Built to Last
Despite a challenging industry backdrop, Tiber Construction continues to deliver striking developments across Gauteng, the central business hub of South Africa - its approach to knowledge sharing and mentorship key to its longevity
Writer: Tom Wadlow | Project Manager: Eddie Clinton
Few people spend more than 25 years at the same company without good reason.
Either they are a glutton for punishment, or they continue to gain enjoyment and reward from their work as time has progressed.
Jose Correia, Managing Director of South Africa’s Tiber Construction, falls into the latter category.
“I have always been fascinated by construction and started down the civil engineering route,” he says. “Joining Tiber was very much a word a mouth exercise back then, it was about relationships and people you knew.
Fast forward 25 years and I am still here, it has been a very rewarding learning curve and that I would say is the reason I will always be part of the company.
“You should never stay long at a job you don’t enjoy.
For me, the best reward comes from showing people the constructs you have worked on – your CV is like no other, made up of physical structures that are there to last.”
Such lengthy tenures are also an increasingly rare occurrence. Though exact figures vary, the average length an employee spends at a company is thought to be around three to five years, a far cry from the quarter century Correia has served at Tiber.
He made it the hard way, working through the ranks from a site engineer in 1994 up and through various levels of management before being made Managing Director in 2013.
Correia’s story is particularly relevant, for it represents what he believes is the major reason why Tiber has been able to flourish since it began operations in 1951, while also enduring tough periods such as the one South Africa’s construction industry finds itself in currently.
“Our emphasis on succession planning, knowledge exchange and mentorship is critical to the sustainability of the company,” he says. “This is a principle that has always been passionately driven by our CEO, Fernando Cardoso who has been with the company since 1981.
“We believe that we need the next tier of leaders ready, as you cannot expect succession to fall into place in 10 years’ time automatically.
And this starts from the bottom up with very specific training programmes like the youth skills development programme we recently implemented, which is being managed by a retired construction director who happened to be a big influence on my development at the start of my career and was my first mentor.
“You must master the basic skills, and this continues into management training which takes place from site to site.”
Indeed, Correia is now part of a massively experienced management team who are constantly imparting their industry experiences and wisdom onto the next generation of potential company leaders.
Senior managers act as mentors for every budding leader, with all workers able to take advantage of various training and development investments – even hourly paid staff are able to develop skills in numerous trades, not just those which Tiber is paying them for.
The company also provides financial support through its bursary scheme, aimed at helping students who wish to study the construction discipline. To date, many students have successfully obtained qualifications and been employed full-time at Tiber.
“I know it is a cliché, but people really are our most important asset,” Correia adds. “I felt this as I developed from a site engineer, and also benefitted hugely from the guidance and mentorship received from our CEO Fernando Cardoso.
“Unlocking potential is about more than identifying skills. It is also about getting to know the individual, valuing their contribution and making them know that you care.”
Adapting to the environment
Such a wealth of experience and track record of delivery has been crucial to Tiber navigating what the MD describes as an extremely difficult time for the South African economy and the construction industry, a period which has seen margins squeezed and several companies close down as a result.
The company has also been able to adapt and diversify its business, removing a sole reliance on tenders to generate income. This has included venturing into new subsectors and entering partnerships to deliver turnkey solutions alongside developers.
Correia cites an ongoing development for Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) as a prime example.
Situated at Johannesburg’s busy O.R. Tambo International Airport, the headquarters building is Tiber’s first foray into governmental work, the company part of a consortium which includes MMQSMace and Heri Prop.
Work on the R1 billion commercial development began in Q1 2019 and comprises two five-storey and one four-storey building, including the head offices of ACSA and the South African Civil Aviation Authority, recreational space and parking.
“Previously all of work was carried out in the private sector, so working with ACSA was something different for us,” Correia says. “Being part of a consortium delivering the full project has also proven beneficial and is something we will look to do more of in the future, and being at O.R. Tambo has provided fantastic exposure.
“The most striking from a delivery perspective is the huge emphasis we have placed on skills development and local empowerment. There are different requirements involved, but we are making tremendous progress.”
With government projects tending to require stricter BEE adherence, Tiber has made enormous strides in the empowerment realm over the past few years.
In what Correia describes as a responsible transformation of the company, it has risen dramatically from Level 8 all the way up to Level 1, which is the highest possible ranking.
An ongoing project for Investec is also showcasing Tiber’s adaptability.
It involves the refurbishment of its offices in the heart of Sandton, Johannesburg’s financial district, the MD expecting the development to be handed over in March 2021.
Critical to its success has been and will continue to be a seamless building process, creating minimal disruption to Investec employees who are still working within the existing site.
For Tiber, this has presented numerous challenges, challenges which have been overcome by careful planning and a willingness to work outside of usual office hours.
“I would also like to highlight how important our partnerships with suppliers have been on this project and all of our developments,” adds Correia.
“In this tough environment, it is all about relationships and who you can trust, and Tiber’s success has increasingly involved partners over the years where previously we tended to take on everything ourselves.
Our Joint Venture with ISF, for example, is an important ongoing relationship and was critical in winning the Investec project bid.
“We must also be open with and get to know our own clients, who in turn rely on us to deliver for them. One of the key reasons Tiber continues to secure work is because we are hands on in the way we serve customers – they can pick up the phone anytime they like and get through to our senior leadership.”
A modular future
These relationships will be vital in what continues to be an uncertain time in South Africa’s building trade, Correia also pointing to the need for Tiber to continue exploring new ideas as a means to diversify income and safeguard the business.
A perfect case in point is the firm’s embracement of modular, or prefabrication construction techniques.
On a basic level, this involves building elements of buildings off-site in a controlled environment before being transported to the site for assembly, allowing greater attention to detail, faster turnaround times and in many cases reduced costs as far less activities are executed on site, therefore requiring substantially less labour.
Tiber, in partnership with Ohlhorst, uses a lightweight building solutions modular frame, a solution which also enables improved quality, increase in safety and security, reduced carbon emissions and a greater control of costings.
In Johannesburg, the company has just completed construction of a new Hi Hotel, its 123 rooms all created off-site in what is the first hotel of its kind in South Africa.
“Modular is an advanced technique in the likes of Europe, and we are showing that it works here too,” Correia says. “Every room was built at our off-site production facility and the only thing which the room didn’t have in when it left our yard was the linen.
“Apart from the reception area and linen rooms, which were built on site, every part of this hotel was assembled, with rooms being added in stacks of three at a time.
It has been incredible to see this come to fruition and the best compliment we can get is that it looks like it was built in-situ – we have received a lot of interest from developers off the back of this project and are now marketing the concept very energetically.”
And this is, for Correia, where the future lies for Tiber and the industry.
Although he does foresee brighter times ahead, the next year at least will continue to be a rough ride for the sector at large, which makes the adoption of new techniques and innovations all the more imperative to gain an edge in the market.
This is reflected in Correia’s concluding remarks, the Managing Director signing off in an upbeat fashion.
“Our industry is directly linked to the performance of the wider economy, and there is a lack of business confidence at the moment,” he says. “However, it is not by any means a case of doom and gloom, but it is imperative that the government and the private sector work together to ensure that opportunities are unlocked.
“For Tiber, our focus is to continue exploring new and different opportunities and do things differently, thereby differentiating ourselves from the general traditional market, converting the approaches we have had from developers into new business. We must be lean and agile so we can maximise opportunities when they arrive.”