Demanding excellence: How Jennifer Lechte became one of the most powerful businesswomen in Melbourne

Demanding excellence: How Jennifer Lechte became one of the most powerful businesswomen in Melbourne

Jennifer Lechte says she will never retire. The 67-year-old has been labelled one of the most powerful women in Melbourne and it is easy to see why.

After successful stints in managing the marketing for top AFL clubs, Lechte joined forces with her husband Peter to found the Lechte Corporation, one of the first companies to develop apartments in Melbourne’s CBD. This year, the Lechte Corporation has managed projects with apartment sales of more than $100 million.

I started my career as a school teacher. I studied physical education and arts at Melbourne University and after teaching I moved into sports administration.

I was hired as the first marketing manager of the Fitzroy Football Club. That was back when the clubs had one marketing manager who did the lot. Now they probably have 14 people.

After I achieved all I thought I could at Fitzroy, I moved to Carlton Football Club where I was marketing manager for six years. It was the very heady days of the ‘80s and I went at the request of John Elliott.

I learnt a great deal during my years in football and it held me in good stead for the male-dominated building industry. I could not have done what I have done without my 12-13 years in football.

I spent a lot of time learning to be assertive. I learnt to be a lot stronger.

After football I did a couple of things that were also incredibly empowering. I helped Richard Pratt develop his “Arts Angels” scheme at the Victorian Arts Centre and I worked with Leon L’Huillier at the Transport Accident Commission.

I had a lot of mentors and the main thing they did was they gave me power. They demanded excellence from me and I think that is underestimated in business.

John Elliott once said to me: “I don’t pay you to come to me with problems, I pay you to come to me with solutions.” It was very empowering.

No one treated me like a female; they treated me like an intelligent human being. I had to perform and excel and achieve results.

My husband Peter was a director at real estate agency Kay & Burton. He was selling apartments and was giving clients a great deal of advice. It seemed silly for him to have all this knowledge and not develop apartments himself.

He said to me: if you’re so smart why don’t you come and help me? So I did in 1991 and we have developed many, many projects since.

I am now a director of Lechte Corporation along with Peter and my son from a previous marriage, Christopher Paul, who joined us around 10 years ago.

Chris’s background is in finance, having worked as a stockbroker for Merrill Lynch and Bell Potter.

He’s an invaluable asset to our company. Gone are the days when Peter and I would try to figure out the profitability of a project through our own calculations. We now have incredibly detailed analysis.

There is an enormous amount of red tape. Things are more complex and the banks are lending less. But Chris brings financial know-how to the table.

We are very much a family company. We’re a real team and each of us brings different talents to the party. I work in marketing and sales, while Peter finds new sites and looks after construction. And Chris is supposed to look after finance. But our roles all overlap and inter-lap.

We are all very passionate about what we do and we have a common goal in sight.

Chris often says our core motive is to develop a circle of trust and I really like that. Trust is underestimated in business but it is important.

I believe we need to surround ourselves with the best possible people. We employ seven people in our office but we work with 20-30 external consultants on a long-term basis.

We work with the very best planners, the very best architects and the very best consultants and our relationships are very much long-term. Trust is essential with us and with the people we work with.

We started out by doing joint ventures with Geoff Lord, which came from the Carlton association. Networking at Carlton was incredibly important. It really was a who’s who of business there.

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