An Original Essay by Zena Selvalogan
As a young 21-year-old studying international business in London, I dreamt of owning my own business and a glamourous life as an internationally renowned fashion designer or travel the world as a tour guide! Round and round I went and where I stopped nobody knew…not even me, as life soon showed me.
My circumstances changed as I followed my parents across the world to Australia. I was clearly destined for international travel but the excitement I’d imagined stopped short, looking more like a dust-storm. That was until I fell in love and was caught up in the vortex of life, which I now know to be my ‘royal family’ of STRATA. Demanding, challenging, yet captivating!
Like so many of us, my fall into strata was an unintentional path, but in marrying my prince I was destined to be groomed for a career, amidst my strata royal family. Strata is an industry I’ve grown to love, yet aware not many know anything about it – and I can’t help thinking of those lost opportunities for potential recruits who would love it as much as I do. I see so many with such a passion for the industry. If only we could pull back the curtain on this hidden industry by making our own introductory stories known; mine having the added twist of succession, currently in progression.
Here’s how it unfolded for me. May it encourage all who read it to tell their story far and wide and draw passionate recruits into the strata family fold.
Fresh out of university, I moved to Melbourne with big dreams. I landed my first city-life job as a Logistics CoOrdinator, met my husband and was married in 4 years. It all moved so fast. I was yet to really get to know my new family, earn their trust and respect or even learn about the machinations of the family business.
They do what?! I asked my husband as he laid it out on the table for me. Not only was I oblivious to the world of strata, but I was also introduced to my new family monarchy, my mother-in-law aka ‘The Queen’, of the household and the business.
Intrigued by the work, I joined forces with my husband to take up an offer to perform ad-hoc work for the ‘Queen’. With no concrete plans to take over the business, we set out only to assist and relieve the Queen from some routine tasks.
Fast-forward to 2017, we found ourselves signing on the dotted line, taking over my parents-in- law, not so glamorous, Owners Corporations Management business and it’s been our history in the making ever since.
My first recollection of working in the business was the commencement of what felt like an awkward relationship with the Queen. I mean can you imagine my hesitation as a newly introduced daughter-in-law, to want to spend more time under the scrutiny of my mother-in- law. Who I knew was yet to still size me up as the best suitor for her son, her prince?
I felt immense pressure to succeed both personally and professionally. I was immersed into what felt like Royal Family chaos. The oldest son and his wife, the focus of attention. Family members, like paparazzi, quizzing us daily on the transition – “Was the Queen really going to hand over the reign to me?” I didn’t know anything about the strata industry – whatever would the tabloids say?!
I was an out-law after all.
To make matters worse, on my first day, I was given a manila folder with 30 invoices to be processed. Yes, you
read correctly, ‘30. Hard. Copy. Invoices.’ I gazed over at my mother-in-law and bravely suggested ‘we could look at going paperless’. And there began our journey to bring our strata management services into the current times. My husband and I (with the support of my father-in-law) put our heads together and created a document management program to capture all the invoices.
Looking back, I realise although it appears minor, this was a major first step in the future of our business. I became consumed in learning the strata way of life and complexities and didn’t appreciate the effect of these changes until much later.
I found although I was the owner, I wasn’t the Queen. To me there was a significant difference. It must have felt like I was trying to steal the ‘Crown Jewels’, but alas ‘twas simply a changing of the guard. The foundation of our working relationship was already being set and I desperately wanted to navigate the blurred lines of family and work in the best way possible.
Our Queen was starting to slowly give up her reign and teach me everything she knew about strata and the family business. I soaked up the knowledge that was only ever in her head, slowly transitioning it into processes and endless word documents.
Luckily for me, there were continuous safety checks as the Queen courageously started handing work over to me. I considered myself very lucky to have a 5-year handover. I would willingly have my mother-in-law working with me forever! I am still learning a lot from her and grateful for the insight she continues to share with me.
As I look to the future, I am sure of the decrees I vow to carry on from the Queen, that will forever resonate with me, and in turn, with our clients for the standard of service we extend.
1 Check it and check it again
2 Do everything early
3 If you promised to do something, do it! I’m recognising that continuity and long-term planning are critical for achieving our family’s, legacy, or any family for that matter. I can only hope that my children, who are still only at an early age, will follow in our royal footsteps and take a chance in the strata industry. Our industry may not be glamorous on the exterior, but it opens you up to a life of continuous learning and opportunities, and I have found that to be so much better.
I am seeing my dream of owning my own business come to fruition. I have embraced our business, and settled in, to the expectant role of the ‘Princess in Training’. Not yet as good as the Queen, but eagerly waving the strata sceptre on behalf of not just my royal strata family, but the industry as a whole. Imagine what we could achieve if each one of us shared our story to shine a light on strata. I look forward to you sharing yours.
Furthermore, in the context of my story, I think it only proper to acknowledge the recent passing of our Queen, of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth; Queen Elizabeth II, the UK’s longest serving monarch. May she rest in peace, and may we find continued peace under the reign of King Charles III, our Queen’s successor.