In Lynette McFadden’s own words, “it’s been challenging at times” over the past two years. The real estate icon shares how she’s dedicated herself to wellbeing, without compromising on her values or professionalism. Words Anna Wallace Photos Darin Young
“Life is bigger than what our occupations are,” says Lynette as we sit in the bustling office that houses 50 real estate consultants in Papanui, Christchurch. She and her husband John have owned the Harcourts Gold franchise since its inception in 1998 and, at times, it has felt like her whole world. But she’s at a place in her life where meaning comes from deep connections, in business and beyond.
“In our Covid-constant world, I’ve noticed people are thinking is this what I want to do? Is this enough? Does it make me feel good? And that’s fair enough.”
Lynette hasn’t been immune to the psychological effects of this unprecedented period. After the ‘bottom-falling-out’ feel of real estate during part of 2020, followed by this year’s meteoric rise, the businesswoman knows better than most the scenarios that wake you in the early hours.
“I struggled with the challenges of Covid. I was so stressed about how the hell it would all turn out. We didn’t realise we’d have this monumental market shift – initially, I just saw pain and loss.
“It introduced uncertainty, and that affects the way everybody reacts under stress. As a leader, that places additional weight on your shoulders,” she explains.
Lynette’s whole family came to stay with the couple during the first lockdown in 2020. “My dad would get up and just sit with me when I was up at 3am! Just so I’d feel that comfort – he didn’t talk or know the slightest bit about business, but it really helped me while I worked.”
To be at the top of one’s game in a very competitive industry takes a lot (theirs was named top international office in the 2020 Harcourts International Awards). Unsurprisingly then, when Lynette needed to lighten her physical and emotional load, she turned first to family.
Luckily, Lynette has a strong and deeply connected family unit that includes John and her two sons, Harry (29) and Louis (22), as well as her mum and dad, sister Elise and two nieces.
When Lynette reached out to her parents near the end of last year, they immediately answered the call. “I asked my folks if they would come home for a couple of nights a week, to bring their gorgeous family ethos with them. They didn’t ask why, they just asked when. They’re totally selfless – that’s the example that we’ve been set.”
So, mum Ev cooked the family a meal two nights a week, and dad Gary could be found watching re-runs of the Warriors at their place. “It’s the joy of knowing you’re coming home to a family and there’s nothing expected of you.”
This conscious way of living echoes the Māori tradition of multiple generations residing together. “We built our home so it’s inter-generational, because if my mum and dad came I knew I would want my sister and niece to come too. We have room for everybody to be with us comfortably,” Lynette says, radiating pleasure at the thought.
In what had been a “really challenging year”, Lynette focused on coping mechanisms, reducing stress and incorporating wellbeing habits by taking ‘micro-steps’.
She became a pescetarian 18 months ago, for health and ethical reasons (“my dad keeps thinking it’s a bit of a phase, but it’s not”), is learning te reo Māori, and attended two “life-changing” wellness retreats with Dr Sarah Anticich and Gemma McCaw. After years of checking her phone late at night and working from the minute she woke up (starting at 5am), she’s chosen to “enter each day from a centred place”. Now, Lynette won’t look at anything on her phone until she has read something either instructional or “beautiful”. To silence her inner critic she tries “to expect the best from others and tell myself that I’ve done my best”.
Water, sleep and nutrition have become mantras. She still loves wine and sugar though; after all, this energetic, extroverted and fearless leader needs some guilty pleasures.
Despite the pandemic, indulging her passion for travel and art has not been foregone either. “We’ve travelled locally and I’ve been to a lot of new places this year – Stewart Island was fantastic, Karamea was sort of old-school. Cape Kidnappers and Kauri Cliffs in the Far North are owned by an American family with massive art collections; being someone who absolutely loves art, that was a fabulous experience.”
Lynette and John have seen their sons blossom into worldly, working 20-somethings. Lynette is keen to reassure the next generation that opportunities are still out there.
“I don’t think your schooling defines who you are or who you’re going to be as a human being. I love the entrepreneurial mindset.”
Their youngest son is in his first year of work after graduating from the University of Canterbury with a commerce degree. “Louis was the first person in our family to get a degree! We were hugely proud of him.”
Harry is a ski professional, examining instructors and teaching for six months of the year in northern hemisphere countries, then spending the rest of the year based in Wānaka, where the family has a holiday home.
“He did Outdoor Ed for his senior year at Mount Aspiring College and then studied at Otago Polytechnic. That was wonderful for his independence and wellbeing. It allowed him to extend himself in nature – the mountains are where he feels his most exhilarated and most calm,” she says.
Through Harry’s experiences, the McFaddens are becoming aware of the effects of global warming. “He’s really noticing the change in the weather on the mountains he’s on, how short the seasons are becoming – we try hard to understand that world, because that’s the world our kids are going to have,” she reflects.
The McFaddens have viewed travel as an education for their boys, heading to Europe most years. John’s a keen cyclist so they have followed the Tour de France. Lynette says the boys were good sports when she dragged them around various European galleries and museums.
“One year we did a family pilgrimage to the war sites in Europe – Louis was doing a lot about it at school. We went to Passchendaele for the 99-year anniversary, and to Normandy to see where the Allied troops landed. We even laid poppies on the graves of local Cantabs in Belgium; it was really moving.”
Harry’s partner Lena is an Italian downhill ski-racing coach. Their wedding this year will be “very special” says the thrilled mum-in-law-to-be. “We’ve tried to open the world up through travel and experiences. As a consequence, the boys are comfortable in their own skin.”
Lynette encourages teenagers to be themselves. “Don’t feel like you need to fit into someone else’s view of what your world needs to be like. The world’s changing all the time, there’s so much acceptance of variance. And if there isn’t, find a place where there is.”
For about 30 years, John and Lynette have set goals. Not the kind you mention off-hand at a New Year’s Eve party – the sort that are written down in journals, straddle the personal and the professional, and get revisited every few months. They started off as acquisitionary but are now more holistic – giving back to family, friends and community. This habit has become a family ritual, one Harry and Louis view as fun – and still partake in. “When the boys were little they would ask what we were doing. We said we’re talking about things we’d really like to do this year. They said, ‘Can we say something?’ So if you look in our past journals you’ll see things like ‘try other food’ or ‘do a jump on my skis’ – it’s like a time capsule! Even when Harry was away, he would still send his goals to us and we’d write them in his journal.”
This passion for identifying where to go in life has taken Lynette down the business-mentoring path. “It’s one of the spaces I most like to be in. A mentor looks at things from a broader, more holistic place, in an unaffected way – like a life coach, a wise woman, or even your grandmother wanting to give you a bit of a smack now and again,” she says with a twinkle in her eye. “I mentor industry people and quite a lot of others – including successful businessmen! Trust and respect is a big part of it.”
“I absolutely adore Christmas! Sharing food is a really big thing for me – I can demonstrate how much I care. Our main Christmas ritual involves whitebait patties and champagne to start with, while playing Elvis really loud!” Ev and Elise will help produce tons of food: salmon will feature, as will desserts. There’s also pancetta and Aperol spritzes, in a nod to their Italian daughter-in-law. “We are always welcoming; anyone who’s at a loose end is always welcome.”
As she sorts the Elvis playlist and indulges her love of gift-giving, Lynette is grateful for the joy that’s been created around her this year, from her parents staying to the new agents welcomed on board, the love of friends, Louis’ new job and Harry returning from overseas (and his impending marriage). “All of that has felt really good,” she signs off.