Who's Who in Property

Geffen International Realty announces new CEO and management team

GIRF Executive Director Yael Geffen.
GIRF Executive Director Yael Geffen.

Geffen International Realty Franchises (GIRF), the company responsible for the development and oversight of all franchise operations within Sotheby’s International Realty South Africa, has announced a major management restructure. 

GIRF Executive Director Yael Geffen assumes the role of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) with immediate effect. Geffen has a BA in Communications and Economics and a Master’s Degree in Integrated Marketing and Communications Strategy. 

She has extensive experience in marketing, sales, advertising and strategic planning both in South Africa and the United States, where she worked in New York and Los Angeles for six years on global accounts such as Microsoft, Pfizer, Electronic Arts and The Academy Awards before returning home and moving into real estate.

Despite her extensive previous experience Geffen joined GIRF in 2006 at apprentice level and spent the next 11 years learning every aspect of the real estate business. She has served as an Executive Director and shareholder on the Company’s Board since 2010.

Sotheby’s International Realty South Africa Chairman Lew Geffen says Yael’s appointment ushers in the next generation of a property industry dynasty that started in 1952.

“The Geffen real estate legacy in South Africa spans nearly 65 years and began with my mother Aïda, who is still regarded as the doyen of property. She was the first to list a real estate company on the JSE and was a driven businesswoman who had a substantial hand in shaping the industry as it is today. I see a lot of my mother in Yael and I have no doubt her legacy will be as meaningful.”

Geffen’s “senior cabinet” comprises GIRF veteran but newly appointed Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Neethesh Haripersad, who previously straddled both the finance and operations portfolios, and newcomer Gavin Kelsey, who has just joined the team as National Training and Chief Operations Officer (COO).

Haripersad has been with GIRF since its inception, starting as an accountant then moving up to Group Financial Manager before becoming COO. His move to CFO will allow him to concentrate his considerable acumen on business growth and general fiscal discipline across the franchise network. Haripersad has a B.Comm(Honours) from UNISA. As a GIRF board member he remains integral to the growth and management of the company.

New COO Kelsey’s career began in the automotive industry where he delivered advanced driver training, product knowledge training and sales training across South Africa, working with brands such as BMW, Mercedes Benz, Toyota, Nissan, Subaru, Lexus, Peugeot and Renault. After 10 years Kelsey moved into real estate, working across numerous areas including shopping centre management, development sales and marketing, and franchise sales and expansion.

Kelsey believes training is integral to driving profitability and business development, and his keen operational knowledge of the real estate industry coupled with shrewd strategic insight will fulfil a crucial role in GIRF’s management structure. He’ll be building on the solid national training foundation fashioned by Executive Director Sandy Geffen since the inception of the brand – training based on more than three decades of experience that has consistently produced industry professionals of outstanding calibre and contributed to Sotheby’s International Realty South Africa’s reputation of client service excellence.

Another new face on the management team is Gavin Knox-Grant, GIRF’s Brand Architect. Knox-Grant has spent 18 years working across the globe as a brand strategist and designer for multinationals as well as high-end boutique brands, winning a clutch of awards along the way including South Africa’s own prestigious Loeries. Knox-Grant’s responsibilities include creating a future-proof brand development strategy, orchestrating design direction and managing brand consistency controls across the national franchise network.

The final member of the new management team is Jaco Smit, Chief Information Officer, who will be creating a uniform digital strategy for the GIRF franchise network. Smit has 15 years’ corporate experience in managing large online marketing accounts and driving the overall digital strategy for major clients in South Africa and the UK. He is also a Google-certified online marketing specialist with 17 years of online marketing experience.

Lew Geffen congratulated all members of GIRF’s new leadership structure.

“Our brand is growing by the day and to ensure we remain at the sharp end of the industry wedge we needed a strong management team with the necessary skills to drive the process in a manner that will keep pace with the rapidly evolving technology that’s completely reshaping global consumer behaviour”.

“We therefore spent several months formulating a new strategic direction and working tirelessly to find the right people to fulfil this vision. Now that team is substantially complete and I have no doubt their expertise will see exponential expansion of the business and the brand across the country”.

“We are also extremely proud, as one of South Africa’s most publicly recognised brands, to be adding our own large crack to the corporate glass ceiling with the appointment of a talented, dynamic female CEO. Yael is the right person to spearhead the company’s next growth phase in a world in which business needs to quickly adapt and respond to client needs, and I hope this sets an example for other companies to acknowledge dedication and hard work, and promote from within their female talent pool.” 

New CEO Yael Geffen says she’s looking forward to the challenge.

“We find ourselves in an era that will see technological leadership innovation provide even better tools for the immensely talented individuals who work within Sotheby’s International Realty’s South African operational structures. We are also focused on developing tools to provide ease of use and instant responsiveness to our clients, focusing on the provision of a ‘luxury experience’ with every touch-point of our brand”

“I am confident that our savvy specialist management team will deliver innovative, consumer-friendly and ultimately profitable concepts that will revolutionise systems and operational methodology within the business, but at the same timelead digital strategy in the real estate industry in South Africa as a whole”

“With the wealth of expertise supporting me at GIRF my focus will be on marketing campaigns, IT, innovation, strategic development and franchise business expansion. Noteworthy is that Sotheby’s International Realty South Africa’s national footprint has expanded by six new franchises in the past five months, despite a somewhat challenging market and ongoing economic instability. This emphasises our brand’s trusted strength and relevance in South African real estate”.

“After 18 years of navigating the corporate shark tank and in fact thriving on it, I’m ready to slam my foot on the accelerator. I also have no doubt that Sotheby’s International Realty South Africa’s new management team is going to ensure great prosperity in future not only because we’re first-class, but because we offer consumers bespoke service from the most highly skilled industry experts who have the international marketing muscle of such a globally renowned brand behind them.”