Together on the journey

January/February 2018 edition

Stepping into the role of REINSW President, Leanne Pilkington’s sights are firmly set on strengthening the Institute’s influence, raising professional standards and bringing the industry together.


If there’s one thing Leanne Pilkington is certain of, it’s that there are no short cuts to success. And key to achieving many of the significant milestones of her career has been Leanne’s ability to inspire others to stay the course on the journey together.

“I’ve always been good at managing difficult situations and relationships,” she said. “The best way to work with people is to first understand their challenges, priorities and goals. If you can see both sides of the story, then you can find a way forward where everyone wins.”

Much of this wisdom and understanding took root early in Leanne’s career while working in retail and commercial management and leasing, but really bloomed during more than two decades in franchise management.

“As a leader, you have to be able to encourage people to come on the journey with you,” she explained. “You need to be clear about your vision and what you’re trying to achieve, then you need to sell the upside to others or they won’t be invested.”

For Leanne, this philosophy is more than just a smart way to do business or close a deal, it’s something she’s committed to in all areas of her life. 

As the founder of the Catch Up with the Property Girls networking event, involvement in the Real Women in Real Estate mentoring program and a volunteer mentor for the SISTER2sister Program for disadvantaged teenage girls, Leanne is passionate about contributing time and energy towards building community and strong networks to help others thrive.

“This industry has been really good to me and my family, so it’s important to me that I give back through mentoring and also by being part of the team that’s keeping our industry strong as we work towards being recognised as a profession,” she said.

“This industry has been really good to me and my family, so it’s important to me that I give back through mentoring and also by being part of the team that’s keeping our industry strong as we work towards being recognised as a profession.”


Reluctant real estate recruit

Today, Leanne is regarded as a respected industry leader and her long list of personal and business achievements are both impressive and inspiring. But Leanne said she was a reluctant real estate recruit.

Leanne got her first taste of real estate at the age of 12, answering phones at her father’s agency every Sunday. And while she enjoyed working with her dad, when she finished school her plan was to become a teacher.

“I was at schoolies on the Gold Coast and I called dad to ask for some money. He said he would give it to me on the condition I’d pay it back by working for him during my holidays until I went to uni. Well, I never went to uni.

“Even then I was adamant about finding my own path. I was sure I didn’t want to be a sales person – I didn’t want to follow dad in that way. So I decided to study valuation, but in the end sales felt more natural for me and I enjoyed it, so I pursued that.”

Leanne worked in her father’s agency until her late 20s, when she decided it was important for her career development to be challenged in new ways and work with different people.

During this time Leanne moved into the “steep learning curve” world of retail and commercial management and leasing. 

“It was really interesting,” she explained. “Honestly, I didn’t know anything about shopping centres, other than I liked to go shopping in them. It was a steep learning curve and a really tough gig, but I’ve realised that I actually thrive in those situations and it was a great experience.”

In 1995, Leanne joined Laing+Simmons as Franchise and Administration Manager. Two years later she was promoted to Marketing Manager and then became General Manager in 2000. In 2015, Leanne took on the role of Managing Director of the Laing+Simmons group, where she remains today. While she’s responsible for overseeing the whole group, Leanne also balances this with a keen focus on the growth and development of each franchise which includes developing and implementing new systems, programs, training and services. Leanne is the only female Managing Director in real estate franchising in the state.

Leanne completed a Masters Degree in Business Administration in 2005, and her professional accolades include being a finalist in the 2004 Telstra Business Woman of the Year Awards, finalist in the 2017 Optus My Business Awards in the Businesswoman of the Year category and she was named the 2017 Real Estate Business Thought Leader of the Year.

Though she has achieved a lot throughout her career, Leanne isn’t the sort of person who’s content to rest on her laurels and she’s just as motivated and excited today to go to work as she’s ever been.

“I just love what I do,” she explained. “It’s an autonomous, fun and varied role, and I work with a great team of people. Both my parents were small business owners and I’m very passionate about working with and supporting franchisees. I’m genuinely excited to get up and go to work every day.”

Work-life integration

Forget balance. Leanne said if you want to be living life to the full, you need to get organised and prioritise. For Leanne, that means staying active, focusing on good health and spending time with family.

“I think these days people are more conscious of the best ways to operate at peak performance levels and understand that looking after yourself is going to help get better results at work and in life,” she said.

Though she loves work, Leanne said she’s happiest when she’s with her husband and family. Fortunately, her husband also enjoys coming to real estate events and Leanne’s brother and sister own Laing+Simmons Quakers Hill – so she often gets to enjoy work and family at the same time. 

“I really do believe great relationships with family and friends are essential for happiness,” she explained. “I’m fortunate to have a great work-life integration. My husband is very supportive and between my brother, sister and parents, real estate is very much a part of our family.”

Rising to the challenge

No one reaches career highs without first learning how to overcome challenges – and Leanne is no exception. 

“A constant challenge for all agents is the changing nature of the industry, especially when it comes to legislation,” Leanne said. “I think it’s safe to say there’s been more change in our industry over the past year than there has been in the previous 20 years combined. Staying on top of it all is a big challenge for agents and businesses, but it’s incredibly important.

“There’s going to be a lot of change for our industry over the next few years, particularly with legislation and moving toward being recognised as a profession. I’m looking forward to being part of that.

“There’s going to be a lot of change for our industry over the next few years, particularly with legislation and moving toward being recognised as a profession. I’m looking forward to being part of that.”


“I’m not sure we’re completely united yet as an industry when it comes to understanding exactly what’s ahead. I think some people are scared, some people are excited and some people don’t know what’s coming. But for me, it’s an exciting time of implementing important change.”

As only the second woman to be President since 1910, Leanne hopes she can encourage all agents to believe there are no limits to what they can achieve – even if it seems like the odds are stacked against you.

And her advice to new agents?

“There’s no short cut,” Leanne said simply. “Everyone has lots of systems and tips they can share with you, but the reality is it takes a lot of hard work before you’re going to get rewards. That’s it. That’s all you need to remember.

“I think a lot of people who start in real estate don’t realise how tough it is. This industry is harder than most people in the wider community appreciate. It’s a stressful business. We’re not saving lives, but buying, selling and moving is very stressful and emotional for people, and we’re helping them navigate through that.”

Helping women rise and thrive

Leanne is passionate about helping women realise their potential.

For the past 10 years, she’s been involved with charity organisation SISTER2sister, which is a mentoring program for disadvantaged teenage girls who are at risk or suffer from mental, sexual, physical or emotional abuse or neglect.

“I always had strong parental support and people who encouraged me to achieve my goals,” Leanne explained. “I have no doubt that support played a big part in the person I have become and I wanted to be that sort of role model for young women. What’s also important to me with a mentoring program like this, is that I commit my time and contribute my knowledge, experience and support, rather than just giving money.”

Leanne started out as a Big Sister mentor to one teenager and for the past five years she has also been a team leader, responsible for overseeing 10 volunteer mentors in the program. She also contributes to events, training and interviews potential mentors.

Leanne is also the founder of the Catch Up with the Property Girls networking event for the Real Women in Real Estate group. Initially, she didn’t think there was a huge need for a dedicated networking group, but after 65 women came to the very first event Leanne changed her thinking.

“When we got such a huge response to that first event it really struck me that this was really important and absolutely something that was needed,” she explained. “It’s all about creating a community that inspires you, where you can talk about issues and have people around you to help you take that next step whether it’s in business, in life or just out of your comfort zone.

“It’s a really wonderful community of women and I love being part of it.

“At this point in my career I do feel an obligation to give back to the industry and also to encourage other women to get involved. This industry can only benefit by having more women in leadership roles.”

Leanne’s vision for REINSW

1. Lobbying for a better regulatory framework

“I’ll be focused on the key role REINSW plays in lobbying government and the impact this has on the industry and consumers. If it wasn’t for REINSW’s continued lobbying and work with the government, the legislation that agents and consumers need when it comes to buying, selling, and leasing would be near impossible to navigate.

Legislative change is necessary, but it’s also very difficult and time consuming to lobby the government. Individual agents, and even larger franchises, don’t have the time to invest or the power to bring about the sort of positive change REINSW has and can achieve.

The political landscape is constantly changing, lots of people and industry bodies have a view about real estate, so it’s more important than ever that we have a strong, united Institute at the coal face that understands what needs to be done and the will to see it implemented.”

2. Promoting the pathway to professionalism

“The pathway to professionalism also needs to continue. I’ll be actively following up on the great work our Immediate Past President John Cunningham has already done in this area.

In his new role as Chair of REIA’s Professionalism Committee, John will continue to lead our industry toward professionalism and I’ll be strongly supporting him to make professional recognition a reality. We must have recognition as a profession – this is important work and I’ll be making it a priority to see it continue.

As an industry, we need to be much clearer on our value proposition. We need to separate those agents who add value and are advisors who guide the public through the entire real estate process, and those who don’t. It’s so important for consumers to understand that all agents are not the same.

As we prepare for these changes, agents need to be focused on how they can be at the centre of the transaction for the consumer. They need to look to how they can improve the level of service and the quality of advice they’re giving consumers.”

3. Strengthening REINSW’s influence

“REINSW is important and relevant for members, but also for consumers – and I’ll be focused on increasing awareness in the wider community about the importance of what we do.

I’ll be doing my best to speak to as many people as I can at events, conferences and every day about REINSW. I want to empower them to speak to others and spread the message about what we stand for and what we’re doing in the industry.

I’d like to see members and the wider community better understand the important role of REINSW, and raise awareness of what we’ve achieved and what we’re working towards.”