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Conversation with FBNZ member Barfoot and Thompson

Updated: Mar 31

Barfoot and Thompson Managing Director, Peter Thompson, gives his personal insight into the pros and cons of working in a family business in the interview below.

1. Can you please give us a quick overview of your business?

Barfoot & Thompson is a fourth generation real estate company that was formed in 1923 by Val Barfoot. From those small beginnings in Newmarket, we quickly grew to become Auckland and Northland’s market leader. Over 99 years we've remained steadfastly family owned. The current Directors - Peter Thompson, Stephen Barfoot and Kiri Barfoot - are the grandsons and the granddaughter of the original owners.


Over the decades, the company has continued to grow, despite fluctuating market cycles, economic downturns, war times, changes in government regulations and more. Throughout our history, the families have maintained our integrity to make the company a success.


We have evolved over time, embracing technology, diversity in hiring, modern attitudes and innovations in the industry to become a company recognised on the international stage as the ‘Best Real Estate Agency in the World’ at the recent International Property Awards in 2021

The two families could not be more proud of the size and scope of our services, unrivalled reputation, and the recognition received on a regular basis from industry experts.


2. What is the most rewarding aspect of working in a family business?

Not being a corporate company, a family company can make and implement decisions a lot quicker and being family, I like to think that we treat all our people as if they were our family members. Create a family culture that is long lasting and with fewer changes versus a corporate situation that has high change in personnel which ultimately means change in direction regularly


Reward and recognize your people for the work they do because they go that extra mile for you when you do and they buy into the family environment more willingly.

Our company values, which we have our people try and be part of each one of these include:

  • Our People

  • Community

  • Family

  • Diversity


3. Working amongst family has its difficulties, what would you say is the most challenging aspect?

Some family members thinking it is their right that they will be running the company one day without doing the hard work. It's important each generation works within the business so they understand each sector of the business and understand the issues the employees work under. You have to operate under the same rules as what you expect your management and employees to work under


Equally some of the family members are treated differently by the employees as they think they are only there as they are family; whereas that person has earnt the right over time to fill that position.


Another challenge is the pace one makes change and with family business, I notice changes tend to be more slowly taken as the cost is significant to the business. In comparison, corporates tend to accept change more readily and if those ideas don’t change, they simply move on with the next idea, not worrying about the financial implications as much as they would under a family environment


4. From your experience, what advice would you give to other family-owned businesses?

Have been fortunate that through the years we have been operating, we have had an overlap of generations in senior management and it's important to listen to the older generation of what worked well for them but equally look at the new generation and what new ideas and technology need to be adapted. You need stability as well as advancement and sometimes you have to look at what worked in difficult times previously to understand why those decisions were made (and succeeded).


5. Why did you want to be involved with your family business?

In my case, sadly my father died suddenly when he was running the company and my uncle asked me at the time if I was interested in getting into the company. I had been brought up with real estate all my life and had worked during the school holidays. I had just left college and wasn’t 100% sure what I wanted to do so I took up the role of property management in Otahuhu for five years, and they simply were some of the best days of my career. With real estate you are meeting different people each day, facing different situations along the way, and that gives you great satisfaction when you get it right. Seeing the faces of your vendors and purchasers once a sale has been made is wonderful experience. You also have to keep reminding yourself you are dealing with a person’s biggest asset so a lot of confidence in what you are doing has to be shown. 42 years later and I still love and have the passion for the company.


6. How do you keep your family time separate from the family business dynamic?

When I leave work in the evening, I won’t talk about what happened at the office when I get home. It is important to switch off. Also I like to get away to our beach house with my wife and two daughters; or go out on our launch for a fish. My wife and I are heavily involved in community functions so often work goes into the night but in a different environment.


7. What’s the key benefit/advantage of your FBNZ membership?

We are relatively new to the organization but families can all learn off each other and share ideas that work. Governance of generations is always challenging and by being part of this group I hope we get to know how others make those changes and ensure continuity of companies carrying on into the future.