I finished high school wanting to be an architect, but when I didn’t get into the course I went looking for a related one. That’s when I stumbled into building surveying. Initially I didn’t really know what building surveying involved but thought it could be a stepping stone into architecture. After the first year I really loved it so I decided to stick with it. I’ve never looked back.
In 1993, I commenced working as a building surveying student at the City of Hawthorn and eight months later took on a building surveying assistant role at the same Council. I received plenty of residential experience however privatisation was taking off and the building approvals market shifted to privatisation.
I worked at Philip Chun and Associates for 10 years and managed to work my way up to an Associate role. My experience at PCA gave me the confidence and knowledge to take on the Managerial position at Davis Langdon, to run their newly established Building Surveying sector. As Technical Director, I managed and built the team to thirty-five staff. This was a challenging and highly rewarding role for me and when the business was bought out by AECOM, there was no question what my next move would be.
I started my own business in 2011. It was definitely the right move and perfect timing. Apart from my family, it’s the best thing that ever happened to me. Moving into my own business, my vision was to create a boutique building surveying company. I knew what I wanted and what I wanted the company to be. I still practice building surveying whilst running the business but it is on a smaller scale to my previous experience at Davis Langdon. I manage a team of seven staff. The people that I am working with are brilliant, most of which I have worked with previously, so we are like family.
My family is Italian, they sort of do things differently. They are very traditional. They immigrated to Australia in the late ‘60s with nothing but each other and their suitcases. They have an extreme hard working ethic. It’s all about commitment and hard work to getting the job done. Being as good as you can be; doing whatever you can to improve your own family life and the people around you. I think that’s a major influence for me. Dad is very tough, strong willed, determined and ambitious. I think I have a lot of those characteristics as well. On the other hand, I have my mum who is the soft influence. She is very caring, loving and it’s all about respect and good manners. She instilled those values in us. All these qualities have influenced me and helped me to run my business, and in dealing with staff and clients.
The majority of my clients are architects, developers or project managers. Working within the industry for so long, if you are doing the right thing, people hear about it. There have been a lot of referrals especially over the last four years. The majority of clients are people that I have worked with over the last 20 years that have followed me into Floreancig Smith. They know the service and they know I’ll do whatever I can to get the projects across the line, efficiently and cost effectively.
The greatest challenge when working with codes and regulations is that they are subject to interpretation. Some clients see regulations as black and white but there are many different ways that you can read the legislation. Generally it doesn’t change too dramatically over time. Every year, there are minor amendments here and there but generally nothing too drastic. Most of my clients understand that changes occur and it’s for their own benefit to comply. Sometimes they misinterpret the legislation and so it is just a matter of working through that with them.
The biggest issue in the building surveying industry at the moment, is that there is just not enough of us out there. There are only small numbers of building surveyors going through the course each year. It is quite a small industry and I know most of the key players. Most of the people I went to university with are now running their own companies. There is a great demand for registered and nearly registered building surveyors due to the strong construction market, so there is a lot of poaching going on within the industry and a lot of movement. We are finding a lot of the applicants for building surveying positions have been graduates with little or no building surveying work experience, and unfortunately most companies are too busy to take them on.
The most memorable project I have worked on at Floreancig Smith was Chadstone Shopping Centre: New office and hotel development. It was the first large project that I had won after starting the business. The Chadstone development has only ever been serviced by one building surveying company and to be able to break into that market was brilliant. The project is still under construction and has grown substantially since its commencement in 2011.
I think it is important when networking, to be yourself. I don’t do much marketing and most of my clients are people that I have worked with for a very long time; people I have developed relationships and friendships with. It is very easy to do when you are working with great people. Be real. Do what you can to be as good as you can be.
In April 2013, my daughter, Lucy-Jean was born. I worked up until the last two weeks before I was due and only managed to take 10 weeks off before going back to work part-time. Regretfully, running my own business meant I couldn’t take more time off with my daughter and had to get back to fulltime work earlier. The first year was the most difficult, trying to balance work and family with little to no sleep. My husband has been very supportive and we have a full time nanny who may as well be family as she has been in our lives for so long. As a mother and running my own business it would be impossible without my family’s support. I am working towards taking some time off! We bought a caravan a little while ago. More recently, now that LJ is sleeping through the night, we are planning on getting away camping more often.
My little girl is almost two. She has changed me completely. I have become very sensitive and sometimes embarrassingly I well up from a sad story or something funny LJ has done. It has taken a while to get to this point in my life and it is sure to become more exciting and more complicated as LJ gets older; juggling family and work to maintain the right balance to ensure things keep running smoothly. LJ is my life. Every day we both learn something new. It is important to me that she is as good as she can be and the lessons I learnt from my parents are being passed on. She is a very strong character like my dad, her Nonno. She is really going to work us hard; I can see that already!
At our initial meeting, we were greeted by Viviana and her friendly dog at Floreancig Smith’s stylish digs in the heart of Richmond. As you can tell, Viviana has so much experience in the industry that we instantly felt like we were completely blessed she agreed to be a part of the project. She runs what looks like a dream office; a family of peers, well respected clients and a place where experience is shared. We had the pleasure of meeting Lucy-Jean, cute as a button, who was chilling in the office whilst everyone was working away happily. There’s something so warming about Viviana, her initial nervousness, the effortless way she fell into our casual chat and the easy way she talks of her family, their support and their influence on her and her success. As the sun set over the city, framed in Floreancig Smith’s meeting room window, we learnt that sometimes sticking with something is important, but there’s always a time when taking risks and leaps of faith are worth it. We hope you found inspiration here. We did.