The dream team: Why PropNex’s Stella Thio chooses to grow her team sustainably and with heart

by | Team Building

The original article can be found on Edgeprop.

We quote:

Within the property industry, having a bigger team is generally preferred by team leaders. Not only will the group benefit from the collective knowledge, they’ll also benefit from the higher number of shared resources.
However, Stella Thio, district director at PropNex Realty, prefers a different approach.
Thio, who graduated from the National University of Singapore (NUS) with majors in economics and statistics, was a senior dealing director with the largest local stockbroking firm in Singapore before she joined the real estate industry in 2010. In her career as a property agent, Thio has been with PropNex since day one with the exception of her sabbatical leave from 2013 to 2015. In addition to her role as a property agent, Thio is also an experienced top tagger for PropNex’s luxury arm.
Some of her accolades include the PropNex Millionaire Award for 2020 and 2021, and PropNex’s Top Lux Tagger, Champion Position for three years in a row from 2019 to 2021.
During her storied career, Thio has received several requests to join her team of agents during her 12-year career at PropNex. Unlike other agents, she will, however, first consider if the requester will fit into the team or not.
“I want a team that can work together. One that has team spirit. I will not hesitate to say no to people whom I find who are not suitable to the team culture,” Thio declares.
On what would be a good fit to her team, she adds: “I think it’s more like how everyone can contribute to the team so all can grow and enjoy the process of making good money together.”
Family connection
Thio is currently leading a team of about 20 property agents, all of whom feel like they’re part of one big family and share an easy camaraderie.
Thio’s team comprises a mix of experienced agents who have been in the industry for over 20 years, as well as younger agents who have just joined or have joined the industry in recent years.
Among Thio’s team is her husband Lee Ghee Tat who does research for the team, daughter Alethea Seow and her husband, Isaac Ng.
“This team – half of us could have birthed the other half,” says senior associate marketing director Angela Cheong with a laugh. Cheong is also part of Thio’s team.
Working smart
Despite its relatively smaller size, the team has secured Thio the Champion Position Top District Director award for 2Q2022, and the first runner up position for 1H2022. The award recognises the top-performing teams within PropNex based on the commissions received by the team during the year.
What helps is Thio’s guiding hand and the contributions made by every individual to the team. Within the team, each and every agent plays a different role.
For instance, Lee, who has access to research and data, is the researcher for the team. In his research, Lee looks at the macro view of the global and local markets, market dynamics, the demand and supply balance within the Singapore property market, and turns raw data into easy-to-understand charts that the team shares with its clients.
Another key resource is Lilian Chow, who is the team’s telemarketer. Chow has been with the team since 2017. The leads she gets are meant to be distributed among the team. “If you’re a new agent and don’t have many leads to work on, the leads from Lilian will help you practice. We will also guide you along the way. But of course, any agent – experienced or not – is welcome to tell Alethea, who manages the leads, that they want to work with the leads Lilian has brought in,” she adds. Alethea also assists to train the newer agents in serving the cold leads.
“I’m fortunate because I don’t have a lot of people hanging up on me when I make cold calls. They’re actually very nice and sometimes thank me for going to them,” says Chow.
“Stella’s also very, very nice. [It’s also easy working closely with Alethea]. I’ve been with them for so long, it’s easy and comfortable. Stella treats me well, and with the agents – they’re all so young, you feel nice working with them too,” she adds. To be sure, Chow is so good in her role that other agents had tried to poach her, reveals Thio.
A big-hearted leader and mentor
To her team, Thio is a generous leader who hosts regular get-togethers. Thio is also quick to share her knowledge, resources and build others.
“When I was looking for agencies to join, I had heard a lot about Stella. When I met her, within 10 minutes of our talk, I realised I was looking for a mentor who is also an experienced older sister,” says Cheong.
“Stella is good at the product and has other traits, which I thought were valuable to the industry. She’s also good with research and analysing the data,” she adds.
Max Lim, who is the most experienced agent within the team with 26 years of experience, says he appreciates the way Thio approaches and presents to agents’ clients in her role as a tagger.
“When you look back in the 1990s till now, you can see a lot of changes in the industry. It is more professional now and I like that Stella and Ghee Tat are knowledgeable,” he shares.
“They give us a lot of input and knowledge that we can share with our clients. Stella’s very good at selling without being too hard-sell. Ghee Tat, as our researcher, shares a lot of the data we don’t know, into simpler terms, which we can then explain to our clients,” he adds.
Patience is another trait that Lim appreciates. “Stella is very patient with all the right tools to address our concerns. I can say that after over 20 years in this industry, Stella is someone who is not easy to come by.”
The rest of the team concurs.
When asked about being under Thio’s leadership, the team only had one word for it: blessed.
“Stella is someone who will over deliver and under promise,” says Lee. “It is always a blessing to give than to receive,” says Thio. Her generosity extends to the rest of the agents under PropNex’s umbrella. Many agents from PropNex have requested for her various webinar slides and she has always shared her materials with these agents.
In October 2021, PropNex became the first property agency in Singapore to formalise a framework, the Real Estate Chapter (RES Chapter) with the Singapore Industrial and Services Employees’ Union (SISEU), which comes under the umbrella of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC). At the time, Thio was asked to become the union’s first chairperson.
“After our company was listed, [our CEO] Ismail [Gafoor] got this chapter going. He wanted the company to have fair practices. So the company had a discussion to decide who the leaders should be selected for the inaugural committee,” she explains. Within the committee, there are seven members, which included leaders from different market sectors, age brackets, gender and profile, and one advisor.
“Ismail told me that he preferred to have me as the chairperson. It was partly due to my diverse background with working experience in a financial institution, civil service and as a commission agent,” she adds.
Another reason for Thio’s appointment as chairperson of the union is her propensity for charity, which was noticed by CEO Ismail.
“I initiated a fundraising for a colleague who passed away from his illness. The process was tiring but well worth the effort,” she says. “All these donations by big-hearted people, which included a generous top-up by [PropNex’s CEO] Ismail, contributed towards the purchase of a three-room HDB flat for the family.”
To ensure every dollar was accounted for, Thio, who spent four sleepless nights trying to coordinate the entire process, made sure she had a clear record. She had also returned the almost 2,000 messages sent with the donations with an individual note of thanks.
Mother-daughter team
Thio’s mentorship approach has also rubbed off on her daughter. “It’s the same with Alethea. She was training Sheryl, Alvin and I as new agents, and we have different personality types. So what she does is, she sets different ringtones for each of us, and picks up our calls to answer our questions anytime, any place,” says senior associate marketing director Rebecca Tan, another member of Thio’s team.
As a testament to the kind of mentorship that Thio offers, Tan reveals that when the trio first joined the team, they signed up as taggers for The Garden Residences in Serangoon.
It was then that they received intensive training from Thio, who took them under her wing. “We ended up doing very well at The Garden Residences. I remember the developers and buyers were quite impressed because we were brand new agents and people didn’t know who we were, and didn’t look to us for information initially,” says Tan.
“But with a lot of guidance from Alethea, Stella and Bobby (from Bobby Sng Advisory), we did very well, and that’s how some PropNex leaders gathered some of the younger agents to support us. I thought that was very helpful,” she adds.
Another useful aspect to the team is the personality test Thio and Lee conduct. “Ghee Tat and I are certified trainers in ‘The Personalities’ from the US. This is very similar to the DISC personality test, except that DISC focuses on how a person reacts under different circumstances. But this personality profiling focuses on relationships and how an individual relates to another,” says Thio.
Knowing and being able to understand our clients’ personalities will help us relate better to their needs and determine the best way to approach our sales with them, she adds.
Future growth
Now in the next phase of her career, Thio is working on building a team of up to 50 initially and hopefully close to 100 people within the next few years. “My goal now is to mentor and raise more like-minded agents to become good leaders who are willing to nurture the agents under them, to strengthen the good team spirit and giving culture we now have.”
“I’d like to do more team building and tone down on tagging in future. Tagging is super hard work, and I don’t think I want to do that for too long,” she adds. “The tagging fee is only 10% of what a closing agent gets. This means that if a PropNex agent closes one deal, we need to close 10 deals to earn the same income.”
Furthermore, now that Seow is in the business, Thio prefers to focus more on building her team and serving direct clients.
Yet, she believes tagging will help agents develop that fundamental skill and knowledge.
“Once you have that skill, you can handle anything. That’s really the basis of the strength of this team. We have the knowledge in property trends and the fundamentals as well as the soft skills acquired through the understanding of different personalities,” she adds. “With that, we know which buttons to push at the right time, for the right client and with the right product.”