Discovering the mentor

20 February 2019

Mohammad Sahkvidi and Brad Chan

Photo: Mohammad Sakhvidi with Brad Chan. Photography by Kevin Cheung.

UTS alumni Brad Chan’s journey from donor to mentor and beyond.

The Banna Property Group is not unlike many other Australian immigrant success stories. Founded by the late Bernard Chan after his family migrated from Papua New Guinea in 1967, Banna Property Group began with real estate investments. Now led by Bernard’s grandson, CEO Brad Chan, the private family property investment company boasts a portfolio of retail shopping centres and community hubs across Sydney. But Brad felt there was something more the family could do.

“The family decided to set up its own foundation a number of years ago, which we called the Banna Foundation,” recalls Brad. ‘Banna’, incidentally, is named after his late grandparents Bernard and Anna.

“Not many family members are employed in the family business,” he continues. “The foundation has been a great way to bring the family together, and to think about things other than just making money. It’s where we can ask ‘how can we contribute? How can we create some meaning out of what we are doing?’”

As a UTS alumni who holds a Bachelor of Land Economics and a Master of Planning from the Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building, Brad’s attention was naturally drawn to UTS’s humanitarian scholarships program. The program was created to support undergraduate students who are asylum seekers or who hold a temporary protection visa. And much to Brad’s surprise, the family embraced it.

“Growing up, my grandparents instilled in me the importance of education,” he says. “They emphasised that education is worth investing in, and that you can achieve anything you want if you put your mind to it. I teach my own kids the same thing.”

When Brad committed the Banna Foundation to donating towards the UTS Humanitarian Scholarship program, he did so with very modest expectations. “We didn’t expect anything in return – we didn’t need regular updates,” he laughs, observing that he’s “a pretty low maintenance donor.”

All of that changed when Brad met some of the students he was helping. What began as a straightforward donation became a transformative and rewarding journey. It all started with a meeting over coffee with one particular student, Mohammad Sakhvidi, an Iranian refugee who is undertaking a Bachelor of Engineering degree at UTS. Brad could see Mohammad’s eagerness and future potential.

“He spoke about getting an internship, focussing on his studies more, and trying to get some direction around his long-term career,” he recalls. “I realised he didn’t need a lot of time from me – probably just some direction, some advice here and there. There were things I was easily able to help him with.”

This included skills such as time management and how to draft an email for prospective employers.

Thanks to Brad’s guidance, Mohammad’s grades have improved. He is managing a team of 12 in a hospitality job outside of his studies, and he is well on his way towards fulfilling his dream of becoming an engineer. He considers Brad a mentor.

“It’s been an enjoyable journey for me. I can see how appreciative Mohammad has been for what I consider to be a small effort: giving him some regular time here and there has made a world of difference to him,” Brad reflects.

“I think one of the more satisfying things to come out of my time with Mohammad is when he told me recently that he’s recently started mentoring others at university. Often, the time I spend with people is based on a ‘pay it forward’ mentality. I’m more than happy to invest my time with you on the basis that, at some point in time, when you get the opportunity, you will do the same. To see Mohammad achieve that so quickly is been something I’m quite proud of.”

There were benefits for Brad, too, who’d had very little prior contact with people from refugee backgrounds. “It really opened my eyes to some of the struggles they have,” he says. “Knowing that now makes me more willing to help others in the future.”

It’s a sentiment now shared by the rest of his family, who are considering how else they might be able to help. “I think we’re all open to seeing how we can best contribute. As a foundation and as a family, we didn’t necessarily just want to be a group that handed over some money. I think we’re open to getting involved in other ways.”

Brad Chan is also the founder of Haymarket HQ, an innovation hub located in Haymarket, Sydney, as a base for start-ups that aspire to grow into Asia.

Byline: Kevin Cheung