What's the secret to building a successful property company with $4B of residential developments in the pipeline? Crown Group CEO Iwan Sunito says design is almost the number one driving force behind the success of his enterprise; though the top place is reserved for something else.
The veteran architect says his company's projects aim to be "better first, then bigger." Architecture is all about that perfect balance between form and function, Iwan says, and he wants to create beautiful buildings, but "if it is without a meaning then it is a gimmick," he explains.
But his number one secret is the providence of God, the thing that took him from school outcast to successful businessman who also speaks to thousands in churches around the world – Iwan's other vocation is as a Christian pastor.
Growing up in Indonesia, Iwan struggled through school until year 11, when he was placed in a class with the top five students.
"I used to mix with people who were street-smart but not thinking academically, but then I was thrown into a class that was academically smart," he says, "and they saw things differently and it changed my perspective in life."
At the time he moved to Australia to study year 12, where Iwan mostly associated the church with hypocrisy.
"I said, 'there's no point in being a Christian'. So I did not go to church. I was not believing until I came to Sydney," he says.
"I met the person who became my wife. She became a born again Christian. She radically changed.
"I was arguing about the whole thing. But one thing I could not deny was the love.
"In trying to argue, I found the truth of the Bible," Iwan continues. "I was bored with being a 'nominal' Christian, going to church and not being any different from the world on the other days of the week."
In his fourth year at university, Iwan committed his life to Jesus Christ and says knowing Him made a complete change in his life.
Among other changes, as he began to "rely on the power of God who can do it through me," his marks improved, from credit to distinction to high distinction, where they remained until the end of his degree.
"Then I started my architecture business," Iwan says. "We prayed as a family and we believed that God would use our business in order to be able to build a center one day, which will train a lot of leaders – a lot of pastors of small churches."
Iwan says he had a vision in which he saw a big building. Not knowing who would pastor it, who would lead it, or where the money would come from to build it, he started his business with that vision in mind.
But it started off slowly and took not just patience, but faith.
"I did not have the network. I did not have the experience," Iwan explains. "I was just straight out of graduation. I never had the experience of working in a big firm. [I thought] there was no way I could build what God had given us the vision for.
"We had a recipe for just an average growth. And God gave us a passage in the Bible from Joshua, 'Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.'
"So I called on that scripture all the time. It was about building the business God's way. [His] Word reminded me 'Look, you will be successful not because of your ability, but because I will open the door'."
And God opened doors Iwan did not expect.
Eight years into the business, in 2004, his church was shut down by a pastor who decided to merge congregations. When the recession hit, Iwan was building a church with 20 people and no pastor.
He had no intention of stepping up until God gave him an inward conviction that He was calling him to speak to thousands of people, and within a year, he was.
"I have gone with the flow [of God]. The church is growing to reach multi-generations, multi-cultures, and multi-nations," Iwan says.
"It's amazing. In the last ten years it has become no longer a matter of reaching just one or two souls, it has been building a church. We are in Dubai, Djakarta, Brisbane, Israel, we have a church there."
Both in his professional and spiritual life Iwan has done things that far exceeded his own imagination. In that, hard work was important – but God was indispensable.
"I can work hard, but I can only produce for an eight hour day reasonably well. I can work with my mind... become creative. I can become a good leader. But when you work in the spiritual dimension it becomes unlimited."•