Michael and Andrew Buxton Reflect on 20 years of MAB
How did MAB begin?
Michael: In 1995, Andy and I commenced our first residential development called The Anchorage in Port Melbourne. We developed the project as “Michael and Andrew Buxton” and so MAB came about as a result.
Andrew: The Anchorage was a conversion of the old Swallow & Ariell Biscuit Factory into apartments. It really began the renaissance of Port Melbourne. When we first advertised it, our real estate agent advised us not to use Port Melbourne in the title because it was perceived as a factory area. People really didn’t see the potential. It’s true that it was a rundown area, but when we got up into the attic of the building and looked out through the old windows, we realised it looked out over the bay and the old pier. We watched all the big boats coming in. We thought, this is waterfront. This is fantastic.
The Anchorage was a big success, but did you have a vision for MAB beyond that?
M: We did set down what we wanted to try and do, and we set some rules as to the size of the business, the number of staff and so on. It started in a fairly humble way.
A: We wanted to turn over $20 million a year. Now it’s around $200 to $300 million.
Did you have a 20-year plan?
A: No. We knew we wanted to stay around Melbourne, and so we just looked for opportunities.
M: Early on we undertook a few joint ventures with people who didn’t have capital. That’s been an interesting part of our journey, because as a result of those joint ventures, we learned about other areas of development, such as industrial estates. We needed to know more about architecture, building processes and contracting, so we always partnered with someone who had the expertise.
Do you have any defining principles about the projects you develop?
A: We always put ourselves in the place of the buyers. We ask: would we live there, work there, eat there, go there? We envision the completed project, see ourselves cross the finish line and work backwards, step by step from there.
M: Another thing is that when we plan major projects, we like to include an element of art. Because of my interest in art, we’ve been able to take that to a level which we could get really excited about. I think through good design and art, we’ve been able to bring real quality to our projects.
Can you pinpoint reasons for the success of MAB?
M: I think one of the reasons for our success is our ability to build relationships with government.
A: A lot of developers have a reputation for being more antagonistic. We have worked with local, state and federal governments to achieve win-win situations.
While your projects have grown in size, how has MAB grown?
M: We’ve gone from six people to just under 100.
A: It’s a very inclusive workplace culture. Our people are bright, and we encourage them to free up their thinking and to learn. We want them to be unafraid of doing things to become leaders in the business.
Is there one project you’re most proud of over the past 20 years?
A: No, I don’t think there’s just one project. The Anchorage, NewQuay, University Hill and Merrifield have been the most significant, but there have been lots of other smaller projects along the journey, which have been very important in one way or another.
M: They’ve all added to the mix. And when you look at our other businesses – self storage, marinas, hotels – they’ve all intermixed with our property developments which has given us experience and allowed us to improve.
A: That’s right. We’re not just a one trick pony. That’s why now at Merrifield we’re able to offer the full spectrum: residential, retail, community and employment. If we deliver that, the state government and local government will be very happy.
Besides Merrifield, what else does the future hold?
A: We’re still opportunists. So we’ll do what we feel is profitable and is safe. There are still plenty of opportunities in Melbourne.
M: But we’re also not workaholics. We actually like a very balanced life. We enjoy our sport, our health, our travel and our families. It’s not as if work is the be all and end all of our lives.
What do you feel the legacy of MAB will be?
M: One of the things I learned at Harvard is how you can define success, and one way is being able to look at what you leave the world when you depart it. And I think that what MAB has and will deliver is significant. We pride ourselves on delivering a certain quality of work. It’s better than average. A lot of people try and do things as cheaply as possible. We provide a better quality, and that is applied across our work throughout industrial, residential and retail areas.
A: Today we can look at what our great grandfather and his uncle built in South Melbourne and around Albert Park Lake in the 1800s, and we’re really proud of that. Maybe our grandchildren or great grandchildren will walk around our part of Docklands in the future and feel the same way. At the end of the day, if you’ve created something good, and if people use it, it becomes part of the fabric of the city. And you really can’t ask for more than that.