BEIJING-born Joseph Ironfish Chou‘s journey to entrepreneurial success may be the classic migrant success story. After arriving in Australia with his wife and landing his first job delivering pizzas for $7 per hour, Chou has leapfrogged a number of careers and businesses to now control the multi-million-dollar property investment group Ironfish. “Anyone can do it. You just need to believe in yourself and to think big. But you do have to take risks and back yourself.”
Sydney-based Ironfish and its 67 staff work in capital cities across Australia, offering off-the-plan property investment opportunities to its clients, the majority of whom are of Asian background. Chou says: “We help clients start their accumulation of property — to set them up for a wealthy future. Our clients come from all walks of life, including recently arrived immigrants who just want to get a start on the property ladder.”
Ironfish receives commissions from developers for sales to its clients, most of whom have attended free Ironfish seminars conducted across Australia and New Zealand in three languages: English, Mandarin and Korean. Since inception in July 2006, sales turnover has grown from about $82 million to $231 million in the second year. Group revenue (fees and commissions) stands at $8.5 million and is on track to achieve $15 million this year.
“Apart from our multicultural approach we have a strong research base,” Chou says. “We encourage clients to buy in multiple cities and across different property types as every city has a slightly different property cycle.”
When challenged about the inherent risk of buying off-the-plan property, he concedes that there is an increased risk at this time, particularly in terms of getting a project completed, but says Ironfish is in a position to be highly selective in the developers it works with. “There’s not a lot of stock being built in the marketplace, and we’re very careful in only taking clients who can afford to go forward. We only talk about long term, preferably 10 years to hold.”
Chou, 47, says that his entrepreneurial spirit was born of a strong desire to break the shackles of a closed mindset. “In China I only ever had a bicycle,” After studying at Beijing University and later in the US, he rapidly scaled the ranks to become a senior Chinese diplomat, only to forgo this status and title when he migrated to Australia in 1991 to pursue his dreams.
“I worked here as a diplomat and fell in love with the place, Sydney in particular. But all the status of a diplomat was gone. They stopped addressing me as Your Excellency. I chose to become an entrepreneur because there’s only so far you can go working for somebody.”
Eventually he established several successful businesses, including a language school, because, in his words: “I wanted to earn $1 million a year.” He says from 1996-98 his income was “stuck” at about $500,000 a year. “The turning point came after attending a property investment seminar. I thought there must be many Chinese here who work hard, buy their home and never get around to investing.
“In 2002, the Chinese market was very under-serviced as far as property investment.”
Chou says he “cut his teeth” in the seminar business after running the Sydney operation of a property marketing company for a Vietnamese colleague. “We did $300 million of investment properties in its first year,” he says.
In 2006 Chou established Ironfish. “We’re on track to become the major service provider for property investment in the multicultural sector in Australia. Our plan is to have a 200-office operation in the Pacific region and to achieve a $1 billion market valuation. This would require us to have revenue of $300 million with a $100million net profit. We feel this is a very big market without any single player servicing it.
“I’ve learned that I always reach my goals in business; it takes a bit longer. I have never given up on what I have set.”
He says he is seeing a growing number of Chinese looking at investment opportunities in Australia due, in part, to the 30 per cent appreciation of their currency against the Australian dollar. “Given the market reach we’re going to have into China, India, Vietnam and all the other emerging markets, I have no doubt whatsoever we’re going to get there.”
More on Joseph Ironfish Chou
If there’s something that seems to draw people from their country of origin and compel them to start fresh in a new location; it’s the promise of success. One man well-known for taking this decision in his stride is Beijing-born Joseph Chou, a former diplomat that really knows how to make the most of a multicultural society. So who is Joseph Chou and what does he do exactly?
Well After moving from Beijing to Australia with the hopes of establishing a business, Joseph’s dreams became true after setting up Ironfish, a multi-million dollar company that handles and manages property investments both in Australia and internationally. Joseph has certainly come a very long way since his $6.85 an hour pizza delivery job, spending the years between now and then getting to know his market, understanding business mantras and expanding his horizons.
What started as a two-person company now boasts almost 70 members of staff, each with a unique job role and added enthusiasm to provide some of the greatest property investment opportunities to its clients. With a recent rise in property prices, it’s only logical that investment companies would aim to make the most of the market and that’s exactly what Ironfish have done.
With so many options for investors, Ironfish decided that the best decision that it could make would be to provide developers with sales exposure to potential clients and then make commission from every successful sale. This decision has since played a major role in the Australian accommodation industry, with new developments being constructed as the years progress, resulting in a great variety of properties for home owners and investors to purchase.
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