It has been a landmark 25th year with milestone after milestone for Atterbury, and as 2019 draws to a close, Group CEO Louis van der Watt shares his thoughts on achievements, challenges and the road ahead.
If you were to summarise 2019 in terms of Atterbury’s achievements, what would you highlight?
The first highlight is that in Atterbury’s 25th year, we continued developing, despite a contraction of the South African economy. We launched a few large multi-use developments; and I’d single out the strategic Castle Gate development in Pretoria, groundbreaking at the Barloworld site in Sandton, and the significant progress in the redevelopment of Jewel City and Absa Towers in the Johannesburg inner city. In the Western Cape, we completed a new showroom for WeBuyCars as well as developments for Cape Fruit Coolers and Mustek at Richmond Park.
The second highlight is definitely the successful unbundling of the Steinhoff shareholding in Atterbury Europe with RMH and Pareto coming on board as institutional shareholders.
It has not been an easy year for South Africa; what do you believe will be our biggest challenges as a country as we head into 2020?
The biggest challenge remains the South African government’s failure to take decisive action. We’ve seen a few instances where action was only taken after government’s hand was forced by outside parties. A very good recent example is that of SAA – it was only after Solidariteits’s application to put the national carrier in business rescue that the government acted.
I firmly believe that the private sector should be allowed and enabled to do what it is good at. In too many instances the government expends effort and resources unnecessarily targeting existing structures that work, such as Afrikaans Model C schools, while it fails to spend approved budgets on building much-needed new schools. It is imperative that turnaround strategies for state-owned entities in South Africa are enforced by competent individuals to create an environment in which our economy can grow.
And in the case of Atterbury? What will be your most important challenges in the company?
The most important challenge is to be very selective in the developments that we undertake – we are directing all our efforts into a few large multi-use precincts. Secondly, it is also important to remain focused on what we as a company are good at, and to retain that steadfast focus, even through difficult times.
“It’s a matter of association” – Atterbury’s skill in forging mutually beneficial partnerships has brought about very powerful alliances. Could you elaborate on which of these “associations” will be particularly important going forward?
Strategic alliances with like-minded partners have always been part of the Atterbury business, since its inception in 1994. We have a few strategic partners – Old Mutual on our industrial parks, such as King Air Industria adjacent to the Cape Town International airport, Richmond Park and Old Mint Park; Carl Erasmus on the Castle Gate development; and RMH on an overall company level. In Atterbury Europe we chose strategic development partners such as the Iulius Group in Romania and MPC Properties in Serbia. RMH and Pareto are the institutional investors in Atterbury Europe. These have all been committed partners who have stuck with us even during challenging times, and we look forward to further strengthening these valuable partnerships in years to come.
Could you share your vision for the company for 2020 – where do you hope to see Atterbury?
We are consolidating our operating asset-management and development businesses into our property fund to ensure that everyone is 100% aligned, and I hope to see that realised by the end of June 2020.
And finally, on a personal note, what are your recharge plans; how will you be spending the festive season?
Well for one, I’m watching the weather forecasts to see when the rain will arrive in the Kalahari. There are not many things in life that give as much joy as rain in the Kalahari. Rain is a life-giving force and I will be recharged when the first raindrops fall in Askam.