Dr Diaswati Mardiasmo is Chief Economist of PRD. She holds a Ph.D. from the Faculty of Law at Queensland University of Technology (QUT), specializing in public asset management and governance. At QUT she also obtained a Master in Business (Research), specializing in good governance and public policy, and a Bachelor of Economics and International Business.
As Chief Economist at PRD Asti monitors a wide variety of macro and microeconomic trends, both within and external to Australia, that directly and indirectly impact the Australian residential real estate (housing) market. As part of the senior management team at PRD Asti leads a team of research analysts that provide high-level residential property insights to PRD franchises across Australia, private and government institutions, individual investors, and the wider community.
She is a member of the Residential Committee 2021-2022 for the Property Council of Australia, a member of the Reserve Bank of Australia Liaison Program, and an industry partner within the Australian Federal Government Cooperative Research Centre for Longevity. Asti is the industry co-lecturer and research supervisor for Queensland University of Technology Bachelor of Property Economics and has provided expert real estate commentary at national and international seminars, as well as to various print, online, radio, and TV media.
She is the chairperson for the Built to Rent World Virtual Summit 2021 and a keynote speaker for the Real Estate Institute in New South Wales Roadshow 2021. In her spare time Asti serves as the secretary for the Queensland Multicultural Council, sits as an external advisory board to the University of New South Wales’ Risk and Future Resilience Group, and is an advocate for Women and Minority group mentoring.
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Table of Contents
Let’s start with a brief introduction first. Introduce yourself to our readers.
Dr Diaswati Mardiasmo: Hi, my name is Dr Diaswati Mardiasmo, Asti for short. I’m not quite sure how I acquired that nick-name actually, my parents gave it to me and I think when I was in primary school I learned that it meant “elephant” – something I didn’t quite appreciate back then but very much so now.
I am 37yrs, born in Jogjakarta Indonesia, and now live in Brisbane, Australia. Throughout my (short) lifetime I have lived in multiple countries: Connecticut USA (3-6yrs of age), Birmingham UK (9-14yrs of age), Brisbane, Australia (18yrs to now), and a short 6 months stint in Ottawa Canada after graduating from my Bachelor degree in 2002.
I am a mum of a delightful yet sassy 5 year old (human child) and an extremely sassy 8month old kitten (fur child).
I am currently Chief Economist at PRD Real Estate, a job that I truly love. I don’t even look at it as a job really – it such a deep passion of mine to be working with data and research, and creating products / sharing knowledge that can help people make the biggest decision of their life (home-buying); that I don’t really look at it as work.
In this role I lead a team of analysts that specialises in residential real estate research, providing high level research and insights to PRD franchises across Australia, private and government institutions, individual investors, and the wider community.
As PRD Chief Economist I monitor a wide variety of macro and microeconomic trends, both within and external to Australia, that directly and indirectly impact the Australian residential real estate (housing) market. I am a member of the Residential Committee 2021-2022 for the Property Council of Australia, a member of the Reserve Bank of Australia Liaison Program, and an industry partner within the Australian Federal Government Cooperative Research Centre for Longevity.
I come from an academic background, having done my Master of Business (Research) and PhD at Queensland University of Technology, with the experience of tutoring and lecturing a variety of university subjects. Sharing knowledge, seeing my students “get it” and then applying what was taught in real life gives me great satisfaction, and possibly why I do what I do. It is this deep-passion for higher education learning that made me still be involved in academia, as the industry co-lecturer and research supervisor for Queensland University of Technology’s Bachelor of Property Economics.
Having once been an international student, from 2022 – 2012, multiculturalism is at the core of my being. I love embracing new cultures – learning about them and seeing how it integrates into Australian life. This is why I am Secretary for the Queensland Multicultural Council, this is my 2nd year in a row of being involved, and I absolutely love bringing people of different cultures together.
In my spare time I love to dance – I am a trained dancer, I love going on different experiences and adventures, and I love spending time with family and friends.
Our audience is interested to know about how you got started in the first place. Did you always want to become a CEO or was it something you were led to? Our readers would love to know your story!
Dr Diaswati Mardiasmo: To be honest I didn’t have the thought of “I must be CEO” or “I must be in senior executive management role” to start with. What I REALLY wanted to do, what my passion was (and still is), is to deliver knowledge. I wanted to share knowledge and be the voice that can assist people through the delivery of knowledge.
As I went along doing my Masters and PhD, doing casual tutoring jobs at university, and being involved in numerous government and/or private institution projects; I realised something key: A high level position has the power, the ability, and the credentials to channel, share, and distribute knowledge to a wider audience. For people to trust in what you say, in the knowledge you are sharing, establishing yourself as the expert matters.
I have also seen many great ideas and thoughts struggling to get off the ground because the person who has the idea need 4-5 levels of approval or does not have the ultimate decision making ability. Because of all this I aimed for “the top”.
I knew that it would take a while, especially as I was very green in the “real world”. Although I was a qualified researcher and have worked with many different companies and government institutions, I was always “shielded” behind the walls of university, employed through various research projects, and thus kind of “boxed” into that role.
But I knew, deep down, that for me to achieve what I wanted to do, I would need to be in a decision making position.
“Selfmade” is a myth. We all received help, no doubt you love to show appreciation to those who supported you when the going got tough, who has been your most important professional inspiration?
Dr Diaswati Mardiasmo: I had a LOT of help.
Truly – I wouldn’t be where I am without some very great people, both professionally and personally. I just wouldn’t be.
I have a lot of people to thank here. Prof Kerry Brown, who championed for me in receiving a PhD scholarship. Dr Paul Barnes and Prof Charles Sampford, my PhD supervisors – they pretty much saved me when I almost failed my PhD, they reminded me to go back to my roots and helped me rediscover my passion for research. Prof Reece Walters, who gave me a home at the QUT Faculty of Law after I finished my PhD and while I figured out my next steps. Tony Brasier, who REALLY took a chance at me and hired me, an extremely green corporate person in 2014, as PRD’s national research manager.
Tony’s confidence in me is what has propelled me in this industry, as not only does he trust my professional ability he also supported my ideas and thoughts when it comes to advancing the research department. Tony has been more than managing director, he was also my mentor in navigating the corporate world: establishing your expertise, gaining your client’s trust, building a strong team, and all the while staying true to your passion. Todd Hadley, PRD’s current managing director continues to believe in me and gives his full support to all of the research initiatives that I have proposed, which has allowed me to continue my passion of sharing knowledge.
When I look at my father, I knew he is the reason why I wanted to be in a decision making position. I can see how his actions, humility, and train of thought have lead to him being a source of knowledge. Someone whom people trust and look up to. He inspired me and helped shaped my career, in terms of what I need to do to realise my passion.
But its my mother that has made me who I am. She instilled a steel-ness in me that is so strong it gave me the strength to keep on getting up and trying again whenever I hit a roadblock. Her tenacity and self-sacrifice for our family, her message of “be independent and strong” gives me the backbone to always rise up to the challenge.
How did your journey lead you to become a CEO? What difficulties did you face along the way and what did you learn from them?
Dr Diaswati Mardiasmo: Difficulties – there were many.
Before I became National Research Manager for PRD and after I had finished by PhD I spent 2 years holding on to positions in academia, trying to figure out my next step. One could almost say I “failed” in academia. I was unsuccessful in securing full-time teaching jobs or research jobs,
That was before I realised – the reason why I was unsuccessful was not because I wasn’t good at what I do, I was in the wrong setting. I was passionate about sharing knowledge, however after 10 years being at university I needed to go out and find more experiences “in the real world”.
So I started looking at jobs. It was, to be honest, painful. I was rejected. MANY times. I was either too qualified or did not have the experience. This was a wake-up call, and made me realise: I need to think outside the box. I started looking at what skills do I have and how they can be translated into different industries and organisations.
I knew I was good at data analysis and reading trends, but I was limiting myself by saying I was good at governance / asset management (my PhD title) data analysis. Once I really pulled apart what my data analysis skills are and how it can be applied to different data sets, regardless of industry, that was how I started to be considered by multiple companies.
Throughout my time as national research manager I faced many difficulties. As a new-comer to the organisation AND the industry (I am not a real estate agent) I had to earn the trust of my PRD franchises and agents. I had to earn the respect of my analysts and my peers. I had to learn how to manage a team and meet deadlines and goals, whilst at the same time looking after my people and advancing the research department. It was a MASSIVE learning curve. I made some mistakes, I admit. I lost good research analysts, had to re-shuffle priorities, had to re-build trust with clients, and at one stage had to re-build the research team from scratch (when I came back from maternity leave).
But all of these mistakes and learnings meant that when I was entrusted with the role of Chief Economist in 2019, I was ready. I was ready to continue and do what I do best, building on what worked in the past and what didn’t. I learnt that staying true to your passion is key. because a decision making role, a team-leading role, a public-information sharing role, is NOT easy. The responsibility can be quite heavy sometimes, however when you know exactly why you are there, you can always call upon it to keep you guided.
Tell us about your company. What does your business do and what are your responsibilities as a CEO?
Dr Diaswati Mardiasmo: PRD is an acknowledged industry real estate leader. We’ve been in the business of selling and managing properties since 1976 and have a network of over 85 franchise offices spanning nationally and internationally (and still counting).
Established in Queensland in 1976 by two entrepreneur brothers, PRD is a market-leading franchise network that fulfils the needs of buyers and sellers, backed by research, expertise and market data.
As Chief Economist I am part of the senior management team. I lead a team of research analysts that provide high level residential property insights to PRD franchises across Australia, private and government institutions, individual investors, and the wider community. I am also “the face of research” and have provided expert real estate commentary at national and international seminars, as well as to various print, online, radio, and TV media. I am also responsible for establishing research partnerships with multiple organisations and universities, to widen our research reach.
Research consultancy is another arm within the research department, and I am responsible in securing and delivering successful reports to our clients. On a day to day basis my day can be very varied – responding to real estate agents / franchises across Australia, answering questions from media outlets, data analysis and report editing, speaking at a conference, visiting a PRD office, guest lecturing at QUT, attending management meetings, and many others.
All of this whilst also looking after my people, my analysts, who are my main priority. Their wellbeing and development is key to me, therefore I ensure that make time for official catch ups (team and individual) and unofficial connection building activities. I am available to them during work hours as well as outside of work hours, and in constant communication about both data and personal items. I, and the role of Chief Economist, is nothing without a strong, happy, and conducive team.
What does CEO stand for? Beyond the dictionary definition, how would you define it?
Dr Diaswati Mardiasmo: I look at my role as a mentorship role.
I technically know that I am “the boss” in my research team, however I look at myself more as a mentor. My role is to pass on knowledge and build my team’s knowledge and confidence; so that they too can be experts. Numerous times I have provided opportunities and fought for a team member. My motto has always been – when the person “under” you surpasses you, then you’ve done your job as a leader.
I also look at myself as “the glue”. I am the glue that nurtures the research team, both at an individual analyst level as well as at a team level. it is my role to cultivate a team culture that is very familial-like and encourage cohesiveness within the team.
Although I hold the title of Chief Economist, I look at myself as just another puzzle in the PRD team – whether within the research team or overall PRD corporate. Yes I do have decision-making abilities and I am in the media often as an expert, however at the end of the day, I am part of a team.
When you first became a CEO, how was it different from what you expected? What surprised you?
Dr Diaswati Mardiasmo: It was WAY harder than I expected. MUCH harder. It was quite a shock to the system to be honest. I knew that it would be hard, especially when many decisions rest on your shoulders. However, I was not prepared for all “the arrows” that came towards me.
I remember my first year as National Research Manager was mainly learning the ropes – both of PRD, residential data, and the industry in general. Yet because of my title I was already expected to be an expert. I was learning how to manage a team, yet because of my position in the senior management team, I was already expected to know how to do this.
The learning curve was steep. VERY steep. I wont lie, I did almost crumble – thinking – how do I this. Again, I am very thankful for the guidance and mentorship of my managing director back then, Tony Brasier.
When I stepped into the Chief Economist role, there were many surprises. Technically my role have not changed – in terms of what I was responsible for and which team I led. However with the title comes a higher / wider expectation of knowledge, expertise, and ability to innovate and take research (department) to the next level. A good example – not only was I requested to comment on the real estate market, I was requested to comment on government policy, federal level economic decisions, and others. This took me by surprise, this immediate level of trust, and I knew that I had to deliver.
There are many schools of thought as to what a CEO’s core roles and responsibilities are. Based on your experience, what are the main things a CEO should focus on? Explain and please share examples or stories to illustrate your vision.
Dr Diaswati Mardiasmo: From my experience, there are 3 key main things that anyone in a leadership position should focus on:
- Team culture.
Cultivating a team culture that is healthy and conducive is KEY. To me, this is the number 1 priority. A leader is not a leader when he/she is alone. The exception to this would be if you are an entrepreneur and starting your own business, and even then you might still be outsourcing some of the work to others (suppliers or contractors).
In my role one of the items I strive for is to ensure there is a familial-like culture in my team, where we all have each other’s back and can feel safe. I believe when this happens then real connections can be made, and from this you have team members who are highly motivated, want to give the best to the team, and are loyal to the team.
In my team we all connect both inside and outside of work hours. We celebrate each other, we joke with one another, we celebrate each other’s milestones (birthdays, weddings, graduations, etc), we care for one another (medical issues or when someone is going through a tough time). Because of this bond we look after one another. I have had research analysts who have moved on to other roles, and yet we all still talk and catch up, because of this bond.
- Service excellence.
As a leader, we can sometimes get caught up in setting up goals and meeting goals, then we lose sight of the real reason why we are here in the first place. Many times leaders get stuck in “ticking boxes” or “smashing goals”, but without thinking about delivering excellent service. And yet, the level of service is what our clients – be it paying and non-paying clients – will remember.
As leader our role is to receive all kinds of ideas and thoughts, see how it aligns with the our passion and the company’s vision, and make a call as to what becomes this quarter / year’s goal. In doing all of this we have to remember our team’s capacity and capabilities, to ensure that any goal set can be achieved in a high level manner, with service excellence.
In my role I have made the difficult decision of not pursuing certain goals, as upon evaluation there is a possibility that we would fail in delivering service excellence. I made a calculated choice of less goals, higher service excellence; than more goals, but less quality.
- Growth mindset.
As leaders a growth mindset is key. However, this does not exclusively mean company growth or profit growth. There many measures of growth – and one that is often missed is personal and professional growth. Without growing your team, from a personal and professional perspective, your company won’t grow (or at least won’t healthily grow) in terms of profit or expansion.
Getting back to number 1 on team culture, ensuring that there is personal and professional growth is key, as in the long run this will support company growth. In my experience, I have, at a particular time, chosen to limit the amount of research consultancy jobs taken (thus financial / profit growth) in favour of my analysts upskilling through different university and non-university courses (thus professional growth).
This paid off, as my analysts upskilling meant new and better systems were created, higher level of skills achieved, and a renewed motivation due to company investment established. They felt that the company invested in them, and in turn they invested into the company. We now have a better system that can handle a higher number of research consultancy or adhoc requests, which means that we can provide higher service excellence to our clients and grow.
Share with us one of the most difficult decisions you had to make for your company that benefited your employees or customers. What made this decision so difficult and what were the positive impacts?
Dr Diaswati Mardiasmo: One of the most difficult decisions I have had to make was in regard to employees / analysts.
Letting go of someone is never easy, especially when you have a close working relationship with that person and connect on a personal level.
However there is a high level of standard that needs to be delivered and also a familial, conducive working culture that needs to be nurtured; and when someone disturbs that dynamic then it needs to be addressed.
As a leader our role is to ensure a positive working environment and even thought it was a difficult decision, the positive impact was that there was a healthier team in the end. Re-building a team is never easy, especially when your department is expected to perform at a high level, however in the long run it was healthier to let go and re-build, as opposed to hold on to the fear of uncertainty (i.e will there be a better analyst? can I still deliver the work needed? etc)
How would you define success? Does it mean generating a certain amount of wealth, gaining a certain level of popularity, or helping a certain number of people?
Dr Diaswati Mardiasmo: If I can only choose one, success to me means the level of impact that I’ve had in people’s lives.
As someone whose main passion and role (how lucky am I that I get this in one hit!) is sharing knowledge, having a high level of impact in someone’s process or decision making, for example in their property buying / investing journey, is what I would define as success. If somehow the data and reports that we produced has resulted in a change being made (for example government policy) or assisted someone, then I would say we have been successful.
Another measure of success for me is my people. When I see my analysts succeed – whether its completing all of their KPIs on time at a high quality, innovating and creating a new process, obtaining a qualification, doing something or taking up a challenge that is outside the box – then I have succeeded.
Some leadership skills are innate while others can be learned. What leadership skills do you possess innately and what skills have you cultivated over the years as a CEO?
Dr Diaswati Mardiasmo: Innate – I think its this mentorship mindset that I have. I’d like to think that that comes from the fact that I stared off as an academic, and therefore my passion is to see my students succeed. It has translated in my role as wanting to see my analysts succeed and go beyond me. Another skill would be cultivating a familial-like team culture. I am not sure whether its because I am a mum? or maybe Indonesian, which is more a collective culture? I used to also see my parents hold dinners and lunches where my parent’s staff were invited. I used to see their staff at our family celebrations, outings, and seeing my mum and dad talk to them outside of work. I would say that all of this has contributed to how I look at my team of analysts and how I cultivate a familial team culture.
Skills I have cultivated – definitely a lot. Decision making skills – especially making hard decisions based on company vision and goals. Team management skills – managing different expectations, personalities, wants and needs. Expectations management skill is another one, particularly in terms of managing expectations between different clients and the team’s capacity and capabilities. Self-trust skills – there is a lot of competition out there when it comes to residential research. We are no longer the only company providing a research service and I am not the only Chief Economist or Head of Research – I have had to learn how to innovate yet also trust in our skill-set, to ensure we continue to be relevant and be a trusted source for residential real estate research.
How did your role as a CEO help your business overcome challenges caused by the pandemic? Explain with practical examples.
Dr Diaswati Mardiasmo: One of the main challenges caused by the pandemic is uncertainty and loneliness. There was uncertainty in what was going to happen to jobs, how processes will be maintained, how we would service our clients, and so forth. There was also loneliness – especially when you are working from home non-stop and you don’t see your colleagues anymore, and you start to feel a disconnect with your team.
Therefore I prioritised certainty and connection. Certainty by letting my team know every single piece of information that I have received from both the government and also high level management decisions WITHOUT delay. Transparency was key. When there was a decision of a pay cut for a certain amount of time, for all employees, this was communicated to all team members immediately. Further, I was very open about how my pay was impacted. We held meetings to ensure that everyone was on the same page when it comes to KPIs, and revised them to ensure that we could still deliver service excellence to our clients. This ensured that all team members were on the same page, which built to having a higher level of certainty.
Connection by always being available to my team members. We had group zoom meetings that was for the whole company, however the research team was always connected on Skype or Facebook Messenger, to ensure that we can talk to one another throughout the day. At some point I offered food packages to my team members, and those that lived close by were able to come pick up, and we waved to each other through the glass windows.
At the end of the day a key component in the pandemic was communication. And as a leader our role is to ensure that all channels of communication was maintained and that we were there for our people.
Do you have any advice for aspiring CEOs and future leaders? What advice would you give a CEO that is just starting out on their journey?
Dr Diaswati Mardiasmo: A key piece of advice that I would give is – let go of the title. let go of wanting the title. a title DOES give you abilities – for example decision making, however it shouldn’t be your end goal. if you want to be a Chief of something or a leader, want it because it will help you create change and follow your passion.
Do not chase it for the power or prestige or because it sounds cool. Having that title is a tool, in a way. A tool to allow you to create and contribute. Do not abuse the tool, for any title that you currently have can be taken away from you at any given moment.
Focus on your passion – what is it that will make you wake up in the morning and go to work, without feeling like you’re going to work? And lastly – remember: PEOPLE.
Your people, whether they are team members or suppliers or contractors, are key. Because without your people you will be alone in your journey, and none of us fully quipped to handle everything alone (and especially in a healthy manner to our mind and body).
Look after your people, look after the relationships that you build. Never dismiss or “downgrade” anyone or any relationship, everyone is a VIP to you. The key to being a leader is that people want you to lead them – and they wont have this feeling if you do not look after your people.
Thank you for sharing some of your knowledge with our readers! They would also like to know, what is one skill that you’ve always wanted to acquire but never really could?
Dr Diaswati Mardiasmo: This is a funny one – SINGING!!
I’ve always really wanted to sing, and I think I can somewhat carry a tune, but I have never really been able to master singing! I have had lessons, I’ve been part of a choir, but I’ve never really been able to sing a whole full song properly and on key.
Another skill that I just don’t have is GARDENING. I truly would not have a clue what to do. I can time manage really well, speak in front of a thousand people, think on my feet, delegate tasks, etc; but I kill plants kill plants and if you show me an unruly garden the only thing I can do is google for a gardener nearby or ask who knows a gardener on Facebook. I have been showed how to mow, I have (somehow) helped weed and carry green waste, but nothing sticks. I am completely helpless when it comes to this particular skill.
Before we finish things off, we have one final question for you. If you wrote a book about your life today, what would the title be?
Dr Diaswati Mardiasmo: Oh wow this is a hard one – I’ve never been asked this before
Perhaps “Shoes – walk a mile in mine” or “Dance to success”
It would definitely be a word play between shoes, dance, and success.
Mike Weiss, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Dr Diaswati Mardiasmo for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Dr Diaswati Mardiasmo or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
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