, but you’re deal driven; when it’s busy, it’s busy.
Do you keep that distinction between work and life clear then?
Mine’s a pretty clear distinction, not by design; that’s just how it’s worked out.
What governs how you work the most?
Accuracy; I like getting things right. It’s a hard question to answer. Perfection is something that’s hard to attain, but if you work off the basis of starting something with the aim of getting it right, and planning around getting it right, it saves you a lot of time and hassle, and pain on the backend.
Is that what motivates you?
Investing money for other people is a bit of a privilege, right, you have to be very responsible and make sure you are making decisions in the best interests of those people, making sure you’re protecting their interests at all times. Being in a position to do that, that’s a strong motivator for me.
It’s really important to give back to our communities. We were the benefactors of it growing up.
Looking back at your time studying and your work, what is it that’s taught you the most?
About work or about life? They’re very different answers. My work experience has taught me the most about the world, I think. You learn a lot about the social aspects of life in university and all that, but the experiences I’ve been lucky enough to have in North America and here have very much expanded my horizon in terms of what I think is possible from a business sense.
Did you end up using a lot of what you learned at university?
Well, I don’t know. I studied engineering and finance at university. I spent a bit of time working as an engineer, and obviously even then I don’t know how much you use calculus when you’re working as an engineer in oil and gas. But having those math skills has been a good thing. The commerce side of things I think is something people can learn through experience. Understanding the concepts around time value of money and returns and all of that is useful but fairly easy to learn on the job.
The one nice thing that engineering taught me for what I do now at Dorado is how to read drawings, understanding the basics of construction and how things work. Being able to at least have conversations with builders, engineers, designers, architects about the product that we’re financing and understanding how things are going, that’s a really good thing to have.
Dorado prioritises the mental wellness of its staff; how do you personally keep yourself in check?
I have one hobby to rule them all; kite surfing. Being able to be out on the water regularly, whether it’s in a storm in the middle of winter or during summer when I can get out more consistently, really helps me. That’s my zen time. I need to live near the ocean, most of my hobbies are associated with it, if I can’t get into the water easily, I don’t think I’d enjoy life.
I also think it’s important to enjoy aspects of your work in everyday life, so having great co-workers and having that ethos in the back of your mind day-to-day is really important. It means no one takes themselves too seriously, and there’s a general feeling in the office that everyone’s rowing together and that you’re all part of a team, and that’s really helpful. But for me, exercise, kite surfing, and making sure I compartmentalise time for those things is very important to managing my stress. And limiting coffee intake!
How do you do that?
Sometimes you’ve just got to put it in your calendar and go. You can always make up the time later on, if you have to work later in the evening that’s totally fine. You have to make sure you don’t let your personal priorities slip away. Sometimes obviously it’s a give and take, but if you always sacrifice your personal priorities for work priorities then you’ll be fairly unhappy. You’ve just got to make time, just do it.
And getting enough sleep! To be honest, I find that if I don’t listen to the sleep bit, I’ll get sick and then my body forces me to sleep anyway.
The other thing I’d add is being involved in communities outside of work. For example, I’m involved in my local surf club, and I like the community service aspect. A focus on something outside of work makes it a lot easier to switch off – sitting down and doing nothing for me is not a good way to switch off because I’ll still just think about work.
So then work doesn’t take over and become your entire life.
Exactly, and I think it’s really important to give back to our communities. We were the benefactors of it growing up, and if you can figure out ways to help – through money or time or whatever – that’s really good to do.
Some of the geopolitical stuff going on these days is fascinating; truth can be stranger than fiction.
How long have you helped at the Surf Club?
I joined back in 2001 when I was at university and before I left for North America, and it was the first thing I joined when I got back. I got into helping out on the education side, teaching new members, and got quite involved in the patrolling aspects, basically getting involved as much as possible. It’s just about giving back to the community.
When you get a couple of spare moments in your day, when there’s not really time to do anything solid, how do you choose to spend those in-between minutes?
I don’t really find there’s that many of those these days. Usually there’s something to plug the gap with; errands or chores or whatever you’ve got to do. I do enjoy keeping up with the news, so if I’ve got a little bit of time I’ll go to one of the news websites and catch up on a few things to stay up to speed. It’s not work related, but some of the geopolitical stuff going on these days is fascinating; truth can be stranger than fiction.
Do you mainly go to news sites themselves, or do you use social platforms for it too?
Nah, I struggle to get into Twitter to be honest. I’ve tried so many times and my feed gets filled up with things that just aren’t particularly helpful. Its usually through more curated websites, like AFR. A few of the more modern newsrooms, like Axios, are using these short, brief emails daily that give you an update of what’s going on; podcasts too, I use those a lot now.