He got his start as a night-fill worker at his local supermarket in Sydney's southwest.

Now Marwan Rahme is living the dream as a millionaire developer with half a billion dollars worth of deals under his belt, after turning a small-time renovation job into a property empire.

The Lebanese immigrant used savings from his gap year spent stacking shelves to kickstart a venture that would make him rich.

While other 36-year-olds complain about the cost of housing, Mr Rahme is building apartments. He's had a street named after him and lives in a building designed by Renzo Piano, the architect behind the Pompidou Centre in Paris. It's all a long way from his childhood home, a humble fibro two-bedder in Guildford.

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It all started back in 2001, when Mr Rahme was in his third year of a Bachelor of Building degree at the University of Western Sydney.

The then 20-year-old teamed up with three friends - an architecture student, a carpentry student and project management student - to renovate a family home in Bondi, a A$200,000 (NZ$210,000) job that earned them a A$15,000 profit.

With cash from the reno job and their personal savings, a total of less than A$100,000, the trio took a gamble and put down a deposit on a vacant block in Kellyville, in Sydney's north-west.

Thanks to a well-timed "mini property boom", and its proximity to a soon-to-be-built new shopping centre, the land increased in value by the time the property was registered nine months later.

In the meantime, Mr Rahme and his friends got council approval to build 18 apartments on the greenfields site, and pre-sold many of them through a local agent.

"Once we had the presales, the bank lent us almost the entire amount to build," he said.

"We sold A$3.5 million to A$4m worth of property on that project, which paid out the bank, and kept five apartments, then used that as security for the next development."

From there, the business grew into a property development, construction finance and real estate empire.

In 2002, Mr Rahme bought his mates out in "an amicable split" and focused on scaling up the business, which was named Kanebridge in 1999.

The business now employs 22 staff, including one of his former partners who is a development manager.

Kanebridge has sold 200 properties in the past 12 months, Mr Rahme said, and has projects in the pipeline in suburbs across Sydney, from Avoca Beach to Marsden Park.

A HUMBLE BEGINNING

When he was growing up in Guildford, Mr Rahme's family didn't have much. His father worked as a handyman, while his mother stayed home to look after the four kids, all living in a two-bedroom house.

But he was inspired by the legacy of his grandfather, who had developed apartments in Sydney's Harris Park and Rose Hill in the 1950s and 1960s, before the family moved back to the Middle East.

"That was my inspiration - to do it for my parents. Because they lost everything during the war in Lebanon. They came back with nothing," Mr Rahme said.

"I think that's how you get a hard work ethic, because you had to work hard, and you're not scared to lose everything, because you never had it to begin with."

While other kids were playing video games, Mr Rahme was focused on how he could get ahead, or at least learn a new skill.

"It was always a case of 'let's not waste a minute'," he said. "I always wanted to be doing something. If I was bored, I would dismantle a mobile phone and put it back together.

When he got his first job at Coles, it was a chance encounter that sparked Mr Rahme's resolve.

"There was a manager there, I don't remember his name but I'd love to find him," Mr Rahme said.

"He just kept telling me to back myself... After I worked there for a month, he actually promoted me to a duty manager role, and he just gave me all this confidence."

Mr Rahme admitted that a healthy amount of luck was in play when he kickstarted his business, acknowledging that things could have been different if he had entered the market a year earlier or later.

"I put a lot of value on luck, and where you live," he said. "I could have the exact same work ethic and not get results. You've got to give credit to Sydney and Australia as a whole because it's one of those countries that if you work hard, you actually get results."

To anyone looking to follow in his footsteps, Mr Rahme advised them to take "baby steps", start small and "don't get too big too quick".

"There's no shortcuts," he said. "If you want to get into property development, start with a duplex and build it slowly from there."