TEN months ago, Anna Tooma was battling breast cancer, lost her husband to a heart attack and had to cope with running a business that she had largely stepped away from many years earlier to raise a family.

While the pain of losing her husband of almost 30 years is still raw, the managing director of LJ Hooker Surfers Paradise has never felt more empowered with sales at the agency on the rise and expansion plans on the agenda.

The Gold Coast business community was shocked last year with the sudden death of veteran real estate agent Tony Tooma while he was on a bike ride on the Tweed Coast.

The fit 54-year-old, who has been involved in the Gold Coast real estate market since 1982, suffered a heart attack.

For Anna, the shock was compounded by the responsibility of taking the reins of a multimillion-dollar family business that manages 32 staff and a portfolio of residential and commercial properties for clients.

“Obviously it was a difficult transition,” she says. “At the time I was still going through treatment for breast cancer when it happened. Immediately I had to jump into the role of directing the future of the business while completing that treatment.”

However, despite what many in the industry may have thought, Anna adapted quickly to the role through the support of loyal staff, including licensee Rick Graham and CEO Alice Huang.

Anna, who has taken on the role of managing director at LJ Hooker Surfers Paradise, for many years acted as chief financial officer for the family business – in fact, she had done so as far back as 22 years ago when Tony struck out on his own by opening an office with just two other staff.

“Having to step into the managing director’s role was a challenge because immediately with such a big change in the organisation you want to provide stability for the business,” Anna says.

“The toughest challenge was assuring our clients and our customers that it’s business as usual – and obviously trying to ward off our competitors who thought the business was up for grabs. That was the most difficult challenge.

“It took about a month or so before settling down – to recover from the shock initially and also to put into place the team that I needed to support me in the business.

“I couldn’t have done it without the support of the staff. It wouldn’t have survived any other way.”

Anna tells Gold Coast Business News that she was “very disappointed” by talk from some in the industry that she wasn’t up to the task of running the business following Tony’s death.

However, she equally doesn’t like to dwell on the point.

Instead, Anna takes two positives from the events of the past 10 months.

Firstly, she has been given the all-clear from the cancer and, secondly, the business is flourishing and looking at expansion.

Anna is the first to admit she has a different management style to Tony – a real estate professional who was widely known as a canny businessman and property investor in his own right.

Tony loved the sale, so much so that Anna often referred to his work as his “mistress”.

“He spent a lot of time here and he got a lot of satisfaction out of it,” she laughs.

“But I am not a selling agent, so my management style and management model is quite different to Tony’s.

“In implementing that style, I have had to build a team of professional people that I can rely upon to work key elements of the business.

“I’m in the position now where I’m working on the business and not in the business. That gives me more time to focus on the areas that I need to address in order to grow.”

Anna says LJ Hooker Surfers Paradise has grown in respect of both turnover and staff, but she concedes the trend was already starting to emerge prior to Tony passing.

She says residential growth is being driven by southern buyers looking for properties under $500,000, which are “getting thin on the ground”.

“But for that sort of money they can’t get in anywhere in Sydney,” she says.

Another strong indicator for the Gold Coast is the reduction of time on the market, while the commercial sector is also showing signs of life, she says.

As for offshore investors, she says many are being frustrated by a lack of new apartment stock.

Anna says the market momentum has afforded her the luxury of taking a broader view of the business in recent months with a view to expand both the residential and commercial divisions.

“I have a very well planned approach to the expansion,” she says.

Driven by this vision, Anna Tooma could be seen as a woman transformed over the past 10 months – from a mother and wife struck by family tragedy, to a business owner who sees an abundance of opportunities ahead.

“I’m a little bit different to other real estate owners on the Gold Coast in that I am not an agent and that’s quite unique,” Anna says.

“I think it’s a more modern approach to running a real estate agency and certainly that seems to be the direction for the offices that are growing and becoming more profitable.”


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