SA Market Insight - The Future of Property Investments

“I am brilliant,” says Ben Kodisang the managing director of Old Mutual Investment Group Property Investments (OMIGPI), “but it’s a very humbling game. We all have our days, I’m afraid, and today is my day.” It’s easy to think he is talking about his incredible property investment experience, because he’s dynamo in the business world, but he is actually describing his foosball skills. As a firm believer in work-life balance, Ben plays foosball with his colleagues and says it is great for stress management and office boy-banter.

Blessed with a warm, friendly smile and an equally warm handshake, Ben has come a long way since his first work experience doing his articles at Ernst & Young. “It was intimidating! That’s the word that comes to mind,” he laughs as he remembers the day he had to walk into the huge building with 20-odd floors. From finding his feet and starting out in a big building to paving the way by building even bigger structures, these days Ben revels in the new opportunities we are currently facing as a nation. “We’re living in exciting times. The big thing happening in South Africa is the Gautrain. We’ve got three of our properties at the Rosebank, Midrand and Sandton stations. It’s an awesome development opportunity,” he says. Focusing on the Rosebank development, Old Mutual is currently putting big money behind the upliftment and urbanisation of Rosebank.”Watch this space,” he says. “In about three or four years, Rosebank’s going to be very exciting.”

OMIGPI was a founding member of the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA). Therefore it makes good business sense that the R2.7-billion upgrade and revamp of the Old Mutual head office in Sandton, Jo’burg will enjoy Green Building status. Ben says that the green movement is an emerging trend in property industry, compared to 10 years ago when it didn’t feature at all. ‘”Issues of sustainability are at the centre of everything. We’ve done a few green buildings, the tallest building in Namibia for instance.” Mutual Tower in Windhoek, predominantly occupied by Old Mutual, is the first green building of its size in Namibia, whereas the first green building in the Southern Hemisphere was developed some 20 years ago. The Eastgate Centre in Harare is cleverly modelled after the self-cooling moulds of the African termite. The Sandton head office will now mark Old Mutual’s first green building on South African soil.

His views on the challenges the property investment market is currently facing? “It is tough out there. I think South Africa has done better than other economies. I’ll say this year is better than last year; the deterioration has stopped, things are stable, and we are starting to see an improvement. Customers and tenants are still taking strain, especially the small ones. It’s hard work at the moment.”

Work aside, Ben sees himself as quite an adrenalin junkie and it’s perhaps this drive to succeed in the unknown that has helped him in the business world. His pioneering vision led OMIGPI to try their hand at auctions. “Auctioning property has to be one of the biggest innovations. We tried it out in ’04 or ’05; it was still very new then. We had some parcel properties to sell and needed to move the parcel before the books closed. We decided to experiment with auctioning. One of the CEOs of Old Mutual at the time thought we were mad in terms of trying a different way of disposing of our property, but I said let’s try it out, we’ve got nothing to lose.” His decision paid off. “I kid you not. We moved so much property at prices far better than we had imagined.”

Besides playing foosball with the guys, and taking to the open road on his Harley Davidson over the weekend, he also enjoys a little game of hide-and-seek with his nine-year-old daughter. And it is now become a ritual they do every night when he gets home from work. “I park the car, she hides and I come in and try to find her. We make so much noise trying to find each other, and then we give each other the biggest hug in the world. Afterwards I join my wife in my favourite room in the house, the TV room.”

The one sport he’d love to excel in? Rugby. “I love rugby, I’d love to be the world’s best fly-half.” And if his success in the property investment market is anything to go by, the rugby world had better watch out.

Source: The Auction Magazine

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