How Bjorn Farrugia swapped the tennis racket for acing the LA real estate market | Kanebridge News
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How Bjorn Farrugia swapped the tennis racket for acing the LA real estate market

When a career on the international tennis circuit stalled, this one-time Melbourne local took on one of the toughest real estate markets in the world, and won.

Thu, Apr 27, 2023 9:18amGrey Clock 9 min

Bjorn Farrugia admits he had nothing but drive when he left Australian shores in the early 2000s to pursue his dream to be the next Roger Federer. Named for Swedish tennis star Bjorn Borg, at the age of 21, Farrugia had never been on a plane before making his way to the US state of Georgia on a scholarship. When his tennis career stalled, he pivoted, seeking his fortune in New York and eventually finding his place in the luxury real estate market of Los Angeles. How he managed to climb one of the most competitive markets in the world is a story of determination and hard work for the Melbourne boy made good.

He spoke with Kanebridge News not long after the passing in March of his friend and business associate, Melbourne property developer Jonathan Hallinan. Here he reflects on what it takes to be successful in business without compromising your integrity, and the joy of being able to buy your mum a house.

How long since you’ve been in Australia?

Despite having lived in the US for two decades, I make an effort to return to Australia at least once a year. During my most recent trip in December 2022, I had the chance to visit one of my closest friends who was battling an illness. Although he has since passed away, I cherish the memories of the time we spent together. In addition to spending time with my friend, I also took the opportunity to explore Melbourne once again. It truly is one of the greatest cities in the world.


So you’re used to American coffee? That must be tough for a Melbourne boy.

Although I love coffee, I happen to be one of those people who are “naturally caffeinated.” As a result, I’ve learned to enjoy green or chamomile tea instead. I do compensate for this by maintaining an incredibly extensive collection of my favourite Australian chocolates in my home. A section of my kitchen has practically transformed into an Australian lolly shop.


How did you come to terms with not being a top tennis player?

At first, it was really difficult for me to accept that I wasn’t going to make it as a professional tennis player. I had invested a lot of time and effort into the sport, and I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to achieve the level of success that I had hoped for.

For a while, I was really down about it. I didn’t want to play tennis anymore, even though it was something that I loved to do. In time, I realised I could channel my competitive energy into something else that I was passionate about: my career in real estate.

I threw myself into my work, I found that I was still able to satisfy that same desire to compete, even though it wasn’t on the court. Over time, I started playing tennis again, just for fun. It wasn’t about being the best anymore – it was just about enjoying the game and spending time with friends. Tennis has been one of the greatest joys and has taught me so many life lessons that I am forever grateful for.


You’ve said that Roger Federer is your favourite player. What was it about his game that appealed to you?

I have always been drawn to Roger Federer’s game. There is something about the way he moves on the court that is simply mesmerising. His style of play is elegant and graceful, and his precision is unmatched. Watching him play is like watching a work of art in motion.

What really sets him apart, in my opinion, is his demeanour on and off the court. He is the epitome of sportsmanship and grace under pressure. He never loses his cool, even in the most intense moments of a match. And he always shows respect and kindness to his opponents, win or lose.

As someone who strives to be a good sport and a kind person, Roger has always been an inspiration to me. I admire his dedication to his craft, his humility, and his unwavering commitment to being the best he can be. He truly embodies what it means to be a champion, both on and off the court and that is something that I have learned to carry on in my life and in my career.


How did you get from being a promising tennis star who had to reassess life to a real estate king?

My journey from tennis to real estate wasn’t an easy one. When I was younger, I was on the trajectory to becoming a promising tennis star with dreams of becoming a professional player. Unfortunately, those dreams didn’t pan out. It was a difficult time in my life, and I had to reassess my goals and figure out what I wanted to do next.

In time, I discovered my passion for real estate. I found that I loved the challenge of negotiating deals, building relationships with clients, and finding creative solutions to problems. I started out small, but with hard work and dedication, I eventually built my real estate career and while I am definitely not a real estate king yet, I feel I am getting closer and closer to my ultimate goal every day.

Of course, there were challenges along the way. Real Estate is a tough industry, and it takes a lot of grit and determination to succeed. I never gave up, even when things got tough. I kept pushing forward, always looking for new opportunities and ways to grow my business.

Now I feel proud of what I’ve accomplished. I may not have become a tennis star, but I found my true calling in real estate. And I know that with my drive and determination, I can continue to achieve great things in the years to come.


What are those attributes?

In my opinion, to excel in working with people, I think it’s essential to possess the skill of connecting with them, managing diverse personalities, and upholding integrity and amiability. Many people have complimented me on these skills, and I find it easy to strike up a conversation and establish a connection with someone, which is a common trait among Aussies.

In any business venture, there are a few key things that you must excel at to be successful. Firstly, you need an unquenchable thirst for success and be relentless in your pursuit. Secondly, you must believe that you deserve to succeed and not let “no” deter you from reaching your goals. To achieve this, you must live, breathe, eat, and dream about your objectives. You need to be passionate and committed, and you must work hard every day to make your dreams a reality.

Sometimes, you may face rejection, but it’s crucial to remain undaunted and pick yourself up, even when someone tells you “no”. With a combination of hard work, perseverance, and a refusal to give up, you can achieve great success in any field you choose.

Former Melbourne local Bjorn Farrugia left Australia to pursue a tennis career but has since found his mojo selling luxury real estate in Los Angeles.

Has it been particularly difficult breaking through in LA?

After school, I decided to pursue a professional tennis career, but eventually transitioned to finance when I moved to New York City. Although it wasn’t a financially lucrative experience, it helped shape who I am today. I took a big leap of faith when I left my family in Australia and moved to the other side of the world, where I knew nobody and had never even been on a plane before. At the time, I was inexperienced and naive, but determined to succeed.

Living in New York City taught me that when you come from nothing and have nothing, you have to be proactive and work tirelessly to achieve your goals. Moving to Los Angeles presented a new set of challenges, but I knew that I had to work just as hard to succeed.

Throughout my journey, I have always maintained a big vision for my future. I am a very competitive person, but I only compete with myself. I don’t get caught up in what others are doing. My mentality is simple: always try your best and give it your all.

I have been fortunate enough to have an incredible support system around me. My fiancé has played a huge role in helping me build my business from the ground up. I also have a dedicated team and loyal clients, and a group of great friends who have always had my back – many of whom are from Australia.


One of your ambitions was to buy a house for your mum. How was that moment?

Since I was just a little boy, I always dreamed of buying my mum a house. I was able to make one of my dreams come true— I even went a step further and purchased the neighbouring home to give her two homes next to each other. The act of buying the home for my mum was amazing, but giving it to her was even more rewarding for me. Reflecting on where I came from, it was truly special to fly back home to help my mum move in. I didn’t even see the house before I bought it, but I knew it was in the perfect neighbourhood as it’s where I grew up. Handing over the keys to my mum and watching her move in was such a profound moment. It felt like I was the one receiving a gift instead of her. Coming from the background that I did, I am extremely proud and grateful for being able to make this happen for her and my family.


You’re in one of the most competitive real estate markets in the world. What still gets you out of bed in the morning?

For me, it’s about legacy and family. I wake up every morning driven by the desire to succeed and be the best version of myself. When I first started in this competitive real estate market, my goal was to accumulate vast wealth. I have a burning desire to win and always strive to come out on top. Losing is not an option for me, and I always have high expectations for myself. Sometimes those expectations may seem absurdly unrealistic, but that’s what sets me apart from the rest. I refuse to settle for mediocrity or conform to the norm. However, my best mate, Jonathan Hallinan, taught me that there’s more to life than just money. My ultimate goal is to live a fulfilling and happy life. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still incredibly hungry for success but spending time with my family and enjoying the special moments is way more important to me.


Are you looking at returning to Melbourne anytime soon?

I recently lost my best mate in Melbourne, so it may be a while before I return there. However, I have always imagined owning a holiday house somewhere like Sorrento or Rosebud. While I am starting to establish myself in America, I still hold a deep affection for Australia because it has shaped me into the person I am today.


What would you say to someone who is looking to enter real estate now, who has that kind of drive to succeed?

As someone who has experienced success in real estate, my advice to someone who is looking to enter the industry now and has the drive to succeed is to first work on a team. It’s important to work with people who are doing deals and producing results, so you can see firsthand what a successful agency looks like and get exposed to deal flows.

Next, find someone you trust and want to emulate, someone who has a good moral compass, and work with them. Read a lot of books on how to start in real estate. There’s one book in particular I highly recommend called The Millionaire Real Estate Agent by Gary Keller, Dave Jenks, and Jay Papasan. Gary Keller is the founder of Keller Williams Realty, and the principles he outlines in that book can be applied to any business.

When I first started in real estate, I called every major real estate agent and asked them to have coffee with me. I told them I wanted to learn from them and asked them how they became successful. I called one guy 17 times, but eventually, I met all of them except for three. By taking one thing from each person and incorporating it into my own approach, I was able to develop an incredible set of tools to help me succeed.

It’s important to remember that success in real estate takes time and effort, but if you stay focused, work hard, and learn from those who have come before you, there’s no limit to what you can achieve. Even though people might tell me I’m at the top, I believe I’m just getting warmed up and have so much more to learn and accomplish in this industry.


What’s important to you now?

Right now, the most important thing to me is my family and spending time with my fiancé and my three-year-old son. While money is certainly important, I value the freedom it can provide more than the material possessions it can buy.

Recently, I was up working at 6am and learned that Roger Federer was retiring; four days later, I was in London to witness his last match (in September 2022). I just had to be there to see this special moment. I was lucky that my hard work gave me the freedom and opportunity to see Roger play in his last tournament. At the same time, I recognise that having the freedom to take my son to the park on a Tuesday afternoon is just as important. I enjoy being able to balance my career aspirations and my family – and of course have the time to work on my tennis swing.

TOPSHOT – Switzerland’s Roger Federer brings the curtain down on his spectacular career in a “super special” match alongside long-time rival Rafael Nadal at the Laver Cup in London in September 2022. (Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images)


What’s your message for people who want to achieve what you have?

My message to those who aspire to achieve what I have is to never give up on your dreams, no matter how difficult the journey may seem. It takes a lot of hard work, dedication, and perseverance to make your dreams a reality. Don’t be afraid to take risks and step out of your comfort zone. Surround yourself with supportive people who believe in you and your goals. And most importantly, always remember why you started and let that drive you forward. With enough passion, determination, and a willingness to learn and grow, you can achieve anything you set your mind to.


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At the World Plogging Championship, contestants have lugged in tires, TVs and at least one Neapolitan coffee maker

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GENOA, Italy—Renato Zanelli crossed the finish line with a rusty iron hanging from his neck while pulling 140 pounds of trash on an improvised sled fashioned from a slab of plastic waste.

Zanelli, a retired IT specialist, flashed a tired smile, but he suspected his garbage haul wouldn’t be enough to defend his title as world champion of plogging—a sport that combines running with trash collecting.

A rival had just finished the race with a chair around his neck and dragging three tires, a television and four sacks of trash. Another crossed the line with muscles bulging, towing a large refrigerator. But the strongest challenger was Manuel Jesus Ortega Garcia, a Spanish plumber who arrived at the finish pulling a fridge, a dishwasher, a propane gas tank, a fire extinguisher and a host of other odds and ends.

“The competition is intense this year,” said Zanelli. Now 71, he used his fitness and knack for finding trash to compete against athletes half his age. “I’m here to help the environment, but I also want to win.”

Italy, a land of beauty, is also a land of uncollected trash. The country struggles with chronic littering, inefficient garbage collection in many cities, and illegal dumping in the countryside of everything from washing machines to construction waste. Rome has become an emblem of Italy’s inability to fix its trash problem.

So it was fitting that at the recent World Plogging Championship more than 70 athletes from 16 countries tested their talents in this northern Italian city. During the six hours of the race, contestants collect points by racking up miles and vertical distance, and by carrying as much trash across the finish line as they can. Trash gets scored based on its weight and environmental impact. Batteries and electronic equipment earn the most points.

A mobile app ensures runners stay within the race’s permitted area, approximately 12 square miles. Athletes have to pass through checkpoints in the rugged, hilly park. They are issued gloves and four plastic bags to fill with garbage, and are also allowed to carry up to three bulky finds, such as tires or TVs.

Genoa, a gritty industrial port city in the country’s mountainous northwest, has a trash problem that gets worse the further one gets away from its relatively clean historic core. The park that hosted the plogging championship has long been plagued by garbage big and small.

“It’s ironic to have the World Plogging Championship in a country that’s not always as clean as it could be. But maybe it will help bring awareness and things will improve,” said Francesco Carcioffo, chief executive of Acea Pinerolese Industriale, an energy and recycling company that’s been involved in sponsoring and organizing the race since its first edition in 2021. All three world championships so far have been held in Italy.

Events that combine running and trash-collecting go back to at least 2010. The sport gained traction about seven years ago when a Swede, Erik Ahlström, coined the name plogging, a mashup of plocka upp, Swedish for “pick up,” and jogging.

“If you don’t have a catchy name you might as well not exist,” said Roberto Cavallo, an Italian environmental consultant and longtime plogger, who is on the world championship organizing committee together with Ahlström.

Saturday’s event brought together a mix of wiry trail runners and environmental activists, some of whom looked less like elite athletes.

“We like plogging because it makes us feel a little less guilty about the way things are going with the environment,” said Elena Canuto, 29, as she warmed up before the start. She came in first in the women’s ranking two years ago. “This year I’m taking it a bit easier because I’m three months pregnant.”

Around two-thirds of the contestants were Italians. The rest came from other European countries, as well as Japan, Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico, Algeria, Ghana and Senegal.

“I hope to win so people in Senegal get enthusiastic about plogging,” said Issa Ba, a 30-year-old Senegalese-born factory worker who has lived in Italy for eight years.

“Three, two, one, go,” Cavallo shouted over a loudspeaker, and the athletes sprinted off in different directions. Some stopped 20 yards from the starting line to collect their first trash. Others took off to be the first to exploit richer pickings on wooded hilltops, where batteries and home appliances lay waiting.

As the hours went by, the athletes crisscrossed trails and roads, their bags became heavier. They tagged their bulky items and left them at roadsides for later collection. Contestants gathered at refreshment points, discussing what they had found as they fueled up on cookies and juice. Some contestants had brought their own reusable cups.

With 30 minutes left in the race, athletes were gathering so much trash that the organisers decided to tweak the rules: in addition to their four plastic bags, contestants could carry six bulky objects over the finish line rather than three.

“I know it’s like changing the rules halfway through a game of Monopoly, but I know I can rely on your comprehension,” Cavallo announced over the PA as the athletes braced for their final push to the finish line.

The rule change meant some contestants could almost double the weight of their trash, but others smelled a rat.

“That’s fantastic that people found so much stuff, but it’s not really fair to change the rules at the last minute,” said Paul Waye, a Dutch plogging evangelist who had passed up on some bulky trash because of the three-item rule.

Senegal will have to wait at least a year to have a plogging champion. Two hours after the end of Saturday’s race, Ba still hadn’t arrived at the finish line.

“My phone ran out of battery and I got lost,” Ba said later at the awards ceremony. “I’ll be back next year, but with a better phone.”

The race went better for Canuto. She used an abandoned shopping cart to wheel in her loot. It included a baby stroller, which the mother-to-be took as a good omen. Her total haul weighed a relatively modest 100 pounds, but was heavy on electronic equipment, which was enough for her to score her second triumph.

“I don’t know if I’ll be back next year to defend my title. The baby will be six or seven months old,” she said.

In the men’s ranking, Ortega, the Spanish plumber, brought in 310 pounds of waste, racked up more than 16 miles and climbed 7,300 feet to run away with the title.

Zanelli, the defending champion, didn’t make it onto the podium. He said he would take solace from the nearly new Neapolitan coffee maker he found during the first championship two years ago. “I’ll always have my victory and the coffee maker, which I polished and now display in my home,” he said.

Contestants collected more than 6,600 pounds of trash. The haul included fridges, bikes, dozens of tires, baby seats, mattresses, lead pipes, stoves, chairs, TVs, 1980s-era boomboxes with cassettes still inside, motorcycle helmets, electric fans, traffic cones, air rifles, a toilet and a soccer goal.

“This park hasn’t been this clean since the 15 century,” said Genoa’s ambassador for sport, Roberto Giordano.


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