Doug O’Mara started his business in a small windowless office in Tench Street, Kingston, where he shared a desk with his brother Brad and founding partner John Price. He couldn’t have imagined that, two decades later, he would be the CEO of one of Canberra’s leading real estate companies.
Civium Property Group’s 20-year celebration this month coincides with its move into a new city office in Lonsdale Street, Braddon, and Doug could not be more proud.
“It’s a bit nostalgic moving office at the same time as our 20-year anniversary,” he says.
“It’s been really exciting and having everyone together in one big office on one floor has really helped create a fantastic team environment.”
Now employing 90 staff in the ACT and another 40 around the country – in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane – Civium has come a long way from that tiny service office in Tench Street.
“We had a nine-metre-square office with no window and one phone line that you had to unplug to use the fax machine,” Doug says.
“It was really quite exciting back in those days when we would do our own accounting and banking. When a lease or sale did finally go through, you’d rush off to bank the cheque straight away.”
About three years into their journey, the brothers were joined by Andrew Smith who is now a partner and Civium’s director of Commercial and Residential Sales. Doug’s wife Alice is coming up to 15 years as head of admin with the company, as well as running the couple’s truffle farm and new restaurant at Pialligo.
Doug says the business has always been a family affair, with his father Laurie looking after accounts, his uncle Phil a “Jack of all trades” and his sons Matt and Jack helping out when on school holidays.
And he says many of his employees have become part of the Civium family too.
“We now have people in the business who have brought members of their family into the business.
“It’s really a proud moment when people want to have members of their family working in the same business. We’ve got husbands, wives and children. It’s something we’re really proud of.”
Doug says the company’s “real success” is its family values approach to business.
“It’s definitely more than just looking after the bricks and mortar, it’s about the community-driven approach to our recruitment and service delivery.
“We’ve definitely, as a business, been very ambitious and we’ve always re-invested our profits back into the business over the years, so we have been able to grow aggressively and continue to make acquisitions. But we’ve also been very mindful of the responsibility we have to our team members.
“It’s important to make sure we live as a family and support each other.”
He says working alongside his business partner and friend Andrew for 17 years has been inspiring.
“Andrew is widely recognised as one of the most successful commercial real estate agents in Canberra, and I feel very fortunate he has been with us since the early days of Civium. He’s a great guy to share our journey with,” Doug says.
After starting in the commercial sales and leasing space, Civium has now established its presence as the largest full service agency offering strata and facilities management, insurance brokering as well as property sales and rentals across Canberra.
The company now has the largest amount of commercial stock in the ACT – for sale and rent – and Doug says having property managers, strata managers and sales agents all in one office allows the team to easily manage that whole process of selling a commercial building and finding a tenant.
From their first office, Doug and the team moved around Canberra as they grew, before finally buying a premises at 17 Townsend Street, Phillip, where they have spent the last 15 years. There are plans to redevelop the site into a mixed-use building with commercial and residential accommodation.
Doug says Civium’s bright new CBD location is more central for clients and reflected the team’s position in the real estate market.
“This is a step up in image and we’re one of, if not, the largest property services business under one roof in the ACT,” he says.
“We’re also the largest 100 per cent privately owned strata firm in Australia, so it’s about time we lifted our profile to actually represent that.”
Doug believes in helping the community and local organisations, from grassroots initiatives to strategic partnerships.
The company supports organisations such as the National Heart Foundation, Camp Quality, St Vincent de Paul, Red Nose Day, Kulture Break, the GWS Giants and ACT Brumbies, while staff members play an active role in supporting the local community, schools and sporting groups.
Team members can also choose to contribute funds from their weekly wage to the Civium Communities Foundation which is then matched dollar-for-dollar by the company to provide financial support for local Aboriginal causes and charities.
While Doug embodies success in the business world, he is passionate about his journey of discovery into his Indigenous heritage. He was thrilled when Civium was recently recognised as a Certified Indigenous Business.
He’s always felt a profound sense of belonging to his ancestral land and has a deep longing to strengthen his ties to his cultural identity and ensure his children can embrace their Aboriginal heritage.
Once the “dust settles”, Doug says the Civium Property Group team will celebrate the anniversary, new location, new team members and Indigenous certification with a cocktail party at its new restaurant due to open in Pialligo in August or September.