Michael McCormack co-founded Milieu Property, a boutique Melbourne-based residential development company, in 2010 with Ross Troon.
Milieu Property recently reached the milestone of a $100 million retail value for its completed and in-development projects. It’s responsible for developments such as Peel by Milieu; George & Andrew; and Whitlam Place. Coming soon will be Hertford Street in Fitzroy and 120 Campbell Street, Collingwood.
As an entrepreneur in his early thirties, Michael is passionate about progressive urban design and strong architectural outcomes, and enjoys a weekend surf to help keep the stress at bay.
What sparked your interest in property development?
My Opa was a carpenter that built homes in outer Melbourne after migrating to Australia. After school I trained as a carpenter. Building homes is very relatable – for our happiness, all of us need one in some form or another. Through this experience, I learnt there was more to creating a home than its construction and wanted to be involved in the whole process. I continued to work as a carpenter through university. These days I don’t get much of a chance to be hands on.
What drives you – has there been someone or something that has inspired your career?
Initially, I wanted a home for my wife and me, in a location we wanted to live without sacrificing on quality or amenity and that same opportunity for my sisters and friends, etc. Established properties in inner Melbourne are now beyond reach for many. However the desire to own a home is still very much part of our society. Milieu’s first project, Moor Street Fitzroy, was an example of developing a single property in a great location into multiple more affordable homes to meet a market. The creation of homes for people is still very much what drives Milieu.
Can you describe your approach to property development?
Milieu by definition means the context or environment in which one lives and is influenced by. Through our projects we aim to positively contribute to the built and social environment in which we are developing. Spaces of Influence, our brand subtitle, is an extension of this commitment. To us, it means delivering projects that positively influence their urban setting and the lives of those that interact with them – inside and or out. Key to this is a detailed understanding of our target market and buyer profile for each project. That is, we develop specifically for the occupant with the built and social context driving the design process.
From a management perspective, our businesses have a diverse wealth of skills and experiences. Our approach to development is collaborative within our office and with the people we work with.
As a boutique developer, how do you set yourself apart from the larger companies operating in the same field?
We don’t try to compete. We are inspired by many of our peers’ work. We aim to align ourselves with who our buyers are and what they want. We don’t engage with buyers solely on price. We focus on individuality, authenticity and providence engaging with those searching for the extraordinary and making it attainable.
You collaborate with a number of different creatives on your projects. What are you looking for in a collaborator?
To be engaged with, responded to, challenged and inspired by. As a developer we don’t really do anything. My friend Liam (Hip vs Hype) has described the developer’s position as akin to a movie producer. I like this analogy. The real ‘stars’ are the people we work with.
What is your favourite project that you’ve developed and why?
I’m really proud of all of our projects for different reasons. It’s like picking a favorite child. I guess at the moment it’s Nth Fitzroy By Milieu as we have been working hard on it with the project team for a launch early next year. This project will be the next step from Peel By Milieu and involves 28 one, two and three bedroom apartments along with Milieu Hospitality’s second space. We’re fortunate to be collaborating on the project with some amazing people.
What has been your career highlight?
Having trained as a carpenter, I am extremely proud of establishing Milieu Built – the building arm of our businesses. In development, we work for such great periods on paper. To be able to deliver these projects through construction is very rewarding. Many of our projects are a short walk away from our office. When I need a break from the computer, I’ll often visit our construction sites for inspiration.
Having the opportunity through our projects to support amazing people – including, illustrators, filmmakers, writers, photographers, etc. Recently we published and distributed the first edition of Melbourne Milieu Broadsheet – a twice-annual publication that explores the places and spaces unique to Melbourne through the eyes of photographers we work with. Issue two will be released early next year.
Establishing Milieu Hospitality with my sister to operate hospitality spaces within our buildings. The Hospitality business represents Milieu’s commitment to providing excellent amenities in our developments – enriching the area and its communities.
Apart from those by your own company, what do you think are the three best projects in the world at the moment?
I really like public space projects, how they are planned and engage with people and interact with private or commercial spaces etc. We recently visited Auckland. They have some great spaces including the Wynyard Quarter / North Wharf and Britomart precinct in the CBD. Another that I’ve been itching to experience is the Highline in New York. And Fed Square is local favorite of mine.
Where do you think the development industry will be five years from now?
To be honest, I’m not sure… I hope that we’ll have an environment that encourages and assists developers to continue to deliver projects that align with what occupiers require in locations they want to live for a price that meets the market. At the moment, we have some way to go on this.
At Milieu we are consistently working through statutory processes that add significant time and costs to projects, inhibit progressive urban design and architecture and at times prohibiting all together development in areas that we should be encouraging greater housing density and choice.
I’m sure most people lacking a detailed understanding of the development process and its related commercial aspects would perceive this type of discussion to be rhetoric from a developer with a strong interest. We do have this interest, however ultimately the end purchasers are those that are impacted upon with increased costs and lack of supply of preferred housing – to purchase and rent.
What or whom have you learned the most from?
In life generally, most definitely my wife Laura.
In business, I have been fortunate to have a number of key mentors each with very different experiences and approaches to development. Ross Troon, my business partner in everything Milieu, is a huge influence on me. He is the older wiser head of the businesses. Jonathan Hallinan, founder of BPM and my previous employer, has been big supporter of Milieu. He is an extremely passionate, driven person and an exceptional entrepreneur and businessman. Tim Price, founder of Time & Place and my first employer when at Sinclair Brook, has been a friend and sounding board for many years. He is the most technical development professional I know and an amazing person.
And each day at Milieu I’m learning from the people I work with in our office and on our projects as well as gaining inspiration from our peers and friends – such as Neometro, Assemble, Angle, Hip vs Hype, Wullf, Piccolo, etc.
What is a website or blog that you visit often?
What are three books that have you either influenced you professionally or personally?
A friend lent me Yvon Chouinard’s memoir some time ago – Let My People Go Surfing. Chouinard is a climber, environmentalist and founder of Patagonia. The book re-counts how Patagonia began and continues to successfully operate though making socially responsible choices. I still haven’t given it back…
Aside from my family and Milieu, my other great love is surfing. Without doubt, Kelly Slater has had the most significant influence on surfing of all time. The man is an inspiration. He is 43, has won 11 world titles and is still competing on the world tour against people less than half his age. I’ve read a few books about him, however the two with his input are Pipe Dreams and For the Love.
Recently I attended a talk at the M Pavilion – high-density happiness. One of the speakers, Madeline Lucas (Dumbo Feather), referenced Setting the Table by Danny Meyer. The book describes the concept of enlightened hospitality. Meyer is a successful New York restaurateur. I was interested in this as my two sisters are in hospitality and I have just started a business with Katie (my twin sister) to create and run hospitality venues within Milieu developments – Milieu Hospitality. Meyer’s concept is about how you make people feel and that this is the key to success in business generally and life more broadly. I haven’t finished it yet.