MY MOTTO IS NEVER SELL, HOLD ON TO PROPERTY BECAUSE ONE DAY WE WILL RUN OUT OF LAND.
Employment and training powerhouse Sarina Russo may sit at number 12 on BRW’s Rich Women list, with an estimated worth of $100 million, but she baulks at being described as one of Australia's richest women. "That's not how I see myself," she says as she weaves her way through traffic, typically multitasking to fit an interview into an already crammed schedule. "I don't measure myself by wealth. I measure my capabilities and my passion and my determination to create greatness."
Russo, now in her 36th year running the training and jobs empire that grew out of a small typing school she set up after being sacked from a secretarial job, has secured her wealth by following the example set by her hard-working Sicilian parents. Her father was a carpenter, her mother worked in a cannery, but every spare cent went into buying property. Their four children were also expected to contribute. "It was normal among migrant families that you had to pay board and put your salary into your parents' bank account to help them invest in real estate," Russo says.
"The property belonged to the parents and, when the parents died, it would go to the kids." The practice taught Russo a key lesson in property investment - don't sell. "We still have those properties and they are worth many millions of dollars. If we had sold, we would have got about a tenth of that." Like her parents, Russo has worked tirelessly, creating a global business now made up of seven companies that service about 46,000 trainees and job seekers each year, while simultaneously amassing an extensive property portfolio.
This includes a mix of commercial and residential property in Melbourne, Sydney, the Gold Coast and hometown Brisbane, where she owns four CBD buildings and four prime riverfront blocks (in East Brisbane) that she may one day develop. Her first commercial acquisition - a 12-storey building she bought for $2 million in 1993 to house her then modestly sized business - is today worth about $17 million, but she says she wouldn't dream of selling.
Meanwhile, there are no plans to diversify. Russo says she has no interest in exploring other asset classes after her first ill-timed foray into the share market. She took a stake in a financial services company she was associated with, just before the global financial crisis, and was then spooked into selling before it could recover.
"I invested about $150,000 and lost the lot," she says. "At the time, I was fascinated and thought I would give it a go, so I did - and I haven't done it since."