Advice and Opinion News Partner Content Women's Month 2022

The importance of innovation and partnerships in real estate

Marking Women’s Month, South African trailblazers spoke about the growing need for innovation in the real estate industry, the benefits of digital transformation and the importance of partnerships.

Facilitated by Nikki Greenberg, one of the top five most influential women in real estate, the webinar brought together an expert panel comprising Amelia Beattie – CEO of Liberty Two Degrees, Nkuli Bogopa – COO of Broll Property Management (SA), and Michelle Buxton – CEO & Founder of Mallcomm & Toolbox Group.

Developing digital strategies

Reflecting on the digital transformation taking place across the globe, the panellists discussed their experiences of innovation across the real estate industry. Amelia Beattie explained that Liberty Two Degrees had been developing a digital strategy long before Covid-19 with a focus on integrating online and physical environments while prioritising customers’ needs.

We’ve got a number of initiatives in place such as Mallcomm to make sure our tenant experience is a great one. We’ve also got a system where we know exactly what customers want, what customers do, where they go, and how they shop. And for me, that is the core of innovation and of our digital strategies – understanding what it is that customers want. We can innovate as much as we like, but if it doesn’t serve a customer need, we’re not going to win with it.

Michelle Buxton highlighted the importance of using innovation to streamline operations: “The ‘sexy’ innovation is really good and everyone needs to try that. But it’s actually the innovation to take procedures that are manually and highly resource driven into a digital world, that’s important. And that’s what we’re seeing in malls all over the world.”

Globally, everyone’s struggling and contending with exactly the same challenges. We largely look at how we can help enhance the customer experience, but also how can we deliver savings in the running of these organisations? And how do we help manage centres that are more sustainable? How do we reduce energy use? All of those questions are really important in terms of innovation.”

When considering digital interventions, the panellists agreed that even small improvements can make a big difference. Digitising administrative processes for example, can generate significant benefits as highlighted by Nkuli Bogopa.

Digitising some of our processes has seen us turnaround the signatures on a lease from anything between 21 days to three months, down to literally three days. If you can make a swift change that makes you turnaround that little process, it makes the world of a difference in our environment.

Reflecting on the positives

The challenges facing the real estate industry were reflected on by the panel, including the volatile economic environment that all businesses face. As well as driving industry change, these issues are creating opportunities for the sector as explained by Michelle:

So much change is happening that we can sort of mould the industry a bit more now. I remember when I first arrived in the UK, the industry had stayed as it was for about 20 years. Nothing really moved forward, and it was all very staid. Your tenants were there for 25 – 30 years. And now none of those stable things
exist anymore, which makes it a really exciting environment

Amelia added: “I think the biggest thing that we are grappling with in our industry at the moment is rising cost – and the cost of municipal charges specifically. The innovation required in terms of managing costs is our biggest challenge, but it’s also our biggest opportunity.”

Two heads are better than one

The importance of partnerships in driving digital transformation was another hot topic in the discussion. For Michelle, all clients are seen as partners at Mallcomm and any growth is achieved together.

If you implemented Mallcomm two years ago, the way you use it today will be completely different because your needs and the environment have changed. So, we need to grow and change alongside our clients, and that’s the way our relationships work.”

The same ethos is encouraged within the malls that Mallcomm supports with a focus on improving partnerships between tenants and property managers.”

Michelle advised that this is achieved by developing engagement strategies and sharing data that enables each party to better understand each other’s business.

Nkuli stressed that partnerships were critical for the business because of the size and diversity of Broll Property Management’s portfolios.

I’m working on at least five key strategic partnerships that are going to move us forward in leaps and bounds. So if you watch this space, there’s quite a number of key collaborations that are going to come out of our space.

Building a career with confidence

Collaboration was also a common theme in the advice provided by the panellists for women embarking on similar careers.

Nkuli said: “If you’re leading a small business and trying to penetrate the sector, collaborations are always useful because you bring different strengths to the table, and you’re able to build on that strength.”

She also advised women to partner with a mentor and not to underestimate the value of industry bodies in gaining insights and meeting like minded people.

For Amelia, managing and understanding stakeholders is crucial to succeed in your real estate career. She also stressed the importance of self confidence:

As a woman, you have to believe in yourself, and you have to teach your daughters to believe in themselves. And you have to find that person that is going to believe in you and put you forward when there is an opportunity for you.”

The need for confidence was a view shared by Michelle. She added: “The biggest thing I’ve learned over the years is to have confidence in your own ability and recognise your strengths and don’t be shy to be as strong as other people.”

It’s a challenging environment for anyone at the moment, so I would say, decide what you want to do, stick to your strengths, be confident in them, and you can achieve anything“.

To listen to the full discussion and expert insights from the panel, click here.