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A valuable existence
OUTBACK Magazine April/May 2006

A stint in the Lands Department, a love of the bush and a Biggles book dream of being a fighter pilot gave Kerry Herron the impetus to found successful property valuation firm Herron Todd White.

by Jane Milburn

There is quiet pride and a hint of glee in Kerry Herron’s voice as he explains that the only traffic lights between his hilltop property adjoining Lamington National Park and his head office in Brisbane are those in the central business district.

“There’s something in my psyche that enjoys the freedom of leaving the city behind,” said the founder of Australia’s largest independent property valuation group, Herron Todd White.

His country place is Green Meadows, a jewel of a property at Beechmont in the Gold Coast hinterland featuring a new sandstone home, an airstrip, a natural spring and rolling green pastures.

From those green pastures, Kerry looks out across the Lamington Plateau and is within cooee of the famed Binna Burra and O’Reillys rainforest retreats where thousands of visitors annually recharge their metro-stressed batteries on peace and quiet.   

Green Meadows is a spectacular 65 hectare spread at the end of a country road just 100 km from Brisbane city and 45 minutes from Gold Coast beaches. It is a cool, calm, comfortable environment that is home to Kerry and his wife Jean.  

But for a sizeable chunk of each week, when he’s not flying around Queensland or interstate, Kerry is based in the very heart of Brisbane where his city abode offers the best-value view in town on the Brisbane River looking out at Story Bridge.

A decade ago, in what he describes as a “light bulb” moment, Kerry realised that by purchasing a small houseboat he could have a relatively quiet, private and exclusive pad for just $10 per day mooring fees.

On the front of his “Miss-T” houseboat, Kerry stashes a kayak and as part of his disciplined morning routine will either go paddling on the river for an hour or walk through the botanic gardens and swim 2.4km at the QUT pool.

By 7am he’s at work in the Brisbane office, at Emirates House on Eagle Street, which is one of 27 offices around Australia that have been drawn steadily into the fold as Kerry built Herron Todd White from the ground up.

Kerry’s business journey began in 1968 when he stepped out from under the big umbrella of the public service, in his case the Lands Department which had provided five years’ valuable experience and insights but was not his “cup of tea”.

“It was a case of have gun, will travel, in the early days. We starved for a few years and by the time work picked up I was ready for it.” 

Kerry’s office on Quay Street, Rockhampton, became those of Herron Todd Valuers in 1974 when Alan Todd became a partner. They expanded throughout regional Queensland then merged with Gold Coast-based White and Gardner in 1986 and Herron Todd White Australia Pty Ltd was formed.

HTW quickly gained national status as the property market took off and it opened offices in Sydney and Adelaide, and a half-share office in Melbourne.

HTW operated as one company until 1991 when it was split into cooperative units – which operate independently under HTW guidelines, principles and code of practice – with company policy and management overseen by a board of six elected directors.

“We value all types of properties – commercial, town and rural – and banks and finance companies tend to ring us because we have a lot of expertise in our ranks. 

But even as the business grew, Kerry remained attached to the rural property valuations side which allowed him to get out into the countryside.

Kerry’s love of the bush had its roots in his earlier work as a stationhand at “Cooinda” near Dingo, a cattle place the family settled after his father, an ex-POW of the Japanese, won it in a ballot.

Earlier still, when he was 11 years old, Kerry had been inspired by a Biggles book and dreamed of becoming a fighter pilot but life took a different path, although flying was a key feature in it.

Kerry gained his pilot’s licence in 1960, bought his first plane, a Cessna 150, in 1974 and has been using one in the business ever since, clocking up 2400 hours of flying time including 550 hours in helicopters.

“Flying is extremely useful in valuing. With the big properties, it gives a sense of proportion and allows me to take aerial photos.

Kerry regularly does work for large cattle companies and says that in valuing beef properties, he looks at the cattle more than the trees, the soils and grasses to guide his judgments about the type of country and its worth.

He believes the booming beef property prices will plateau this year and expresses concern about the amount of return investors can get after paying record-breaking prices for cattle properties.

“There is a lot of confidence in the industry, but very few new players are entering the market and sales are mainly to existing larger operators getting bigger.”

“There’s been a surge in investment because banks are lending interest-only for up to 15 years and by that time an investor might reasonably expect another general rise in values.”

Commentary such as this forms the cornerstone of HTW’s The Month in Review, which has been published 11 times/year since Kerry launched it in 1984, and provides current, accurate, independent valuation news that has won respect with clients and journalists.

“We constantly go back to Kerry Herron for comment because of the quality and accuracy of the information he provides on rural property values and trends. He always makes himself available and we know his views are well-regarded,” said long-time presenter of the ABC’s Queensland Country Hour Jane Paterson.

Two years ago Kerry stepped aside from the chairmanship of HTW but still works four days in the business and spends the others on his farm where, among other things, he is developing a tree nursery growing mainly magnolias.

“You can take a company only so far and then there is an appropriate time to hand over your baby to people with fresh ideas and enthusiasm to continue moving it forward.”

One of Kerry’s vehicles sports personalised numberplates, HTW 01, but it is completely in character that they were a gift from his successor as chairman of Herron Todd White, Peter Degotardi, because he would not buy such flashy items for himself.

He’s the kind of person who allocates time to work, time to his family – his 91-year-old mother, wife Jean and their three adult daughters and multiple grandchildren – and time for industry and community work.

His involvement in public life includes 10 years with the Australian Institute of Valuers, 10 years with the Queensland Heart Foundation, 10 years on the Valuers’ Registration Board and he is currently vice-president of Life Education Queensland.

Kerry believes we have two choices in life, discipline or regret, and he’s chosen discipline: “I find that if I exercise, particularly in the morning, the day goes better.”

Rural banker Peter Townsend, from Rabobank, sums it up this way: “Quality is a word Kerry likes to use in business and that describes him well too. Everything he does is quality. That’s how he lives his life.”


 

 


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