When Cathy Baker entered the New South Wales Central Coast’s white-hot property market in 2010, it wasn’t to buy. Just over a decade on, her drive, vision and entrepreneurial spirit have made her one of the industry’s greatest success stories – and The CEO Magazine’s Real Estate Executive of the Year.
Inspired by the region’s seemingly endless sea- and tree-change possibilities, Baker took on the Belle Property franchise at Killcare in 2015. The former interior designer and mother of four quickly made the business her own: in just six years she expanded the licence to cover the entire Central Coast region.
Today, Baker is the Principal of what’s now known as Belle Property Central Coast. Her accolades are formidable: holder of five suburb records (including the Central Coast’s highest sale record), number four in Belle Property Australasia and one of REB’s Top 10 Women in Real Estate.
“It’s important to shine a light on the inspiring leaders in our business community, because too often individual success is hidden behind boardroom doors.” – Cathy Baker
The Real Estate Executive of the Year award is the latest trophy for Baker’s shelf, and caps a particularly fruitful year for Belle Property Central Coast. Property sales are up 140 per cent over the previous 12 months; overall revenue has jumped by 134 per cent. Baker has personally made 82 sales in that time, including 36 luxury properties worth between A$2 and A$10 million; a reflection of the region’s growing appeal.
“The global pandemic created a desire for many to buy an investment or holiday home, or to move out of the city because of working from home arrangements,” Baker says. “We worked hard to capitalise on these new trends so that we weren’t simply working through lockdown but could emerge at full speed.”
The business itself has also grown to include a new office and lifestyle precinct in Terrigal, a perfect illustration of Baker’s strategy to stand out from other agencies through innovation and success.
“A successful entrepreneur must be willing to take risks without being reckless, spend money to make money, always look for new and exciting ventures to bring to life, have an obsessive drive to succeed and have the confidence to back themselves and their ideas,” she says.
The new space is large enough to host the kind of community events Baker and her team have become renowned for supporting, such as the annual Belle’s Bubbles and Boobies breast cancer luncheon.
“For myself, entrepreneurial success allows me to recognise and reward my team and give generously back to the community that has helped me succeed.”
From the start, Baker’s background allowed her to go beyond simply selling houses. With the added virtue of her sharp eye for style, Belle Property’s listings soon transcended the market standard. It was the start of something big.
“My touchstone from the start was to know my clients on an intimate level, anticipating their needs by developing a clear lifetime plan for each,” Baker says. “It’s a far more robust proposition than any single sale, and I firmly instil these values across my entire team.”
The Belle Central Coast team is split across four business units, all of which draw heavily on the picturesque Central Coast surrounds. In addition to Belle Property Sales, there’s Belle Escapes Holiday Rentals, Belle Property Permanent Rentals, and the latest addition, Central Coast Life and Style Media. The latter, a magazine that showcases the region’s natural beauty, has taken Baker’s digital reach to new heights.
“Our licence with Belle Property provides us with extensive business structure and process which allows us time to continually question and look for ways to improve and stand out from the crowd,” she says.
“We test out new ideas, look for faults or flaws, try them again and implement. I don’t think of it as fighting with tradition but rather enhancing and evolving our business to stay ahead of the pack.”
Baker’s unorthodox approach to real estate is directly inspired by Sir Richard Branson’s disruptive leadership style. “He’s always been my inspiration; he taught me to say yes first and learn how afterwards,” she says. “He continually lives outside his comfort zone and challenges himself daily. I want to assist others, my team in particular, to live their best life.”
The Belle Property Central Coast team is another beneficiary of Baker’s growth agenda. The team of 35 was bolstered in 2021 by the addition of new hires with hotel industry expertise, which she believes improves the showcasing of properties.
“I built my business and my team from the ground up by searching for service-orientated, strategic and creative thinkers and providing them with the tools and freedom to make decisions based on my core values,” she says. “It’s been a challenging two years. With COVID-19 we had 110 luxury holiday homes and our sales are predominantly to Sydney, so with COVID-19 everything stopped.
“I had a team of 35 not doing too much, but we decided to keep them on and focus on team culture. We built a really strong team so when it bounced back we’d be prepared for it.
“It’s something we’re proud of – it’s really bonded us together and built an amazing culture in our business.”
The CEO Magazine’s recognition of her successful leadership is, Baker hopes, a way to inspire the next generation. “It shows them what’s possible in their own lives and draws attention to new industries or careers they may not have previously considered.”
On a personal level, though, the honour is a reminder of how far she’s come. “I’ve achieved a lot over an extremely challenging year, and there’s much to be proud of,” she says. “It’s important to shine a light on the inspiring leaders in our business community, because too often individual success is hidden behind boardroom doors.”