Betts Townsend : Strengthening its East African Foothold

Editorial Team
Editorial Team

Building strategic business partners with high-profile international clients over the past two decades has resulted in a significant number of lucrative growth opportunities for project management firm, Betts Townsend, who have tripled their workload in the past year.


Having delivered the ZAR 1.8 billion flagship Bay West Mall on-time and on-budget at the start of June, 2015, the Company has now turned its attention to East Africa’s booming commercial market, with well-regarded multinational and local names alike driving growth and healthy competition in the region’s retail sector. Seeing the continually growing confidence in its own offering based on exceptional project execution and an ever-growing portfolio, Betts Townsend is feeling the welcome effects of renewed market confidence and subsequent international entrants into the African retail and leisure market.

Michael Taylor, Managing Director (MD) of Betts Townsend’s African Interest explains: “International retailers and hospitality firms are taking a shine to East Africa, which is a step in the right direction to increase investor confidence and boost the construction industry from a project funding perspective. Betts Townsend stands out from the crowd as we are an experienced ‘go-between’ that marries together the right combination of international standards and an understanding of the pitfalls and challenges in regional markets.”

Combining the strong entrepreneurial spirit of its founders together with a results-driven continuous improvement strategy has allowed the Company to set the benchmark high and deliver in foreign markets outside its initial South African foothold and capitalise on the emerging middle-class movement in East Africa.


Among Betts Townsend’s burgeoning portfolio of African projects in the pipeline this year sits the recently awarded Sarit Centre Phase III refurbishment, for which the Company was appointed as project manager and tenant coordinator by SOMA Properties Ltd in December, 2015.

The MD explains: “This opportunity to work on Kenya’s oldest mall, situated in one of the most prominent development nodes in Nairobi, is extremely exciting and promises to result in an ongoing partnership. The initial two and a half year project will see the Sarit Centre become Nairobi’s largest retail centre, and just five months in we are already beginning the bulk earthworks.”

Athi River Mall in Nairobi marks another project currently in the design phase, promising the blend of local and international retailers and fashion, food courts, offices and an entertainment block. “We were awarded this project off the back of our reputation for excellent delivery and ability to carry out large-scale projects to a high standard, always completing on-time and taking into account the local needs,” he adds.

Aligning with the synergies of high-profile international clients has enabled Betts Townsend to form a series of longstanding alliances and subsequently, the Company hold the position as project manager for some of the most iconic buildings in South Africa, East Africa and Mauritius; including ongoing relationships with more than 10 of the continent’s biggest banks.

“We don’t just want one-off developments,” says Taylor. “We want to nurture a continued relationship with our clients. One of the ways we have been able to do this in East Africa is with the advent of REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust) funds. Investors pool their funds under the REIT umbrella and engage in real estate projects together, with the benefits of property ownership, without the hassle of expenses.”


While Kenya has been a focus for the Company in recent years – as a result of the increased foreign direct investment and mixed-use development opportunities – South Africa remains a market under pressure that faces its own real estate challenges marred by the depreciation of the rand. “South Africa is a different kettle of fish today than it was 10-15 years ago. Much like East Africa, it is very much investor-led and driven by consumer demand but it is a more saturated marketplace which makes proactive project planning and a local understanding all the more important,” Taylor highlights.

Rosebank Mews, a newly incepted commercial development in Johannesburg, is one such project that Betts Townsend plans to proactively manage in order to make sure that it fits in with infrastructure requirements and remains relevant to the local needs for decades to come.

Continuing geographic expansion plans in East Africa, the Company has broken ground in Dar es Salaam for a City Lodge Hotel, constructed in parallel with a further City Lodge Hotel in Kenya; as well as starting construction of Arena Mall in Uganda, and I&M Bank’s new offices in Rwanda and Nairobi for I&M Realty Limited.

“Entering new markets has come naturally as part of our strategy, which focuses heavily on demonstrating that we can execute work streams to continually high standards, no matter the challenges. It’s one thing to come with a readymade portfolio – which all key market players have – but another to secure a strong foothold in a new country,” notes Taylor.

“The industry wants to see how you deliver in a foreign market; including how you handle procurement, import of materials and so on. Getting these key deliverables right is what drives our strategy; continuously improving in all areas to demonstrate attention to detail, flexibility and agility.”


In a market that has faced tough challenges, with many projects falling by the wayside or not reaching completion on-time, Betts Townsend is a welcome face that has built a reputation on trust and quality workmanship; two feats that have only been possible thanks to the people behind the Company, and the strengthening of its internal administrative and documentation processes.

Creating experts out of its 100-percent local labour taskforce, Betts Townsend has a strong empowerment and skills development programme as part of its continuous improvement strategy and aptitude for sustainable practices.

“We have spent a lot of time and money investing in our QA/QC documentation to make sure that it was up to the task of delivering a multinational product. We assign resources to make sure that we are prepared to manage a project from the ground-up and offer training and advice to local contractors,” asserts Taylor.

Now that the Company has a good foothold in East Africa, as well as increased access to government and REIT funding, Betts Townsend is targeting an aggressive growth path with the aim to increase its order book by 50 percent over the next year.

“We are extremely proud of how far the Company has come since establishment in South Africa 20 years ago and there is more excitement on the cards going forward that will serve to grow our reach across the continent even further,” the MD concludes.

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