Elle Likopolous wears many hats. A successful broker and the principal at Absolute Business Brokers, a specialist in international investor liaisons, a mother and a daughter of an immigrant. All hats that Elle is proud to put on because in her words, “why should we have to pretend we don’t exist outside of our work”. Elle Likopolous recently spoke to Bsale about her experiences during lockdown, the importance of work-life balance and the exciting adventures that lie ahead.
Initially pursuing food science at university and having no intention of joining the family business, Elle said that she “got into it by chance” in spite of her father’s encouragement.
“My father is a director of our company, it’s a family business. I was going on a completely different path and it was during the time I was pregnant with my first son that my dad said ‘you know you’d be really good at it [broking]’. I wanted flexible hours and I didn’t want to stay home, but I couldn't be on my feet due to complications with my pregnancy, so, I started answering some emails.”.
Before Elle knew it, answering some emails on the side quickly turned into taking over files, going to inspections and then studying to officially be a licensed agent.
“It just progressively was more and more responsibility and my dad was phasing out and retiring. "So it just kind of happened, I found I had a really big passion for it, found my calling.” Elle said.
“What my dad really focused on and what his goal was, was to help migrants, he was a migrant himself he came from Greece. He didn’t know the language and he sort of stumbled into business, used that as stepping stones to grow his wealth because back then nobody would give him an opportunity, it was factory work or you had to buy your own business. Despite the fact that he was an engineer in Greece he wasn’t recognised for that here.”
A familiar story for many people who migrate to Australia from non-English speaking countries, it can be very challenging to enter the workforce, as Elle says:
“There were a lot of migrants in his position and he wanted to help people that were coming to Australia that didn’t know how to speak the language. That was my dad's personal passion, which we still focus on and pride ourselves on and have very close ties with migration agents and helping people through their visas and making sure that they have a high success rate and getting their permanent residency. We are really proud of what we have achieved in that respect.” Elle said.
Taking her role as both a woman and a mother very seriously, Elle strives to empower and support women in business. As a woman in this industry, Elle says that she’s “really happy to be leading the way in making sure that women are heard and women business owners have a representation of themselves,”.
“I have a lot of first-time business owners that are women, mums looking to re-enter the workforce and needing to consider a small business because it has the flexible hours and these women have a lot of talent and skill they can put towards the business but they don’t know necessarily the realities of a business and what they need to look out for and things they need to be aware of. #BuyAJob was such a big movement in lockdown and I think it’s definitely been more women buying businesses and registering ABNs than ever before.”
“When I first started in the industry, there weren’t a lot of women doing business broking and it was really hard to find your place within the industry and earn that respect. It was common for me to enter a board room and for the buyer to give me their coffee order and not realise I was the one heading the meeting. That hard work I had to put in initially, the hours, to make sure I was doing double what the men were doing just trying to prove myself, was really hard and it made me realise it can be really hard for women wanting to be in business and earn that same level of respect in certain industries.” Elle said.
As more younger brokers enter the industry and the industry itself diversifies, Elle believes that some of the older bad habits and toxic work environments are on their way out.
“I’m really happy that it is not in all industries, but male-based industries like IT like business broking, you know we can’t pretend that it’s not an issue. Over the last few years, it’s gotten better, I’ve seen a lot of emerging women in business broking but if you look even 5 or 10 years ago, there was only 1 or 2 of us really in Victoria.”.
“It’s good to see it’s changing and that we don’t have that toxic work environment anymore where we feel like we have to do 20 hours a day just to earn our place which is what I was doing at the start. I was working ridiculous hours just to try and prove myself when the reality is, we’re allowed to have kids, we’re allowed to have a family life, men and women are allowed to do that.” Elle said.
Office culture is really important to Elle and Absolute in general. Elle is passionate about changing the toxic office culture and setting new ground rules, actively changing what came before and this positivity helps the company in more ways than just one.
“We pride ourselves on having a really good work-life balance and it shows in our figures.” Elle said, even in lockdown Absolute grew by a further 5 million in the year, “we’re constantly growing.”.
“The business grew, surprisingly against all odds, that really comes down to the fact that as soon as we heard about the first lockdown (and we’ve had 6) I sat my staff down on zoom and I said to them ‘right we’re all doing homeschooling, what are the hours that everyone can do?’. The roster completely changed, it became a matrix of different hours and intervals from all of us and what we were able to do work around homeschooling.”
Elle said that it was incredibly important to her that her team didn’t feel the pressure of ‘I have my kid at the bench not knowing what to do and then I have to answer this email and then I have this call’ and tried to alleviate that where she could.
“I just thought it was crazy that some people expected anyone to work from home with their kids in the middle of homeschooling, something was going to give. I made sure we were working when we could. I don’t like the idea of these false pretences that I need you to work 9 to 5. I would rather you work 5-to-6, then 2-to-3 and 8-10 if that means that you will give me better work and more quality and be happy.” Elle said.
“It will save on burnout, save on mistakes and you’re gonna have a smile on your face. That I think is a really big part of why we did well, I mean we were all stressed don’t get me wrong it’s not easy being in lockdown for that long, but we didn’t have that added stress of a toxic work environment or being put under the pressure of having to do everything between 9to5. We’re human at the end of the day.”
Elle openly says to her team that “we’re all here because we’ve got bills, I never want you to feel like you’re living to work, you’re working to live,” because, at Absolute Business Brokers, family comes first.
“Because we’ve stayed true to that, we have a very loyal and hard-working team,” Elle said.
It’s no secret ingredient, rather it’s the fact of embracing the family environment rather than fighting against it that is key to Elle’s success she believes.
“One of the hardest things in lockdown was not seeing each other face-to-face, not being a part of each other's lives. It’s a family environment, dad and I really care about the workers, the agents, and we call each other a family. We have round table meetings, any big decisions we vote on it as a team right from an admin girl that might be doing 6 hours a week to a top-selling agent, all have an equal vote and a say in where the company is going and what direction they want to go. So that has always been really important to us that we have that culture where people feel heard and it pays off because they’re loyal and they work hard because they’re happy.”
There is even a ping pong table at the office for when children are there on school-free days. The strong family-oriented spirit doesn’t just help within the company, but Elle believes that quality has been one of the key factors to their success.
“I think that is one of the reasons why people are so attracted to owning their own business because yes the work is hard and there is a lot of work to be done but there is flexibility and fluidity in your work and it is intertwined with your life and that is really important that they have a broker that understands that. Everyone in our team has owned a small business or been part of a small business they know what it takes they know what a business owner goes through in their day to day they know how hard it is to buy a business, the uncertainty, the lack of insight you can get sometimes, the risk generally in stepping into someone else's shoes and the money at stake. It’s an object, it’s not a product we’re trying to sell. I think the fact that we understand that gives us a point of difference in the market.”
“There were buyers [in lockdown] there were people that were still looking for an opportunity in the market and I personally think they did very well. There were a lot of savvy investors that saw the opportunity in a risk and they took it, so it was important that we still give them the level of service that they respect and needed.”
According to Elle one of the biggest mistakes made in business is looking at it [business] ‘like a business’.
“Yes it’s there to make you money, yes it’s an investment you have to think wisely and make business choices, we always say is this a ‘commercial decision that you’re making?’ All this applies and is very true, but if you want to be very successful, you also need to remember that no matter what you’re doing, no matter what your business is, you are dealing with people. The best business owners, the best entrepreneurs in the world, all have charisma and have this element of being approachable. That is the key to success. You can be good at numbers, you can be savvy and know the good opportunities and the right time, but if you want to stand out from the crowd you need to have that charisma.” Elle said.
“You’ve always got to be positive, at the end of the day if you’re not willing to take ups and downs of business and you’re not prepared to make a lot of money and lose a lot of money, then being a business owner probably isn’t for you and that’s okay it’s not for everyone and any experienced business owner will tell you there are ups and downs and highs and lows and everybody wants to be a business owner in the highs but the successful ones are the ones that can paddle through the lows.
The market, according to Elle, at the end of the day is not a complex algorithm or complicated matrix world that is hard to understand or predict. Instead, in reality, the market is just the actions of people and how a large collective of people behave.
“I’m not a market expert and I don’t claim to be one, but in my experience, I think we’re on the right path and I think the market is really eager to recover and to try and make up for lost time. If you’re able to be in tune with what most people are feeling and saying, that is a very good reflection of the market in my opinion and I can see from my dealings that there is this yearning to recover, this yearning to make up for the lost time. I’m excited personally about what the market will hold and I’m seeing it in the sales, the work that we’re doing.” Elle said.
For Absolute, the sales have been phenomenal, it’s been a big boom and Elle predicts that we’ll be seeing more of that, especially with so many businesses not being able to survive in lockdown and having to close, there are so many staff members now that were let go and are really forced to consider nothing but buying a business.
“We’re seeing that attitude and that mentality a lot now and there is a big emergence of people from industries that have been impacted who are trying their luck and taking that leap of faith that, before when they were in a comfort zone, they probably weren’t going to do but when you’re pushed out of your comfort zone as we know and as all successful entrepreneurs say is where the magic happens and I think we're seeing a huge emergence of that. It’s exciting.”
Coming out of lockdown with borders looking to open up “it’s a really exciting time to be a business broker,” Elle says and with borders and immigration looking to open up again in 2022 that provides even more opportunities for Elle.
“I was the first person to be invited out of the business broking industry in Victoria, the first to be given a formal invitation by the Chinese government to go and speak in China at seminars across different regions to investors and give them basically true information about buying a business and endorse investment opportunities in Victoria in small and medium-sized businesses and given that seal of approval that I’m trustworthy and give sound advice.”
“That was a really big compliment for us when you’re getting that acknowledgement from authorities that are outside of your industry and just recognise that you’re trustworthy and that you’re going to give honest and true information is a really big achievement and that is something that we work really hard at doing over the years, it started with my dad 30 years ago and just having that full-circle moment and we were recognised for that and we can see that it paid off and that honesty was noticed and it was a really big moment,” Elle said.
While Elle hasn’t been able to go overseas yet due to lockdown, working in Europe is also in the very near future for Absolute as they met with the Prime Minister of Greece just before lockdown.
“He was going to give us recognised accreditation that we were to be the trusted source of contact for 188 Visas and any visa-related sales with them. So we are really looking forward to kickstarting that again and we are really excited about what we can do in Europe. We have been doing what we can over zoom and there are a lot of exciting things to come but it’s been difficult because of the border closures but that is probably the next step for Absolute.” Elle said.
“Growing our reputation with visa buyers and moving towards Europe now. We made some really good contacts and really big groundbreaking steps, lockdown was a bit of a setback with borders closed but we’re really looking forward to starting that when it’s safe to do so.”
We may still be experiencing a pandemic but the future looks bright for Elle and Absolute.
Caitlin has a background in media and communications, studying journalism at University and doing various freelance writing and production work over ...