Property Australia

A lifetime of service

Karen Jamal Karen Jamal October 5, 2021

Former Property Council national president Jim Service AO, who passed away last week, always lived up to his name and leaves behind an extraordinary legacy.

Service, who died last Wednesday 29 September, aged 88, dedicated his life to community-shaping and business ventures that transformed the nation’s capital.

He was Property Council National President from 1994 to 1996. Ken Morrison, the Property Council’s chief executive, says Service “left a great legacy to the industry, the people of Canberra and the Property Council”.

“As national president he saw the opportunity to reposition our industry in the political arena and led our transformation from the Building Owners and Managers Association to the Property Council of Australia,” Morrison says. “This sparked an era of modernisation for the organisation and we’ve never looked back.”

Former chief executive Peter Verwer, who led the organisation through the transition, agrees.

“It was characteristic of Jim Service’s far-sighted vision that he led the transformation from BOMA to the Property Council of Australia. In doing so, he sought not only to change the organisation’s name, but to forge a new style of advocacy based on practical solutions and a positive nation-building ethos.”

Speaking to The Canberra Times last week, former prime minister John Howard noted Service's “remarkable commitment to the life of Canberra”.

“It is hard to think of any aspect of the life of our national capital which did not benefit from his energy,” Howard said.

Service was a mentor to many, including the Property Council’s group executive of advocacy and policy Michael Zorbas, who started his career with JG Service in 1998. “Jim was my first ever boss,” Zorbas reflects. He was an “incredible man” who was “generous and bright”.

“He had a terrific dry sense of humour. Like the Sahara. If you could make him chuckle you knew you’d said something very funny,” Zorbas says.

“Observing him closely, I was always impressed that other very bright people would seek out his advice with quiet reverence. And why not? This scholarship kid had grown his own staggeringly successful private company with his wonderful family, created a proper bank, built and chaired our national museum, sat on numerous significant national boards, and all from Canberra!”

Service was born in 1933 in Sydney, lived briefly in Fiji, and was educated at Newington College in Sydney’s inner west, where he was a scholarship winner and later served on the college’s board.

He moved to Canberra in 1964 as an executive of hotel group Moteliers, later forming GKS Constructions with Len Goodwin and Arthur Kenyon. One of their first projects was the Jamison Centre in Belconnen.

By 1981, Service had established his own national property consultancy, management and development company, JG Service Pty Ltd. Among his projects was the Canberra Times building in Fyshwick.

“Jim was also a great example of an industry leader who gave back to his community and made a contribution outside of the world of real estate,” Morrison notes.

His extraordinary breadth of contributions to Canberra at the highest level include board positions with the National Gallery of Australia Foundation, the National Museum of Australia, the Canberra Chamber of Commerce, the ACT Advisory Board on Tourism, the ACT Board of Health, Australia Day in the National Capital committee, Floriade and the Canberra Theatre Trust.

As chairman of Advance Bank, Service was the first Canberra business leader to head a major national public company. He was also chairman of the Salvation Army Advisory Board for many years, patron of the Spirit of Calvary Hospital capital development campaign and supported countless charity events and fundraising campaigns.

In an interview with The Canberra Times in 1992, Service explained his drive to contribute. “I have a low boredom threshold,” he said at the time. “That's why I take on things... you feel you can contribute to something.”

Zorbas says Service’s energy and enthusiasm were exceptional. “Well into his seventies, on a panel or around a boardroom table, Jim could still absolutely wipe the floor with smart younger leaders. This was never done in a nasty way, but it used to make me laugh to watch their surprise as he’d take the room with him.

“An entertaining speaker, Jim could also compose the most amazing letters – almost as compelling from the page as being directly subjected to his persuasive powers. Very few people have that mastery,” Zorbas says.

In 2001, Service was named Canberra Citizen of the Year for his contribution to business and charity organisations. In 2004 he was made an Officer of the Order of Australia for service to business and to the community through support for arts, cultural and charitable organisations.

“Jim led the way and was the epitome of a leader,” says Arabella Rohde, the Property Council’s president in the ACT. “He was a business leader who strongly supported community outcomes for Canberra. His legacy sets an example for our existing and rising business and community leaders.”

Service is survived by his wife Dorothy and his four children, including his son James, who has continued to build on his father’s legacy.

“Jim was a passionate Canberran and played an incredible part in the growth of the city we love today,” says Property Council ACT executive director, Adina Cirson. “Our thoughts go to his wife and family, and to our division council member James Service who so proudly continues to hold up his father’s incredible legacy.”

Zorbas says Service’s “dignified way of being and listening to others” will remain with him, as it will for many property people who had the honour and privilege of knowing him. Vale Jim Service AO.