Belinda Coates / Strategic Leader  / 
Fifty Shades of BD

story / Interview / November 30, 2022

I thought in the early days that I really wanted to be a psychologist. My dad told me that if I wanted to be a psychologist, I had to study all the sciences, dissect brains and do all of that. He was the CFO at a large corporation. So, he took me to work one day and said, ‘I want you to meet the marketing team and then you can learn to be a business psychologist.’ That’s how I ended up studying marketing.

One of my first roles was working in London. I worked for an out-placement agency in Mayfair. If you’re an executive and you’re made redundant, the company will often send you through a three or six month out-placement course that will help you refine your CV and find your next role. It’s a nice way to make someone redundant. The role was all about supporting these execs and CEOs. One guy was a risk manager to the Queen, one was the global marketing manager for a major FMCG. They were top of their game and they were embarrassed that they were suddenly out of work.

We used to talk to them about how important networking is. 70% of Executives find their next role through networking. That’s how I became really invested in the idea of building your network, because I saw these execs basically beg people for jobs. When you have a really big network it’s easy to reach out to the right people.

After London, I came back to Australia. I still had the dream of working in advertising, for companies like Cadbury and the likes, and I ended up with two offers. One was working in an ad agency in South Melbourne – free massages, free lunch, you had to work 60+ hours a week, but it was all the cool stuff. The other role was working with Maddocks lawyers – which was much more serious, really nice offices, in 140 Williams. I had this crossroad – what do I do? A friend in the industry said to me – you’re a bit of a nerd. You’re going to be much better in a professional services environment – give it a go. I chose that path and that’s what led me into that strategic BD pathway, rather than marketing and advertising.

For me, and due to my early days working with lawyers, I consider BD to be a strategic role. It’s about long-term planning, adding value and building relationships. That has always been my approach. I know there’s fifty shades of BD, and that’s 100% my lever – long term strategy – playing the long game. My official title at Slattery was Director – Clients and Strategy. And so, part of that role was developing our 5 year strategic growth plan. Where do we need to grow? How are we going to grow? That can involve any aspect to do with brand and reputation and getting involved in things that link into that – knowledge leadership, Reconciliation, social impact, culture, events, winning bids etc. Any aspect to do with growing the business, the positive impact we can have and the national business brand.

I call myself a master-connector. I think that if I go back to the learnings I had in London about the importance of networking, it has made me become better and better at building relationships. I love the idea of working for a company who understands that business development and business strategy is about the long game. That it’s not a rush. It’s not sales. The quicker you win a client, the quicker you lose a client. To catch whales, it takes a lot of effort and a lot of time. The effort over here on the left, may lead to something else here on the right. No effort is ever wasted.

Back in those early days and in the last few years of working with the lawyers, I worked closely with a property practice, which is how I started to see the charm of the property industry. I’d read the property section of The Financial Review every day. It was all so exciting – site acquisitions, new towers, new tenants. The property lawyers seemed a bit edgier than the other lawyers as well.

Hassell had designed the Maddocks office, so that’s how I got to know workplace design and what it’s all about. How do you know what you want to be if you’ve had no insight into it? I got to know the Hassell ethos through that design process – so when a role came up at Hassell – I went for it straight away. The main transition for me was moving from an adviser role behind the scenes to being half advisor and half client facing. I had to build a network very quickly in the property industry.

I really put myself out there. I went to every kind of networking function there was. I went to the PCA Christmas party on my own. I just sat at a random table. This industry is amazing – if you’re a new person people will help you out. There was a Director at a construction company who had a coffee with me and taught me all about construction. One of the Directors at an engineering firm taught me all about the different service lines in engineering. Lots of people were very kind to me with their time.

One of the key things about being a strategic BD professional is some people really respect the role because they know how hard it is. Other people don’t really understand it, or maybe they find it scary, so they don’t want to be around you, like you’re going to try to sell them something. I think that’s the hardest thing. A lot of people don’t understand what we do. There are so many different types of BD – they put you in one of the boxes. The car salesperson. The receptionist who became the BD person. So, they think you are that person, and they don’t treat you as a professional – or realise the smarts and the strategy happening behind the scenes.

Personally, in a BD role – it never ends and it’s hard to turn off. That’s the biggest challenge. Everyone in a Strategic BD role talks about it, the expectation that you have the energy to be available for every event, every lunch, every breakfast. Between all of that is the advisory work. That is the work people don’t see. I think because we do it with a smile and we are naturally good at it, that people think it’s easy. However, it’s absolutely not easy. It can be quite exhausting.

The honest answer is I don’t balance work-life very well. It’s very hard, but everyone in our industry is so fun and likable to be around. I think that my husband just thinks it’s all fun. We are really lucky; we get to network with fantastic people. Lockdown actually provided a little more balance. Getting a bit of networking happening with fitness as well. My highlight was being part of The Wheel Deal, the cycling club – 25 of us from the Property industry getting together in the outdoors on a Saturday morning and fundraising for the Property Industry Foundation.

I have nine-year-old identical twins. They’re pretty awesome. My husband travels as well, so we have a good system between us and my mum lives nearby so she’s always around to help out. They are both a huge support to me (my husband and my Mum). We have a lot of fun together as a family. To balance out my traveling and the work nights, we have a Friday night movie night. Which is unbreakable… I’d have to get a lawyer if I want to break it! We’ve been doing it since they were old enough to know they were doing it. Watching a movie together every Friday is something the twins really look forward to. I think it is important to have some kind of commitment with your kids. We’re all going to be busy and it’s good to give your kids something they can rely on. Because at the same time. it’s okay to have a career.

It’s so awesome that there has been such a focus on gender, and now the industry needs to extend its focus on all types of inclusion. I loved the work Slattery do. They had an inclusion committee at Slattery and a team of 27 different cultures. Slattery focused on programs where everyone feels included – cooking competitions, making sure that social lunches aren’t just at the local English pub. Slattery are 50% female now, so they have nailed gender balance. They are now also trying to embrace other areas such as disability as well. They also have a scholarship for four First Nations students studying construction. I was proud to be a part of all that.

TEN Women is officially seven years old now. When Fiona Dunster and I originally founded the idea, we thought, while we love networking with the men, we weren’t meeting women. We said – let’s do TEN Women for one year, because there aren’t that many women to meet – but there were so many more than we thought! I think it will keep growing and growing. We are looking at starting in Sydney soon. The main thing is we were able to build on this incredible network and use it for good. In the last 3.5 years, we’ve raised almost one million dollars. Our industry is amazing. So generous.

Every three months I check myself into a day spa and have a ‘me’ day. That’s really important. I don’t quite do it every three months, but that’s my aim. Stuff like that really helps. Other than that, I love to cook. Sunday afternoons, making a few casseroles. Do some baking with the girls – music on.

I tell my children to always be kind. They are very kind.


Bel has been a great supporter of Gazella over the years and we are absolutely humbled to have finally interviewed her and to bring her here as the final interview in our BD series. Bel is an absolute firebrand. She has lead with passion and focus and made considerable change not just to the organisations she has worked for but to the industry as a whole. It’s little wonder that she was winner of the Inaugural People of Property Award for Industry Impact. The work she has done with TEN, raising so much money through such a difficult time, is a credit to her determination to make a difference. We thank her for giving up her time and can’t wait for what she brings to the industry in her next role! J, N & D xx

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