John McGrath - Building an Empire One Hand Shake at a Time

Author: Words by John McGrath Written by Shari Hall
Issue 82

John McGrath - Building an Empire One Hand Shake at a Time

Thank you to the Caloundra Chamber for bringing this amazing speaker and entrepreneur to the Sunshine Coast, we were thrilled that John agreed to let us write our take away from the presentation.

A combination of what he calls ‘sliding door’ experiences shaped the course of the life for John McGrath, millionaire realtor and founder of one of the fastest growing real estate companies in Australia, McGrath Estate Agents.

From his early friendship with a school mate named Russell Crowe, to an encounter with Dale, the cleaning man at his first job, John McGrath sums it up in one simple phrase: “How do you build an empire? One conversation at a time; one handshake at a time; one meeting at a time. That’s the key.”

For John McGrath, life is about relationships, connections, experiences - the free intangibles that ultimately lead to chance opportunities which, when seized upon, make impossible dreams a reality.

With dreams of becoming a professional footballer shattered after a collapsed lung, and less than stellar academic achievements in school, John found himself wondering what he should do.

Years after graduation, when he saw the movie ‘Romper Stomper’, he was awed by the success of his mate, Russell, who had dreamed of becoming a famous actor since school. What’s the difference between that ordinary bloke and me, John thought? It was the belief that it was possible, combined with hard work and the desire to become exceptionally good at something. For Russell Crowe, it was acting. But what was it for John McGrath?

Paging through an A-Z of potential careers, John found real estate. Helping families find a new home, building communities and investment portfolios seemed a noble thing to do. Confidently knowing he had value to add to any company, he began the job search. After multiple interviews - and rejections - he was finally hired at $59/week as a rental clerk. He exceeded all expectations and rented 10-12 properties a week, leaving his boss ecstatic.

As a disciplined athlete, John knew how to be the best, one had to change the game. He decided right there and then that he didn’t care what people paid him, he would make the commitment to being the best at all times. Being a systems man, he created a mini-business plan for himself and followed it with steadfast perseverance. This lead to one life-changing, sliding door moment after another.


He was the last to leave each night, crossing paths with Dale the cleaner, who provided him with the keys to the boss’s office. In that office was the American Real Estate Professional Magazine, with an article on the most successful real estate agent in the world.

Without fear or hesitation, John faxed a letter to Nicholas Barson of Century 21 in New York, a man with no education, one of 13 kids, son of a single mother, and from an immigrant family. Soon John found himself being mentored by greatness.


Feeling too inexperienced, and short selling himself, John nearly passed up the opportunity of a lifetime when offered a multi-million-dollar listing. Having second thoughts, he accepted the challenge, dismissed any doubts, and sold the property by tender for over $11 million. It launched his career as a successful sales agent.


John believes you should make a difference in the life of every person you meet. Drill into the customer service experience with absolute detail from their point of view, and make your customer feel special. Always provide an elite experience and your network will expand exponentially. At 21, a client said to John, “You looked after us, even on a Sunday! We’ve never had the same level of care that you gave us!” You can be sure they told their friends.


Relationships, connections, experiences - all those things are far more important than business. Develop who you are and what your brand will be. People will come to know you, trust you, and come searching for you, because of how you make them feel. Experiences are presented to you as opportunities. Ask yourself, “What if I don’t do this? What if I just stop short?” Don’t miss the ‘sliding door moment’ that could change your life forever.


You can do anything if you just do the preparation, and preparation is free. Do your research, get educated, become the expert in your area, and be prepared. Become inspired by mentors, learn, ask questions, and be the best you can be, always. Have the right intention and raise your standards to the best on the planet. Like his childhood heroine, multiple Olympic gold medal winner Nadia Com─âneci, the ‘perfect’ gymnast, his mind is always full of ‘getting it right’.

He once asked a young entrepreneur at one of his speaking engagements, what his expectations were of his upcoming one-hour speech. The man said, “I reckon you’re going to change the course of my life.”