Associate Introduction – Chanel Fos

Meet Associate Quantity Surveyor and member of the AGORA Management team:

Director Introduction – Oostewald van niekerk | AGORA AFRICA

CHANEL FOS

Tell us about yourself and what motivates you:

I started my quantity surveying career whilst I was still studying at Tuks. I started out as a student working for a renowned company, registered as a professional quantity surveyor and joined the AGORA team.

In the construction industry I believe my biggest motivation is seeing a project progressing, from the first foundations cast to the handover of a masterpiece. You face numerous struggles during this time, but the reward is great at the end – and that is my motivation. Another aspect of the industry that is motivating to me, is seeing how the junior staff grow into senior staff, training them up to reach their full potential, and seeing how they too enjoy the success of a project.

Tell us about your journey and what you’ve experienced and learnt at AGORA:

When I joined AGORA I didn’t know much about anything other than Stage 5 and 6 in the construction industry, but AGORA his given me the opportunity to grow and learn as we go. I truly enjoy the pre-construction phases and can say I have definitely grown a lot in this area.

At AGORA we gain exposure to numerous types of projects, arraying from high-end private residential, to commercial residential, to offices, to hotels, and from new build to alterations. The consulting teams and processes for the different projects also differ vastly. I can truly say that the experience I have gained at AGORA is immeasurable.

What are your values as a leader and how would you go about cultivating these values within the team?

To me it is not a matter of training the staff to a point where they can do what I can do, but rather I motivate them to always want to do more than I can do, because once they challenge themselves, that is when true growth happens. They have this saying ‘you can take a horse to the water, but you cannot make him drink’, and that is how I see it. Therefore, I cultivate a passion for what we do and this will automatically cause the person to grow and succeed in what they do.

What are your personal and professional goals?

Personally, well that’s a tough one, because the sky is the limit, and I have too many to mention all. Lately my focus has been on my musical talents, and am currently learning to play the piano for one. Secondly, I recently started studying for degree in psychology, so this is what I am focussed on after hours overall.

My professional goals are quite easy to identify, continuous professional development inside our company is an important one for me – making sure everyone is reaching their potential, and identifying weaknesses and turning them into strengths. Furthermore, building professional relationships is one of my goals, being able to connect with a client, to know what their expectations are, and exceed these expectations.

How important is company culture to you and what measures do you take to maintain your desired culture?

Overall I think this is important, because if your team is happy, their work quality is good. I have seen a few cases where a person is not motivated, then it is shown in their work quality and it effects the mood around that person. So, yes, cultivating a good company culture in my opinion is important. Our company culture has definitely shaped over the years that I have been at AGORA, we tend to make a lot of jokes in the office, people work together, help each other and motivate each other to grow, monthly breakfasts as a team are always a treat. 

What’s one thing you wish you had known when you began your career?

Learn to compile ‘to-do’ lists from day one. Doing this from the start (even when studying) can help you achieve more than you think. You learn to prioritise, and manage what is important first – this will avoid future struggles in your work and, or missing deadlines.

What advice would you give someone wanting to pursue a career similar to yours?

Once you reach the point where you have the qualifications needed to register as a candidate with the SACQSP, do it, and pursue it. Too many young professionals are neglecting the registration process, when in fact it forces you, and your senior, to spend time on deliverables that should help you excel in your career. The sooner, the better.

What do you think are the most important qualities for someone to excel in this job?

Another one will be motivation, someone lacking motivation will struggle to succeed in the construction industry. As time goes by, people change, projects change, law changes, everything changes – you should be motivated to stay on top of these changes, and be motivated to take on the challenges faced with change.

A good attitude. The construction industry overall is a tough one, when you’ve been in it long enough you will know that having a good attitude, or good mindset is key. The projects are sometimes tough, and most of the time a project is pure business.

What has been your biggest challenge, and how did you overcome it?

I think for me, personally, it would be achieving the perfect work-life balance. A few years ago I was diagnosed with hypertension, and this was due to high levels of stress and limited sleep. After a discussion with the doctor I had to face the challenge of balancing my life, making time for work, family, hobbies, exercise and relaxing. I realised that the moment I made time to do all these things my health was better, my motivation was higher, and my focus at work increased. I therefore encourage people to find that balance in their lives.

What are the key resources that have helped you along the way?

Physically, it will be the technology available in the industry and being able to use this on our projects – it makes a big difference. And emotionally, I would say the people surrounding me and supporting me in life.

Furthermore, I can comment that the support we have within the AGORA is a blessing, from the student, all the way up to the director, each have an influence on how we achieve success on our projects.

What changes / improvements would you like to see in the industry and within the company?

For me it would be to see the consulting teams working together on projects, in the end we all should have the same goal in mind – having the client’s best interests at heart. Too many times I have seen consultants blame shifting instead of helping with solutions, this just prolongs the problems instead of solving it.

“A winner is someone who never gives up.”

Nelson Mandela
Director Introduction – Oostewald van niekerk | AGORA AFRICA

Director Introduction – Oostewald van niekerk

DIRECTOR INTRODUCTION

Director Introduction – Oostewald van niekerk | AGORA AFRICA

OOSTEWALD VAN NIEKERK

Director Introduction – Oostewald van niekerk | AGORA AFRICA

Tells us about yourself and what motivates you:

Professionally I am motivated by people’s attitude and people’s loyalty towards me and my company. It is frustrating to work with a negative person or team. When everyone is excited, it is easy to be excited, but when people around you are morbid and negative it becomes extremely difficult to be motivated.

On a more personal note, I am motivated by a good quality of life. I enjoy nature and animals. To be able to live in a
place surrounded by nature and to share my life with a loyal person that is equally passionate about travel, animals
and nature is a great motivation. To know at the end of the day I can leave the hustle-and-bustle of the city behind
and be on my farm. Is a good motivation.

Tell us about your journey and what you’ve experienced and learnt at AGORA:

We have started from nothing, working out of a garage. Those days were hard, I think back to the sacrifices I had to make to build this ‘empire’ with Fred, and I am glad that we did not give up. I had a few offers to go ‘work for a boss’.

when we first started this company, but I have made the decision to stick it out and be loyal to the dream of building AGORA QS. I remember moving to our current offices, this was a big step for us, then shortly thereafter we expanded our offices occupying double the space we initially had. I remember appointing our first employee, he later became an associate with us. Thinking back, I am blessed and honored to work with the team at AGORA Quantity Surveyors. The Journey was a humbling one.

What are your values as a leader and how would you go about cultivating these values within the team?

Loyalty above all. I will be loyal to those who are loyal to me and defend them in every way that I can. My loyalty is expressed through my deeds and nothing else. I have your back, and you better have my back.

What are your personal and professional goals?

Short-term – To continue to grow as an individual, a husband, a boss, a director and a business owner.

Long-term – To continue to grow AGORA into a force to be reckoned with. To become a preferred consulting firm and to expand our clientele.

How important is company culture to you and what measures do you take to maintain your desired culture?

Company culture is one of the key motivational factors in managing a healthy company.

We have from the beginning days of AGORA QS decided to establish a certain company culture, Friday afternoon drinks, Company braai’s, company breakfasts, year-end functions.

As directors we are the driving forces behind this culture, we have established a social portfolio with the employees who assist in the management of this culture.

What’s one thing you wish you had known when you began your career?

That not every person has the same sense of loyalty towards you, just because you are loyal in business doesn’t mean every person is loyal. Get everything in writing, follow-up on every call with an email, and there is an app on a smart phone that can record important conversations. Money brings out what is sleeping in people.

What advice would you give someone wanting to pursue a career similar to yours?

Build relationships with consultants because your future work will come from them. And be loyal to those who are loyal to you. Look after the people that look after you.

What do you think are the most important qualities for someone to excel in this job?

Most important Loyalty to clients that gives you work and your business partner, second to that marketing and business development and lastly QS technical ability.

What has been your biggest challenge, and how did you overcome it?

I had a few major health issues in my life, I had to learn how to walk again in 2005 after a major cycling accident. I got through this by never giving up. If one can endure so much physical pain and the emotional trauma associated with the loss of a basic ability like walking other things gets easier. You learn how to live and that there is more to life than money.

What are the key resources that have helped you along the way?

Firstly, the people I work with and secondly being able to use the latest technology available to a QS and not to discard technology simply because it scares me.

What changes / improvements would you like to see in the industry and within the company?

I would like to see the industry (not just AGORA) work towards the BIM technology, and use 3D modeling more to our advantage.

“A winner is someone who never gives up.”

Nelson Mandela
Director Introduction – Oostewald van niekerk | AGORA AFRICA

CEO Magazine Feature: Nico vd Meulen Architects & AGORA AFRICA

CEO MAGAZINE FEATURE: NICO VD MEULEN ARCHITECTS & AGORA AFRICA | AGORA AFRICA

CEO Magazine: Nico vd Meulen Architects & AGORA AFRICA

Cowboy Architects: Nico van der Meulen

Architect Nico van der Meulen started out designing factories and office blocks for a project management company in South Africa in the 1980s, and then later ended up running his own architecture firm delivering intricately designed bespoke mansions around the world.
CEO MAGAZINE FEATURE: NICO VD MEULEN ARCHITECTS & AGORA AFRICA | AGORA AFRICA

That transition began when two of the directors of the project management company asked him to design their homes for them. “It sort of happened organically. I realised if I did that full time, designing houses for clients and doing the budget management, I’d make far more money than I was making with them,” Nico recalls.

He started small, but quickly had offers flooding in. “We put a small advertisement in the newspaper and very soon had four projects going. Those were the only four houses we ever managed to build because after that we were too busy designing.”

That ad sparked the creation of Nico van der Meulen Architects in 1984, a family-run firm operating in more than 40 countries, which has designed more than 4,000 houses to date and has earned itself an enviable global reputation.

CEO MAGAZINE FEATURE: NICO VD MEULEN ARCHITECTS & AGORA AFRICA | AGORA AFRICA

Nico van der
Meulen

  • Founder & CEO, Nico van der Meulen
    Architects
  • Words – Jacob Goldberg

    Images – Nico van der Meulen Architects

A lot of the stuff we do is quite challenging; it hasn’t been done before. In my field, every house is a new prototype.
“For some reason – I don’t know why, as my background was more in designing commercial and industrial buildings – we got very popular for the design of luxury housing,” he says. “We are quite OK with designing fairly grand houses.”

A family affair

Nico’s background in civil engineering shines through in many of the designs his firm brings to life. With their exposed steel exteriors, sharp angles and imposing sizes, they merge the functionality of his former industrial projects with beauty and simplicity to create a sense of home.

“We’ve moved more and more into that direction – it’s basically the result of bigger sheets of glass being available, so we can create these bigger openings, and with the bigger openings, it just works better to use steel,” he explains.

Nico’s background also taught him the value of functionality. “A factory, a house or office must function for the purpose it is designed for and must comply with the client’s brief. If it does not comply with these requirements, it will be a failure,” he says.

“We are very focused on the idea that the building must function properly and be properly designed. I think that’s where our advantage lies.” One thing that sets Nico van der Meulen Architects apart is that it is run by a family of diverse talents.

“I established the firm in 1984 with my wife, Santa, running a home office where our three sons grew up,” he remembers. “Two of them are architects, as are their wives. My youngest son, Regardt, is a sculptor, and many of his works can be seen in our houses, along with paintings by my wife.

“We are also a micro-firm that is punching above its weight globally. The reputation we established over the 37 years since our founding is far beyond what is expected from such a small firm.”

Nico’s son spearheaded the creation of one of the company’s most celebrated designs – the Kloof Road House in Johannesburg. “An older, unremarkable home was transformed by my son Werner into this morphed steel structure, while still a very practical home. My daughter-in-law, Phia, designed the interiors to blend with the exterior,” he smiles.

Creative challenges

To create such bold designs, the company needs a stock of brave, creative talent. “As I always like to joke, I don’t like sissies,” Nico laughs. “I like people that have the guts to go for something and who will accept a challenge. A lot of the stuff we do is quite challenging; it hasn’t been done before. In my field, every house is a new prototype.”

These standards often necessitate finding younger people with ambition who need guidance. “We have employed quite a few young people who are very creative with fresh ideas. Then, with my experience, I can guide them to build the stuff, to make it possible to actually construct it. Because it’s easy to be creative, but it’s not always as easy to actually make it work and be able to build it.”

Because they are young, many end up wanting to move on to start their own firms. But the ones who stay are always ready for a new creative challenge. “They’re still with us many years later. To some extent, it’s the cowboys in the industry who like to work with us,” he adds.

Expanding in Africa

The company’s plan for further growth involves looking for opportunity elsewhere on the African continent. “We’re looking more and more outside of South Africa, trying to find more international work,” Nico says.

“The South African economy is obviously not doing very well, but large parts of Africa are booming. We’re hoping to get more into those markets like Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and even Kenya. All those markets are doing much better than South Africa.”

One challenge to benefiting from that expansion will be finding people with in-depth local knowledge in other markets who can also understand the company’s needs. “You need to find the local guys who understand what you’re doing and who know the systems that are available and what’s allowed and what’s restricted. Otherwise, you’re dead in the water,” Nico reveals.

“Part of the challenge is that they are not English-speaking countries. Eventually, we might have to start looking for someone who can speak French properly.” Despite these challenges, Nico has a firmly global mindset. “There’s a big wide world out there. If you go out, there’s work to be done. You don’t have to sit and wait for the world to come to you – you go and find it.”

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CEO Magazine Feature: Nico vd Meulen Architects & AGORA AFRICA | AGORA AFRICA

Winter is Here – Take Advantage!

Winter is Here - Take Advantage!

Architect & Builder Magazine
February/March 2021
https://joom.ag/NkzI/p8

By Frederich van Niekerk

Executive Director, Agora Africa

We have all experienced some sort of change in our business careers. A wise man once said: “Nothing in life is certain, the only certainty is change”. Does this mean we should simply accept our fate and wait it out? Of course not: The key is to anticipate the change and to adapt effectively to it before the impact is irreversible.

We live in strange times, unfamiliar territory and, on a daily basis, everyone is scrambling to keep afloat, not knowing what lies around the next corner. And yet: Perhaps it is time to change our mindset before we attempt to conform or adapt to our environment.

Nowadays, every conversation inadvertently turns to the infamous Covid-19 topic. Negativity, pessimism, uncertainty and panic has become part and parcel of our lives. My philosophy has always been: You can either accept the reality that you are given, or you can change your own reality. It starts with your mindset. Creativity abhors pessimism or discouragement: You can only be truly creative if you are content. Remember, life and business work much like the seasons. Just as we experience seasons in nature, we experience seasons in the business world. It is a cycle that inevitably repeats itself regularly. The secret is to learn how to handle the winter and take advantage of the spring, in short that is it. Winter always comes, but so does the spring, surely the tide goes out, but it always comes back in.

Opportunity follows difficulty as surely as difficulty follows opportunity. The way we should handle the winters is to anticipate the difficulties that accompanies the winter, to prepare for the challenge and to realise that it will come to pass. A fully well developed businessman or woman will find a way take advantage of the winter, not just handle it.  The big challenge is to make something out of each opportunity.

Let us be frank: South Africa faces various challenges in the midst of this pandemic. One of these is investors’ confidence. It is common knowledge that investment is directly related to risk. As professionals in the property development landscape, we have the keys to effectively de-risk investment opportunities to a large extent, enabling developers to package an investment deal that makes sense.

At AGORA AFRICA we made the decision from the outset to reach beyond our standard scope of service and, to partner with likeminded companies and people who share our philosophy. In the words of the great Henry Ford: “The man who will use his skill and constructive imagination to see how much he can give for a dollar, instead of how little he can give for a dollar, is bound to succeed.” The construction industry comprises various professionals and specialists, each doing their utmost to survive. However, I firmly believe that, through cooperation and a collective effort, we can empower our clients with valuable keys that are required to unlock the property development landscape.

In this way, we can become the creators of our own destiny – a far cry from being pessimistic about our current circumstances. By reaching beyond our specialities and by being willing to think out of the box, we can improve our chances of success. Perhaps we can inspire other professionals and specialists in the industry to share this approach with us and as a result, change the reality in which we find ourselves. In fact, we must change our attitudes and mindsets, think beyond the Covid-19 pandemic, and adapt. For change is inevitable and if you fail to adapt rapidly and effectively you will be left behind.this approach with us and as a result, change the reality in which we find ourselves. In fact, we must change our attitudes and mindsets, think beyond the Covid-19 pandemic, and adapt. 

For change is inevitable and if you fail to adapt rapidly and effectively you will be left behind.

We are fortunate enough to live in a well-advanced technological era – the advantage is that we are all connected by the press of a button. Communication and connectivity are much easier than ever before, moreover, we all became accustomed to conducting our business online. We have online meetings and share information on virtual platforms. This “winter that we find ourselves in”, has forced us all to adapt to the closest most logical resource that allows us to continue our business – and, unknowingly and unexpectedly, give us a significant advantage in terms of our most valuable asset: Time! This is the one commodity that we cannot recoup – yet this “winter” has given us much to gain! We must change our mindset and realise that winter does indeed have many advantages. For one, it forces us out of our comfort zones and pushes us into survival mode, with the inevitable return of growth. Also, we rethink our way of doing business, with the unlikelihood of returning to previous ways.

Winter forces us to think about how and on what we should spend our energy and resources; it compels us to cast aside cumbersome procedures, streamline important processes and prepare ourselves for growth. After all, isn’t that the purpose of winters? To give us time to prepare for the work that lies ahead when the sun lifts higher above the horizon and the days get warmer. For we know that, when the work rolls in, our preparations will also bear the fruit that we planned on. Embrace the winter and its opportunities, and always know: After the harshest winter follows the sweetest spring.

Winter is Here - Take Advantage! | AGORA AFRICA

Director Introduction – Nobuhle Makwakwa

DIRECTOR INTRODUCTION

Agora Africa Quantity Surveyors

NOBUHLE MAKWAKWA

Nobuhle

Tell us about yourself and what motivates you:

As a sociable individual, I love meeting new people and creating new networks. Personal growth and development are strong drivers in my life. I believe that a person should always grow and keep moving from one point to another in all aspects, financially, spiritually, emotionally as well as academically. In my spare time, I enjoy tennis and jogging.

Growing up in Nelspruit, I relocated to Johannesburg where I completed high school and university.

Tell us about your journey and what you have experienced and learnt at AGORA:

The three-year BSc Construction Studies course presented at the University of Witwatersrand (WITS), incorporates both Quantity Surveying and Project Management. Students are therefore exposed to the theoretical aspects of both practices. During one’s Honours degree, you are required to select the field in which you would prefer to specialize in.
I have been fortunate to start my career with a small construction company. Quantity Surveying services for a construction company are vastly different than that of a consulting company.

Joining AGORA in October 2019, gave me great exposure to both Quantity Surveying and Project Management. Our directors proposed taking on a project management role within the company and I took on the challenge. Thanks to the background gained during my studies, I understand the requirements pertaining to both services. This was an opportunity to expand my knowledge and build my career. I find the project management side of my role enticing and enjoyable.

Another facet of my responsibilities involves the finishing phase and interiors of projects where other components also come into the mix, like imports, different timelines, and different suppliers. My role in these aspects is extremely versatile. During the 2,5 years at AGORA, our directors entrusted me with several large-scale and high-end projects each comprising of unique, intricate requirements. Being involved in all aspects of the project, from construction to interiors, one has a better perspective on the requirements to ensure successful completion and delivery.

What are the key resources that have helped you along the way?

From my early development in life, my parents have set the example and inspired my hunger for knowledge and growth.
Furthermore, the directors, our mentors, the time and trust they invest in our training and development have been invaluable. They have patience to teach us and help us develop our skills.

What are your personal and professional goals?

Firstly, to acquire my professional registration with the South African Council for the Project and Construction Management Profession (SACPCMP).

Secondly, to develop our service delivery and expand our client and project base in the African region. Therefore, we have to create more relationships with clients in Africa and step out into other sectors.

What has been your biggest challenge, and how did you overcome it?

I do not see challenges as an obstacle but approach it as a learning curve and growing opportunity. Starting out, taking on the project manager role, being the client representative and liaison on a large-scale project, was intimidating. As a young professional I was put in a position where I am directly involved in the management of the project, meeting with clients and project teams, and having to ensure that projects are run successfully on the clients’ behalf. Therefore, I quickly had to build the confidence needed, as well as learn to be assertive and address issues when necessary.

What are you most proud of in your career so far?

I have been exposed to opportunities where I have learnt a tremendous amount and significantly grown in a short period of time.
Being appointed as director, and having our directors entrust this responsibility onto me, is a great honour.

How important is company culture to you and what measures do you take to maintain your desired culture?

An open and accepting attitude towards constructive criticism, understanding your team members, their strengths, and their needs, adapting as well as inspiring growing as a unit is very important. It is vital to have a unified team

What are your values as a leader and how would you go about cultivating these values within the team?

Investing time in your team and enhancing individuals’ strengths are important values to incorporate into your approach. Acknowledgement and celebration of outstanding performance are vital.
“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.”

Benjamin Franklin
Director Introduction – Nobuhle Makwakwa | AGORA AFRICA