Fri, 27/10/2017 - 06:35
Current Issue 59
Creating Success Stories
Forum Properties Africa’s turnkey property development services are truly capitalising on African potential as the Company continues to target emerging economic nations
Writer: Matthew Staff
Project Manager: Kane Weller
The notion of Africa as an emerging heavyweight with copious amounts of potential is hardly a new one, but few are capitalising on this so-called promise so wholly as large-scale real estate developer, Forum Properties Africa.
As an autonomous member of the Forum Properties Africa Group, and with a majority shareholding that emanates from international entrepreneurial investors into frontier markets, the opportunities that exist in Africa are undoubted and plentiful of course, but it has often been the case that prospective investors or businesses have turned towards the more emerged elite of South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya in recent years. As the respective hubs to the south, east and west of the continent, it would seem a natural decision to make, but Forum continues to shine a light on the missed opportunities in neighbouring countries.
Chief Executive Officer, Deon Bruwer introduces: “I myself pulled out of Nigeria in 2013 because the country was wholly dependent on one commodity and it seemed too risky to have all your eggs in one basket. As much as 95 percent of the country’s GDP was based on one commodity back then - oil - and I was concerned that, due to the growth in renewable energy and fracking, the economy could be vulnerable. We all know what happened.
“However, if you look at a country which has been blessed with numerous commodities like the DRC, where they have copper, cobalt, coltan, titanium, diamonds, gold, agriculture etc, then you have a wide range of commodities to offset the challenge of one market collapsing.”
It is this logic that has set the tone for Forum Properties Africa’ rise ever since, assessing opportunities in exciting progressive countries - despite their own specific challenges - in order to fully capitalise on the economic potential they possess.
Bruwer continues: “The DRC is quite unique and not always an easy place to operate, but if one follows compliance, keeps their lawyers-auditors and other professionals close, and thereby carries out operations professionally with credible global firms, then you can get the job done and attract international tenants/buyers and investors into AAA-grade offices, residential, industrial and retail.
“A lot of people underestimate how challenging these aspects are, because they differ not just from country to country, but from province to province or even across different departments within cities. But as long as you don’t spread yourself too thin as proofed by our model, then you can offset these challenges, and the competitive advantage then comes from doing business differently, by thinking outside of the box, with your eyes all the time on the ball, and by adding value in countries like the DRC.”
Luano City in the Katanga Province of the country epitomises this ethos and so far - alongside its Cradle City Project at Lanseria Airport in Johannesburg - in evolving from an ambitious economic development idea, to become one of the country’s leading international business and financial hubs; an ideal aerotropolis environment for working, living, staying, investing and forming a sustainable smart city in the area.
Quality turnkey services
All told, since inception back in 1993, Forum Moscow and Forum Properties Africa has established a solid track record of developing high quality, mixed-use developments; its global Group footprint covering Europe and Africa.
“We work with a team of property development specialists with significant collective experience in real estate development and management,” the Company explains. “This ‘forum’ of management professionals represents a collective experience and success track record in commercial, retail and residential development that spans: more than 140 years; more than 1.3 million square metres in retail development; more than 10 million square metres in residential development; more than 785,000 square metres in commercial development; and more than 4.1 million square metres in completed development projects on the African continent.”
Aspects of development management, project management, design works, permits approvals, procurement, tendering, sub-contracting and much more fall under the Forum remit to this end, culminating in a turnkey service that has become synonymous with the Company’s Luano City and Cradle City projects especially.
“If you look at our Triple A grade offices, housing and industrial work in the Katanga province for example, its tenants and owners include some of the biggest mining companies in the country, as well as other international operators, including United Nations and foreign diplomat representatives,” Bruwer notes. “In my opinion it’s the best, safest and most secure development of its kind in the DRC and is continuously evolving each year; a new shopping centre set to be introduced next year for instance.”
And as this, and indeed Forum’s additional projects continue to escalate, so too does the Company’s own infrastructure as it strives to meet the needs of the project, its tenants, its suppliers, its stakeholders, and even the relative countries.
Bruwer adds: “Initially you look to keep overheads down where you only have 10 or 15 tenants and owners, but then this quickly rises to 50 or 60, who all need water invoices or power invoices, etc. So in order to keep on top of that increase, and to keep offering quality turnkey services, you employ more quality people and also look into heightened areas of automation which we have now implemented across areas of accounts and administration.”
Inevitably, human resources plays an equally pivotal role in the evolution of Forum and each of its developments, and once again, the country-specific challenges are numerable. Extensive training, upliftment and sustainability practices are therefore vital to not only get people up to the required standard, but to then promote each individual through the business in the long-term.
Such a strategy does pay off ultimately though, with the business’ commitment to long-term personal enrichment subsequently repaid by enhanced employee loyalty and a status as an employer of choice.
“Every day we have people standing outside our gates trying to get work,” Bruwer details. “There’s a high unemployment rate but people can see the developments taking shape and can also see people moving in, and generally a company heading in the right direction. It’s good as we’re clearly a first choice for lots of people, but it also sheds light on a not so nice fact that there is so much unemployment, and we try to help where we can.
“One good story revolves around a mute guy who could neither speak nor hear, yet he stood outside our gates every day with the others. One day, when a cement shipment came in late in the day, he was the only one still left and he helped to offload cement from a truck. A year and a half later and he is now one of our hardest working employees working in the nursery. Technical ability may be in short supply but willingness, a great attitude, and a high work rate is equally important to us.”
Creating success stories
Much like the Company’s hiring status, Forum’s general market status is largely untouchable. Its standing at the top of the market is safely secured for the time being; not just because of its turnkey services, but mostly because it has proven to move forward during the ups-and-downs of the market challenges.
The ability to source, secure and create focused development opportunities in these emerging areas serves not just company growth, but national enrichment, and moving forward, Forum will look to compound its strategy of land acquisition and development delivery in these high-growth emergence regions of Africa.
“As a normal progression due to successes in our field of expertise, we are approached by investors and funds to invest and benefit from our future investments. We are in the final stage of incorporating our first fund in Mauritius to this end. The fund will focus on buying quality real estate assets driven by strong internationally-backed tenants for long-term leases and hard currency returns. Attaining quality tenants is the key here with no development risk.
Bruwer concludes. “The future lies by investing in real estate, secured by hard currency returns, within multi-commodity rich countries.”