It’s not every day you see a CEO arguing for a worse economy. But that’s what Tim Gurner, founder and CEO of Australian luxury real estate company the Gurner Group, tried to do at an Australian Financial Review conference on Tuesday.
“Employees feel the employer is extremely lucky to have them, as opposed to the other way around,” Gurner told the audience. “We’ve got to kill that attitude, and that has to come through hurting the economy,” he continued.
“We need to see pain in the economy. We need to remind people that they work for the employer, not the other way around,” he said. The real estate CEO also suggested that Australian unemployment needed to jump by as much as 50%.
Gurner also complained about “tradies”—workers who practice a trade, like electricians, plumbers and carpenters—and claimed they had “pulled back on productivity.”
Gurner’s remarks have since rocketed out of the Australian context to catch the attention of commentators around the world, including U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).
“Major CEOs have skyrocketed their own pay so much that the ratio of CEO-to-worker pay is now at some of the highest levels *ever* recorded,” the congresswoman wrote on X, responding to a video of Gurner’s comments.
Who is Tim Gurner?
Gurner is the head of the Gurner Group, a real estate company founded in 2013. According to the company’s website, the firm has a development and management portfolio worth about 9.5 billion Australian dollars (or just over $6 billion). The firm primarily focuses on luxury homes and property management, but also dabbles in private social clubs, with one offering anti-aging services.
The Australian Financial Review estimates Gurner’s net worth to be $584 million.
It’s not the first time Gurner has courted controversy with his opinions.
Back in 2017, Gurner took to Australia’s “60 Minutes” news program to talk about housing affordability.
The real estate millionaire complained that poor spending habits—particularly on avocado toast and other small luxuries—were the reason why younger Australians were struggling to afford homes.
“When I was trying to buy my first home, I wasn’t buying smashed avocado for [19 Australian dollars] and four coffees at [4 Australian dollars] each,” he said.
“The people that own homes today worked very, very hard for it, saved every dollar,” while younger Australians “want to eat out every day, they want to travel to Europe every year,” he said.
In spite of his rhetoric, Gurner reportedly got help when he started out. According to the Australian Financial Review, after Gurner’s comments went viral, the real estate founder got help from his former boss and his grandfather as he was starting his business.
Gurmen’s blunt complaints about arrogant workers may win sympathy from other business leaders.
In April, the CEO of office equipment company MillerKnoll, Andi Owen, told employees to stop worrying about bonuses in an internal meeting.
“Spend your time and your effort thinking about the $26 million we need, and not thinking about what you’re going to do if you don’t get a bonus, alright?,” she said, while also suggesting that employees “leave Pity City.”
Owen apologized for her comments after they went viral on social media. She later told Fortune CEO Alan Murray that social media allowed “a few negative people to amplify and take things out of context,” and that the experience reinforced her view of bringing people back together in person.
Then in May, Tesla CEO Elon Musk complained that workers who wanted remote work needed to “get off their goddamn moral high horse.” In an interview with CNBC, Musk argued that remote employees enjoyed unfair privileges that other workers didn’t yet. “You’re going to make people who make your food that gets delivered—they can’t work from home?” Musk asked.
Despite the loud rhetoric from some CEOs, the remote work debate between bosses and workers may be settling into a truce. Over 80% of Fortune 500 companies tracked by remote work platform Scoop are settling into a hybrid work system.
“A lot of the coverage and discussion is on the CEOs who are pushing really hard on full time in office, and there are a lot of readers interested in that,” Scoop CEO Rob Sadow tells Fortune. “But in reality, employees and employers are less far apart than it may seem.”