kopi-C with PropNex's CEO: ‘We’ve built a culture that can’t be replicated’



By Toh Ee Ming • 05 Jul 2023 • 0 min read

PropNex’s Executive Chairman and CEO Ismail Gafoor believes that a desire to do good has helped the firm to become Singapore’s largest listed real estate agency.

PropNex Ismail Gafoor

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Property investments are by far one of the most important decisions every Singaporean has to make. Full of complexities, any wrong move to enter or exit the market can be a costly one. 

So firmly ingrained is this belief in informed decision-making that PropNex’s CEO Mohamed Ismail Gafoor has been advocating consumer education in the last ten years. 

Starting with simple booklets detailing the latest rules and policies distributed door-to-door, the company has gone on to organise over 100 consumer seminars each year, and a massive property show at the Singapore Expo which draws over 100,000 consumers every year. 

Just three years ago during the pandemic, Ismail came up with its very own Monopoly PropNex Edition experiential learning tool to teach financial literacy and real estate investment.

Customised to the local context, it includes title deeds that accurately reflect areas in the Core Central Region, Rest of Central Region, and Outside Central Region, as well as navigating various property cooling measures such as the Additional Buyer’s Stamp Duty. Some of the standard Monopoly rules have also been tweaked to allow most games to be completed in under an hour.

On top of holding national level competitions, PropNex also partnered with various organisations to hold family day events on the weekends. Hundreds of families came down to play the Monopoly game, and left with their own limited edition set and shopping vouchers.  

“Through the game, we get people to relive their childhood and also learn about Singapore’s property market. We’re very big on that,” says Ismail. 

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Ismail with the Grand Champion of PropNex Monopoly Championship 2022. Image source: PropNex


Bold steps to make-over cowboy town 

Not many people know that PropNex’s consumer education journey was sparked by “a major shakeup,” says Ismail.

In the 2000s, PropNex had just started to grow in size. But the industry was extremely unregulated and anyone carrying a name card could claim to be a property agent. It was a “cowboy town,” in Ismail’s words. 

They took bold steps, requiring tremendous courage on the part of the management team and senior partners, he recalls. 

It made the “painful decision” to terminate 2,800 agents of its housing agents in a move to ensure the professionalism and reliability of its associates. It was the first local real estate agency that made sure every agent was covered under the professional indemnity insurance.

This decision to protect consumers’ interest and upgrade professionalism set the pace for the industry to follow. After the Council of Estate Agents was formed in 2010, it became mandatory to have professional indemnity insurance. 

Becoming Singapore’s largest listed property agency

PropNex’s meteoric rise to become Singapore's largest listed real estate agency with over 11,000 real estate salespersons has been touted as an inspiring success story.

It all started back in 1996 with the founding of two companies, Nooris and Prulink. 

Following a 13-year career at the Singapore Armed Forces, Ismail started Nooris Consultants with his wife, Nooraini Noordin. It was then a small real estate agency focused on serving the Malay market. In the same year, PropNex directors Joseph Lee and Alan Lim started real estate agency Prulink. 

The two companies joined forces and PropNex quickly gained a reputation for service excellence, eventually adopting the tagline “Service You Trust” in 2008.

This belief in service has propelled PropNex to be a market leader with a sizeable share in both the public and private markets.

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Ismail conducting the PropNex Property Wealth System Masterclass attended by 800 consumers this year. Image source: Ismail's facebook page


Pioneering ideas to differentiate 

What makes PropNex different from other companies? A hunger to continually dream up new ideas, says Ismail. 

A pioneering idea is the dual career path, which it came up with in the year 2000.

Property agents could have the option to do sales for their entire career, or choose to become a manager and leader over time because “we know after 10 to 20 years of business, you will not enjoy standing at the void deck every Saturday and Sunday,” he says. 

To incentivise them, the company has a dual career path for these team leaders. Slowly, more agents started to enter the fray and it became the ideal ground to groom future leaders. 

“PropNex has many team leaders and I’m very proud to see many leaders out there who have grown,” says Ismail.

Another innovative move was to introduce the team leader pension scheme. 

Team leaders have a 10-year Loyal Bonus and Pension Fund cycle from 2006, with greater emphasis on team performance and team size growth. This could accumulate to huge sums of half a million dollars, depending on the team leader’s performance and a full disbursement after 10 years.

PropNex looks after its consumers, property agents and even its developers and investors, says Ismail.  

“It’s important for us that we have a huge amount of engagement with our stakeholders – salespersons, staff, partners, developers, analysts and shareholders, updating them on what is happening in the market and what we are doing,” he says. 

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Ismail sharing PropNex's financial performance at the company's physical Annual General Meeting (AGM) in May 2023. Image source: Ismail's facebook page


A culture that can’t be replicated   

PropNex’s competitors are always keeping a close eye on its every move. Ismail has observed how its training session’s curriculum and designs have been replicated by others.

Unfazed, Ismail says that they will not be able to copy the true culture of PropNex, because the competitor’s intent and objective may be different. 

To Ismail, PropNex’s culture is about “unconditional love, about giving without expecting and being united as a team.”

He cites the example of its regular boot camps, held 12 times a year and attended by 2,000 of its property agents each year.

Held over two days from morning till past midnight, its facilitators — comprising the highest-earning managers and leaders in sales — sit down and mentor the agents, without getting paid a single cent.

“It’s about a culture of doing good for other agents… Many other companies can’t hold this water,” says Ismail. 

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Ismail speaking to over 3000 PropNexians at its annual convention. Image source: Ismail's facebook page


Reflecting on 5 years listing anniversary 

PropNex became a listed company in July 2018, a “happy and proud moment” for the Singaporean brand, says Ismail. 

But that euphoria was immediately dampened by the cooling measures which came less than a week later. At that time, additional buyers’ stamp duty rates for Singapore citizens were raised to 12 per cent for second properties. This move caught many by surprise and PropNex’s share price was affected. 

“Many investors, friends and people who trusted me thought, how can we not be aware that there will be cooling measures? They felt that they had been taken for a ride… It was one of the most challenging moments,” recalls Ismail. 

Instead of dwelling on the negativity, Ismail focused on how they would be able to “get out of this.”

And during Singapore’s circuit breaker lockdowns, the company sprung to action to quickly put together an intensive Zoom training program to help its property agents level up, focusing on topics like leadership and zoom viewings, among others. 

That galvanised the staff to stay resilient, and also forced them to rethink their digitisation approach.

The management invested more in proprietary tech platforms, increased its headcount in that department and changed the way transactions took place, switching from in-person to virtual transactions. 

This ability to keep thriving has helped them overcome crises and resulted in breakthroughs. 

Last year, PropNex posted over $1 billion in revenue for the first time in its history.

Passionately doing good

Looking back, Ismail has come a long way from his younger days, when he grew up in a one-room rental flat with four brothers and a younger sister. He had helped his father sell and deliver newspapers then. 

It was when he signed on as a Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Regular and rose up the ranks that he discovered the investment potential of the property market. 

He and his army friend used to take a bus along Cavenagh Road. The friend told him how his uncle had made a huge profit of about a quarter of a million dollars by investing in property.

That boggled his mind on how people could build up their assets and sparked his lifelong mission to become an entrepreneur. He wanted to make a difference to others on the way to knowing how to navigate of the real estate  trends.

That’s why he urges people to look beyond the accolades.

“All the rewards and recognitions are just a by-product of anyone working passionately with the belief to do greater good to mankind… The key ingredient is discipline and a never-say-die attitude,” he says. 

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Ismail made a personal donation of $1million to MENDAKI – Education Trust Fund at the MENDAKI 40th Anniversary celebration on 1 October 2022. Image source: Ismail's facebook page


About PropNex Limited

PropNex Limited is Singapore’s largest listed real estate agency group with 12,013 sales professionals as at 5 July 2023. As an integrated real estate services group, PropNex’s key business segments include real estate brokerage, training, property management and real estate consultancy. The Group has an established presence in Singapore’s residential market, even as it continues to expand its suite of real estate services in Singapore and grow operations regionally. PropNex already has presence in Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Australia.

The company website is https://www.propnex.com/

About kopi-C: the Company brew

kopi-C is a regular column by SGX Research in collaboration with Beansprout, a MAS-licensed investment advisory platform, that features C-level executives of leading companies listed on SGX. These interviews are profiles of senior management aimed at helping investors better understand the individuals who run these corporations.

Photo: Company file

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