Posted: October 9, 2018

The people behind the people-centric brand

Redefine Properties is a JSE Top40 Index-listed Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) whose core purpose is focused on people-centricity. This informs their every action and sets them apart in the property industry. While property is their commodity, it is their dedicated approach to relationships that enables them to create sustained and meaningful value for all their stakeholders.

While Redefine trades in the tangible and the concrete (their expansive portfolio of impressive properties), their differentiators are those powerful intangibles that inform every aspect of their business life – and these are always relational.

A sea change into something new and not so strange.

As part of the evolution of the organisation, there has been a subtle shift in focus – a sea change, if you will – towards just what it is precisely that defines Redefine people. They’re not the stereotypical ‘landlord’, so what is it that sets their people apart in the industry?

The key decision-makers and visionaries in the organisation sat down together to unpack the hard wiring and soft skills required for a people-centric brand.

Talking about an evolution

People-centricity is embedded in your slogan, ‘We’re not landlords. We’re people.’ How do you embed people-centricity in your internal culture?

Andrew König, chief executive officer: We do this through our values, which we recently refreshed. People-centricity is all about consistency. The tone is set at the top and filters down from there. We treat everyone with equal importance and bring a personal, human touch to all that we do. We have deliberately created a flat organisational structure, founded on trust. We have an open-door policy so that everyone is accessible.

Leon Kok, financial director: It begins with employing the right people. When it comes to growing an internal culture, it’s a softer, more elusive process. It’s about communicating your values clearly so that they are almost effortlessly adopted and internalised. And it’s about motivating, uplifting and inspiring your people. We use a very dedicated people rewards programme that incentivises our people to live our values.

And, following on that, how do you demonstrate people-centricity as a tangible deliverable to your external stakeholders?

Andrew: It’s all about living up to our brand promise. That permeates everything we do. We believe we are judged through our actions, not our words. Our brand promise is a bold one, but we are set on protecting it, delivering on it and demonstrating it.

Leon: We recognise that we’re not perfect. We are people, after all. But the maturity lies in taking full responsibility for our actions – and our inaction, when applicable. We are fully accountable, and I think this engenders a sense of trust – and relief – in our stakeholders. For us, it’s not about the buildings; it’s about the people who manage and occupy those buildings.

Marijke Coetzee, head of marketing and communications: Our marketing and communications strategies flows from our comprehensive stakeholder engagement strategies. Redefine’s marketing department is, in effect, a stakeholder engagement department. We go to extraordinary lengths to align our messaging and deliver a consistent stakeholder experience. But it goes beyond that: we identify our key stakeholders, and continually assess our impact on them and their impact on us – and utilise this knowledge to influence and refine our business strategy. We see our relationship with all stakeholders as deeply collaborative.

Redefine is the sponsor of The Mentorship Challenge television talk show and online platform.
i. What does this concept do for the image of the Redefine brand?

Marc Wainer, executive chairman: Success is not just defined by how much money you make, but rather how much you improve the lives of others. The Mentorship Challenge has allowed us to reach so many people and change their lives. It helps the South African economy to grow; it gives us access to tomorrow’s leaders; it opens people’s eyes to new ideas. It’s also exposed us to a world of possibility, of innovative thinking and solutions, in industries other than the property sector.

Marijke: It aligns perfectly with our brand promise, and demonstrates in an innovative way how we are, indeed, people. The Mentorship Challenge allows us to move beyond our own more narrowly defined sector, and to connect with leadership in every single field – from artists to architects, techpreneurs to teachers. It’s positioned us in the space of building leadership.

ii. There are many areas in which the local private sector can make a difference. Why has Redefine specifically chosen ‘mentorship’?

Marc: We can do many things; we can pour money into education or housing, but these efforts are just tiny little islands. With mentorship, you harness the power of so many different people and, through strong mentorship, you proliferate and entrench a culture of mentorship in SA. This is a far more ambitious and far-reaching project. It’s a great way to get people from very diverse backgrounds together, to forge solutions and build the future. And it’s a two-way street – the mentor is also transformed in the process, and comes away inspired, hopeful and energised.

iii. The Mentorship Challenge looks to institutionalise the concept of mentorship in SA. Why is this important?

Marc: I believe mentorship must be at the start – and indeed, the heart – of any business venture. Real mentorship. Don’t confuse mentors with role models. You can read Richard Branson’s latest book, and he can serve as a role model in your life. But mentorship is different: it’s a relationship, and it can last a lifetime.

Marijke: Typically, with CSI initiatives, you identify a need, make a targeted contribution, and then what? The impact always feels fleeting. There’s no continuum of experience and development. Here’s an example: we sponsor the amazing collective known as Buskaid, run by Rosemary Nalden in Soweto. And while our sponsorship allows for a transfer of technical skills – in this case, playing string instruments – no provision is made for the transfer of life skills which these incredible kids so badly need. Mentorship fills that gap, creates the continuum, and plugs in at every point where there is a need. By providing access to leadership legends, we’re creating a vehicle to change lives significantly, structurally. It’s so much bigger than Redefine; it’s a South African project.

Beyond people-centricity, what is Redefine Properties’ core differentiator?

Andrew: It’s all about our willingness to challenge the norm, to actively listen and be adaptable. We’re transparent and extremely agile in our decision-making. This goes back to that flat structure I spoke of earlier.

Marc: I think it’s that bit of edginess – we’re continually pushing the envelope as a brand. If you look at it, our product is a commodity, the same as everyone else’s, and all buildings and services are essentially the same. So, what would make a tenant choose us? It all comes down to trust. And, for us, it’s all about working hard to keep our tenants happy. In a sense, we aim to treat our tenants like guests – long-term guests who will hopefully stay with us for five, ten, even twenty years. I suppose you could say we’re really, at heart, a band of hoteliers!

Leon: It’s also our determination to remain relevant. We’re highly attuned to making a meaningful difference in the lives of all our stakeholders, and in the communities in which we operate.

Can you plot the evolution of the brand over the past five years? What changes have you witnessed?

Marijke: We’re moving beyond the essentially negative proposition “we’re not landlords”, to evolving the positives. And it’s exciting to unpack that. What kind of people are we? And how does the word ‘people’ inform our daily practice? It’s a bold brand promise that’s contained in our slogan, but this was a deliberate and strategic decision on our part to use the slogan to stretch the business, to mobilise and compel us forward. And we’re getting to the point where we are so operationally aligned that we can push even further forward.
Redefine positions itself as an innovator in the property industry. What are the risks and rewards of taking on the disruptive power of innovation?

Andrew: Change is inevitable. We’ve fully embraced that, but investors don’t often encourage it, and you may be punished for being innovative. I believe it’s important to establish that you don’t innovate just for the sake of innovation, that you don’t lose sight of people’s needs, and that you build your business strategy with this awareness. Once you understand that you’re making a long-term commitment, it really sharpens your thinking. We’re reaping rewards right now from decisions made by our predecessors; we have an equal responsibility to ensure that our successors reap the same rewards from the decisions we take now, so we adopt an integrated approach to the strategic choices we make, in order to balance risk and opportunity.

Leon: It’s an age-old equation: the higher the risks, the higher the rewards. That’s a heady thought, but in all of that you can’t lose sight of human needs. Everything we do must answer the question: is it relevant? We’re not a tech company. We provide spaces for people to work and play in. In this industry, people-centricity is, of itself, innovative.

Marc: We’re not risk takers. We’re risk mitigators. This is what lies at the heart of true entrepreneurship. You have to be measured in your decision-making. Sometimes the best deals you do, are the ones you don’t do, the ones you walk away from.

Marijke: I see innovation as a means to an end, and not the end goal itself. Redefine’s purpose is to manage our spaces in a way that changes lives. When we think of innovation, we think of technology, of digitalisation, of AI – all rather cold and clinical concepts. But if we position these concepts as a way to positively impact people’s lives, it becomes far more nuanced. While we create spaces for people to operate their businesses from, we transform that purpose into a higher purpose when we innovate in order to change lives, upskill young entrepreneurs and really integrate the local community into our spaces. That’s real, purpose-driven innovation.

The exponential growth and success of this REIT have been impressive. What’s behind that?

Andrew: It lies in active and continuous resource management – from investing strategically, to operating efficiently, optimising capital, engaging talent and growing our reputation.

Leon: The key is to protect and grow what you’ve got, especially in these trying times. To manage and focus on those things under your control. To see through the cycle and to be in a position to react quickly and seize the opportunities available to us.

Is Redefine doing enough to invest in our haemorrhaging – some would say flatlining – economy? It’s widely known that big business would rather sit it out and wait, than invest in a sinking ship. Is big business doing enough?

Andrew: Of course, we can do more. We can all do more. We can collaborate better with government. We can work better with our peers. We can hold each other to account to be better and to revive a sense of stakeholder activism, so that we all demonstrate that business is about more than just profit. And we need to be less protective of our brands and collaborate more.

Leon: This notion of an investment strike is a misconception. You only have to look at the cranes in the Johannesburg skyline to see how we are contributing to investment. But the bigger challenge lies in creating an environment that is not just about micro-successes. We need to focus on the intellectual capital gain that can be leveraged and shared freely without fear of diluting one’s brand or competitive position.

While a mature brand with considerable cachet, Redefine has always presented itself in the media space as innovative, irreverent and edgy, willing to poke fun at and engage with the stereotypical persona of the ‘bad landlord’. What’s the thinking behind this?

Andrew: Historically, the landlord has always played an adversarial role. We wanted to reposition the landlord as someone who is human and who cares. We felt that the relationship between landlord and tenant needed to be redefined. We didn’t want our relationships to be based on contractual obligations, but we wanted to evolve that relationship to an experiential level. We wanted to demonstrate that we’re flexible, approachable and, as business partners, we’re in it together for the long run.

Marijke: We are edgy! We move fast. We’re not rigid. But everything we do is always carefully considered. And, besides, anything less edgy would just not be a true reflection of who we are, of who our people are. Beyond this, we wanted to cut through the advertising clutter. And, as a mature brand, we’re able to do that, because we’ve managed and guarded our reputation so carefully.

Finally, on a more personal note, what motivates you each day when you play in the Redefine space?

Marc: I love what I do. I love our people, the energy this place generates. It’s tangible; you can feel it. It’s an exciting space, and every day is an adventure. I love seeing the personal growth of people through mentorship. I love the satisfaction of seeing a building come to life, from blue-print phase to final development.

Andrew: For me, it’s about making a lasting difference, and about getting the best out of everyone. What gets me to work each day is knowing that I can make a positive impact on the lives of others.

Leon: My role in finance involves reporting, and I see this as a creative narrative, as a form of storytelling about our value creation. Redefine gives me the space to explore all areas of my skill set, and to develop new ones. My learning curve is challenged all the time, and I sometimes find myself outside my comfort zone. But this is where I grow and find inspiration to be the best I can be.

Marijke: For me, it’s been the joy of working with a blank canvas. There was no brand when I started, so seeing that clean canvas evolve into an edgy brand has been so gratifying. And that canvas still changes weekly. I love the flexibility, freedom and edginess of our internal culture. I’m given the opportunity to grow daily and to consistently challenge myself. There is always something new, something I have not been exposed to before. And, of course, it’s about the remarkable people who work at Redefine.

The Mentorship Challenge: Behind every great leader is a great mentor

The Mentorship Challenge talk show and microsite delivers on Redefine’s people-centric values beyond the boardroom, to the broader South African society. Hosted by the inimitable Marc Wainer, local leadership luminaries are interviewed and gently pressured to pledge hours of their personal time towards mentoring budding entrepreneurs from all backgrounds.

From the very start, the intention was to revive and entrench a culture of mentorship in a skills-scarce, leaderless South Africa – to create a bank of beneficial hours that could be drawn on by future leaders and promising trailblazers, from all walks of life.

The list of guests on season one of the shows both endless and diverse, including sculptors, fashionistas, artists, educators, philanthropists and business moguls, including Brian Joffe, Lira, Trevor Manuel, Zuki Mzozoyana, Dawie Roodt, Taddy Blecher, Grace Harding and many more.

They generously pledged time to share those invaluable lessons that only a lifetime of leadership can confer. And they challenged other industry titans to join the cause, so that we now have a rich resource of masterclasses – through one-on-one sessions available to all aspiring South Africans – that will endure for generations to come.

The Mentorship Challenge matches mentors and mentees online, creating a platform for them to engage, meet and forge enduring partnerships. With over 4 000 hours already pledged, the microsite is set to live on beyond the show, as a significant social resource. Season two is launching shortly.

Redefine’s corporate TVC: The bad landlord no more

Redefine’s focus on the second part of their brand positioning – ‘We’re people’ – is all about relationships. And what better vehicle for unpacking relationships, communication and shared problem-solving than… a therapy session?! The therapeutic space provides a safe place for people to unburden. In this case, those needing therapy are disgruntled tenants. And, in each and every scenario, Redefine Properties is positioned as the solution, the voice of calm, the rational choice to make.

Directed by Wim Steytler, whose attention to colour and comedic nuance is formidable, the original group therapy TVC evolved naturally into a series of couples’ therapy TVCs, along with late-night radio therapy sessions crafted specifically for that channel, each one addressing a distinct, unresolved issue for the tenant, where, once again, Redefine is positioned as the rational solution to the problems addressed. This serialization of the concept dovetails perfectly with our current culture; we’re a Netflix nation, after all.

The key take-outs for the campaign? Redirect the brand message towards solution-driven outcomes. Create a new platform for ongoing communication. Focus on fresh elements – people and their unmet expectations are key. Interpersonal relationships are the metaphor for choosing the right rental partner. The ‘bad landlord persona’ is no longer central to communication.