Client Story: Latitude 37
Building a successful business on a foundation of trust
As an experienced civil and structural engineer, Doug MacLeod is a pro when it comes to building something from nothing. So, when the opportunity to build a business alongside a former colleague presented itself, he knew he had to give it a shot – and in 2006, Latitude 37 was born.
Named after the latitude coordinates of Melbourne, the company is a one-stop-shop for bespoke luxury home design and construction, predominantly servicing the city’s east, southeast, Bayside and Mornington Peninsula regions.
“In starting Latitude 37, we saw an opportunity in the market to offer something different from the industry norms,” Doug explains. “We design, interior design, and build using our own in-house team.”
The first project the company undertook was a six-unit townhouse development in the beachside suburb of Mordialloc. But Doug says it wasn’t until they built a couple of custom homes in Sandhurst golf and residential estate that the business really took off.
“Those two initial clients were quite involved in the golf club, and that led to a lot of word-of-mouth [referrals] and future opportunities. Over the years we’ve built about 85 homes in that estate alone,” he says.
“As our reputation grew, and as we put more and more good product on the ground, we were getting support from clients wanting us to do bigger and better things.”
Making business personal
During this period of rapid expansion, Latitude 37 outgrew its accountant and, in 2013, Doug knocked on the door of Pitcher Partners looking for help.
“Pitcher Partners came on board about 10 years ago, and at that time we had grown quite significantly, so we were looking for a higher calibre of accounting partner and someone that could also assist us with business planning and strategy, as well as the typical accounting services,” Doug recalls.
Pitcher Partners’ Daniel Doherty has been working with Doug and Latitude 37 since that very first meeting and has become such a trusted member of the team he now attends the company’s board meetings and strategy sessions, and even helps manage Doug’s personal finances.
“The backbone of what we do is the compliance work that we help the business with each financial year, especially because it’s becoming an increasingly complex environment from both a tax and accounting perspective,” Daniel explains.
“This includes the preparation of annual accounts, tax returns, internal audits of business processes and procedures, and corporate secretarial services, such as looking after the ASIC management of the company.”
“It also involves conducting periodic targeted reviews of the business’ operations to ensure they are methodically checking in on core business functions.”
“We also share the challenges and opportunities we see with other clients and in other industries to ensure smart decisions are made for the long-term benefit of the business,” Daniel says.
Doug says he appreciates the unique perspective Daniel brings to the business.
“I think what we value most in terms of Dan’s contribution is the fact that he’s quite happy to challenge us on our decision-making,” says Doug. “He brings that independent insight and really helps us make good decisions.”
One of those decisions was to scale back the business.
After a decade in operation, Latitude 37 was building up to 150 homes a year, and Doug and his team came to the realisation that bigger was not necessarily better.
“It’s nice to be busy, it’s nice to be sought after, but it’s not necessarily any more profitable or any better a business just because it’s bigger,” says Doug. “So, in 2018, we made a strategic decision to scale back the business.”
“At the time that we made the decision, there was a lot of healthy debate around it, and Dan was really involved in those discussions.”
Now the company builds just 40 bespoke luxury homes a year.
“[This way] we can really keep close control over our projects, make sure our clients are getting great service and that the quality of the product we deliver is excellent,” Doug explains.
Having worked with Latitude 37 for ten years, Daniel has been a constant support for Doug and his team.
“I think that continuity has been massively important because Dan intimately understands what drives the success of the business,” says Doug.
“In the construction industry there are always challenges that arise, and it’s great to have someone like Dan sitting with us to help reassure us that we’re making smart decisions as we face those headwinds.”
In return, Daniel says the experience has enriched his career and given him an opportunity to expand his knowledge.
“Through the wonderful things Latitude 37 has done, I’ve been able to grow my breadth of experience, especially in the construction industry, but also more broadly from an advisory perspective,” he says.
“It’s been personally very fulfilling – [not only going] through the challenges that we’ve had together, but also the wonderful successful moments where we’ve been able to add value to the business and see it grow and prosper.”
For Doug, who is starting to step back from the business, there is comfort in knowing that what he has created is in safe hands.
“I think I’m most proud of the fact that we’ve built a sustainable, well-recognised brand in the luxury custom home market, and that we’ve been recognised by the peak industry bodies as one of the best builders in the country,” he says.
“It’s a nice thing to leave a legacy of a business that’s bigger than me, that’s going to continue to roll on, regardless.”