Property’s Influential Leaders

Property’s Influential Leaders

The biggest property players on the Rich List have been revealed, with fortunes shifting as the nation emerges from last year’s pandemic recession.

Despite rising unemployment and the worst economic downturn in decades, Australia’s richest keep on getting richer. Property continues to be the main driver for wealth in this year’s record-breaking Australian Financial Review Rich List with some familiar players and new entries capturing the top spots.

According to AFR Magazine’s hotly-anticipated annual Power issue, here are this year’s  most powerful people in property:

1. Denita Wawn

Known for her courage and character, Master Builders Australia CEO Denita Wawn is the face of Australia’s second-largest industry. Wawn is the consummate Canberra networker. Corridor power came in handy when she pressed the case first for a grand stimulus to support the housing construction sector as it faced a wipeout, and then again for a crucial extension to the resulting HomeBuilder scheme.

Denita Wawn joined the Canberra Grammar School Board in December 2019. She is also the Chief Executive Officer of Master Builders Australia – the first woman to hold that role in its 130-year history.

Denita has 25 years experience as a leading industry advocate. Her previous roles include CEO of the Brewer’s Association of Australia and New Zealand, Deputy CEO of the National Farmer’s Federation and Executive Director of the Australian Hotels Association (AHA) Tasmanian Division.

Denita was born and educated in Hobart, Tasmania. She has Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws degrees from the University of Tasmania.

No stranger to major policy interventions, Wawn also last year led opposition to a deal between the Business Council and the ACTU to rewrite the enterprise bargaining laws. Her influence in the construction sector extends to super fund powerhouse Cbus.

As a board member, she oversaw the appointment of investment industry figure Justin Arter as chief executive. The next duty on her list as a Cbus director was to help appoint former federal treasurer Wayne Swan to take over from outgoing chairman Steve Bracks.

2. Phil Pearce

Phil Pearce, CEO of ESR Australia, has over 20 years of development and investment management experience in the real estate sector throughout the Asia Pacific region. He holds a Bachelor of Commerce, Land Economy from Western Sydney University and is currently a Non-Executive Director of Singapore listed ESR REIT.

Phil established the ESR business in Australia through the acquisition of Commercial and Industrial Property (CIP) in July 2017 and Propertylink Group in May 2019. Through combining CIP’s proven development expertise with Propertylink’s leading asset and investment management capability, Phil has established a strong industrial and logistics real estate platform in the Australian market.

Asian logistics platform ESR made a splash with its arrival in the Australian market in 2017. Leading the charge was Pearce, a former AMP Capital executive, who subsequently led Goodman Group’s China business. Over the next four years, deal by deal, ESR moved into the front rank of industrial landlords.

But it wasn’t until this year that ESR, led by Pearce, truly cemented its stature, sealing the country’s largest-ever direct project deal with its $3.8 billion acquisition of the Milestone logistics portfolio from Blackstone.

As much as the record deal itself was transformational for ESR’s local arm, it signalled a historic shift for the world of commercial real estate. The sharp yield on the deal meant warehouses were now more highly valued than prime city CBD office towers.

3. David Harrison

With $52 billion of property funds under management, the Charter Hall platform rivals Goodman in scale. It’s a model which is 30 years in the making, more than half of that under Harrison’s tutelage.

Driving Charter Hall’s impressive expansion is its unceasing appetite for transactions, backed by its ability to secure mandates from some of the world’s biggest institutions.

There are few major commercial property opportunities that Harrison, who is also the Property Council president, doesn’t know about or hasn’t had a look at.

As a result, it is his judgment, unseen but ubiquitous, that has become one of the key arbiters on price and return in Australia’s commercial property sector.

4. Peter Allen

Allen joined Westfield 3½ decades ago, rising to become one of Sir Frank Lowy’s most able lieutenants. But nothing in Allen’s long service could have prepared him for the coronavirus carnage of the past 18 months.

As the rent wars escalated and with little room to manoeuvre, Scentre Group CEO Allen came into his own. He was happy enough to provide relief to the smaller tenants, but when larger chains stopped paying their dues, Allen struck back, famously locking out several big brands.

It was a risky move that paid off and the dispute was resolved in 10 days. Allen’s refusal to wave the white flag solved an immediate problem and ruled a line for years to come.

5. Ming Long

Ming Long AM FCA is a well-respected and influential leader with almost a decade of board experience in areas including financial services and real estate.

Ming’s executive career spanned real estate, investment management, media and finance. She spent 11 years at Investa Property Group where she held several roles including Managing Director, Chief Financial Officer, and Group Executive, IOF Fund Manager, leading a ASX listed fund with a market capitalisation of $2.5bn.

After many years in senior executive positions at Investa Property Group, Long had carved out a successful board career. But it was her role as AMP Capital Funds Management chairman that put her in the path of a gathering storm when disgruntled investors in the $5 billion AMP Capital Diversified Property Fund wanted out.

In April, an independent board committee chaired by Long recommended the “leave” proposal – to merge with a Dexus-run fund – over remaining with AMP Capital. A major decision in itself may have longer-term repercussions, with AMP Capital losing one of its trophy assets just as it pursues plans for a demerger.

Similar Articles you will love


  • Australia’s top five property players in 2021

By Nick Lenaghan

  • AFR Magazine’s annual Power Issue: The definitive analysis of Australia’s most powerful people.

  • AFR Rich List 2021: Property players Harry Triguboff and Frank Lowy among Australia’s richest

By Elizabeth Redman

  • Denita Wawn

By Master Builders Australia

  • ESR’s Phil Pearce is on a mission to grow the business

By Carolyn Cummins

  • Phil Pearce


  • About Ming Long FCA