“We are just managers. God is our boss”: How PropertyLimBrothers built a culture of collaboration, not competition
by Gemma Koh // October 27, 2021, 7:58 pm
Beyond presenting home tour videos to help clients sell their homes, PLB co-founder Melvin Lim also takes to social media to share his expertise with other realtors and with investors who are not his customers. Photos courtesy of Melvin Lim and PropertyLimBrothers unless otherwise stated.
When prison officers Melvin Lim and Adrian Lim traded their stable fixed-income jobs in 2007 for risky, commission-based careers in real estate sales, there were no courses to teach them the ropes. The ambitious fledglings were viewed with suspicion by veterans in the industry.
“They saw us as threats, that we were here to snatch their rice bowls,” said Melvin, 40, one half of the familiar faces of PropertyLimBrothers, highly visible on social media for presenting “live” home tours.
“We don’t blame them,” he told Salt&Light, adding that such was the culture at the time.
“A lot of people are fearful of a toxic work culture. But we want to sleep with little weight on our shoulders every night.”
Six years later, the two agents who are good friends made “a business decision mistake” that drained their bank accounts to zero. (Read about it in Part 1 of their story).
It was the start of a “four-year drought”. It was also a time of a “total reset”, in which they would reframe the way they did business, and set the values for PropertyLimBrothers (PLB), the real estate media technology company they would eventually co-found.
Part of this reframe would also include how they viewed clients.
When they started putting themselves in their clients’ shoes instead of seeing them as “walking commissions”, the duo saw how hosting videos to present the unique selling points of homes could benefit, not just sales, but also their clients.
In the interests of honesty and transparency, they also started practising “screenshot closing” – screen capturing WhatsApp conversations with buyers to show the seller offers on the property. It is part of their ongoing efforts to practise #RealEstatewithIntegrity.
The reframe included being “servant leaders”, with continual efforts to scale up research, grow and share knowledge and market trends, and build tech possibilities for customers who look to their guidance in the selling-buying transaction.
This reset would affect not just clients, but also staff and the industry at large.
The new company director
During the great reset, the duo installed a new boss: God.
“We dedicated the business to God. We decided that we would leave the outcome to Him,” said Melvin, who also spent more time reading the Word and listening to sermons.
Staff who know that they are “working in a place where they feel safe and valued” are less angsty, and more caring towards office resources.
With God as their boss, their Golden Rule, spelt out on the PLB website, reads: “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)
“Work fulfils two commandments: ‘To love God with heart, soul and mind. And to love others as we love ourselves.’ (Matthew 22:36-40)
“It is about loving God’s people – both believers, and those who have yet come to Him,” said Melvin.
Melvin has seen that staff who know that they are “working in a place where they feel safe and valued” are less angsty, and more caring towards office resources, resulting in equipment that is rarely broken.
He cited an example in which a staff member on the media team accidentally broke a bulb that cost $300.
The team member owned up and offered to pay for it.
But Melvin told him there was no need.
“When staff join PLB, we look at them as partners. If you are a partner, you do things for the good of the company, and will never purposely break anything.
“So it means that it was a pure accident and therefore I’ll cover it.”
Zero tolerance for politics
Helping staff feel safe is a big part of the work culture.
“A lot of people are fearful of a toxic work culture. But we want to sleep with little weight on our shoulders every night,” said Melvin.
“We do not condone bad behaviour just because someone performed well.”
Taking inspiration on resolving conflict from Matthew 18:15-17, Melvin said: “If one person said something that offended the other, we want them to ‘go directly to the brother’ and solve it with each other without involving other people.
“Because once you involve others, things may build up and it may become toxic gossip.
“But if they still cannot resolve it, bring in one person. And if it still cannot be resolved, go up one level higher.”
They also hold fast to Matthew 7:3-5, adding: “We have zero tolerance for office politics,” said Melvin.
“We do not condone bad behaviour just because someone performed well.
“We are a team with empathy, emphasising the need to be humble and admit mistakes when we are wrong.”
Older ox, younger ox
Recalling their experience when they entered the real estate business, Melvin and Adrian wanted to create an environment where seniors and juniors are happy working with one another.
Not wanting “unhealthy seniority”, they tore down the rooms for directors in their two offices.
They told their staff: “There are no offices for the co-founders or senior staff as we want to remain lightweight, young and fast-moving.
“We will work anywhere, or at the dining table.”
Explained Melvin: “If you have seniors in rooms, in fixed positions, juniors joining the company will sense this level of disparity between the older and younger people, and there will be two cliques. They won’t mingle and impart knowledge to one another.”
“There are no offices for the co-founders or senior staff as we want to remain lightweight, young and fast-moving.”
Instead, PLB harnesses the experience of team leaders (“character coaches”) together with the energy of younger staff, using the analogy of “yoking an older ox and younger ox to plough the soil”.
“The older ox, with his experience, can guide the younger one to use his energy. The younger ox knows how to follow the older ox to maintain his energy.”
For Melvin, the workplace and the real estate industry are an opportunity to be a light for God.
The PLB website and the duo, are upfront to staff and all that the company’s ethos is inspired by Biblical principles.
“We welcome everybody, but we don’t hide our faith,” said Melvin.
PLB currently has about 70 staff from a diversity of creeds and backgrounds – about 20% are of the Christian faith.
An open palm
About four years into his career in real estate, Melvin was burnt out and had questioned the meaning of work (see Part 1 of his story).
Since having “a shift in mindset” and ceding control to God, “work became enjoyable every day”.
But since having “a shift in mindset” and ceding control to God, “work became enjoyable every day”.
“We are just managers. God is our boss. He has given us this resource. We manage it for him.
“We tell our guys, ‘We hold the brand like this’,” Melvin said, demonstrating with an open palm facing upwards.
“Rather than like this,” he said, with his closed fist facing down.
“We are like a co-worker reporting to God, our boss. Every day we come to work, He is the director sitting in the director’s room. It is so good to know that He is working alongside you, beside you, when you meet customers. It is very liberating because we don’t have to be afraid of challenges, struggles, difficult people.”
The office prayer group, which meets every Tuesday, is currently reading the book: Your Work Matters to God by Doug Sherman and William Hendricks. The book demonstrates how important secular work is to God, and highlights how one can influence coworkers for Christ without preaching a word.
With God as boss, “it is very liberating because we don’t have to be afraid of challenges, struggles, difficult people”.
“Knowing He is the creator liberates us. Raw material – like the sand that goes into making windows – come from Him. He values work. Work is important to him,” said Melvin.
“We know our work has value, there’s meaning to life, and the purpose is to glorify Him with the talents, resources He has given us.
“Do it heartily as though you are serving God, not men,” Melvin said, citing Colossians 3:23.
There are human bosses, acknowledged Melvin, “but the true boss is God who owns marketplace, the real estate world, He owns the company”.
Loving the competition
Melvin also saw God’s hand and timing in reconnecting him with a friend from the army, Ryan Kiew. It would be a friendship which would lead to the development of two production houses to serve the real estate industry.
“I was chatting with him that I wanted to try out doing real estate home tour videos,” Melvin recalled.
Ryan helped Melvin make his first home tour video in December 2016. It was of a four-room HDB flat. The buyer saw it on social media and the flat was sold within a short 30 days – to the delight of the seller.
After making another two videos together, Melvin set up an in-house production team in mid-2017 that gave rise to PropertyLimBrothers Media. It would be dedicated to helping PLB clients market their properties, and allow Melvin to achieve his “vision to create different storyboards and try different production styles” over the years.
Ryan then focused on growing a studio called AffinityMotions to provide the same for other real estate sales people and content for SMEs. Today, Ryan is its main operator, while Melvin, who is a part-owner, serves as a consultant.
“A lot of friends said I was foolish,” Melvin shared. They could not understand why he was involved in something that would help his competitors.
“My simple world view was this: Firstly, I am helping a Christian brother,” said Melvin.
“Even if I don’t help, people will eventually catch up.”
Melvin, who is a pioneer in using presenter-led videos to market properties in Singapore, saw “no harm, no fear” in helping to build up the industry, which was then not maximising available technology and social media in its marketing efforts.
“Even if I don’t help, people will eventually catch up,” he explained. “If it’s a good thing, they will want to adopt it to help the customers.”
Melvin was then 36 years old. This was in line with what he and his wife planned to do when they turn 50: To be more involved in community work, and less involved in the marketplace.
“So why don’t we build something in the next 14 years to help people?” he reasoned.
In one interview, Melvin had said that he spends “almost zero time” looking at what competitors are doing. Rather, he and the team would rather focus their mental energy on the customer.
“Because where we place our mental energy dictates your perspective, dictates your direction for your business, for your life.”
Protecting time for family
Family remains a priority for the busy CEO.
He is thankful for his wife, Sia Yifen. Though not Christians when they got married at age 24, their values of “wanting to build a family, a home and also have many children” were aligned.
After a burnout when he was working 16 hours a day, and feeling guilty for not spending time with his kids, he started using a concept of “time blocking” to be accountable and “predictable” for his family. Just like having regularity in reading God’s Word, Melvin believes that “having consistent touch points are important for the family relationship”.
“Monday nights is date night with my wife. Wednesdays, I try to come home early to have family dinner. Friday is with my parents and siblings, with the kids,” he said.
“Once a month, I try to have a date night with each child.”
To spend quality time with them, he believes in being fully present by practising seemingly small but important gestures like silencing his phone and not answering calls during mealtimes.
As a parent, Melvin looks to God as “the ultimate Father”. He tells his kids: “While the walk on this earth, till our Lord returns, will not be easy – there will be struggles and failures and successes – God is the ultimate redeemer.
“We need to go to Him daily and rest our burdens on Him and always remind ourselves that He is walking with us daily and growing us in Christlikeness”.
MORE STORIES ON HONOURING GOD IN BUSINESS:
When a “4-year drought” taught award-winning PropertyLimBrothers to put people before commissions
“Unless we look after others, we cannot get out of this crisis”: CEO Arthur Kiong on running a business amidst Covid
The story of faith behind Taiwanese toast franchise Fong Sheng Hao
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