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This is Africa’s time, says WestProp chair

BUSINESS REPORTER

WestProp Holdings Limited board chairman Michael Louis (pictured) says it is Africa’s time to attract investors as he exhorts Zimbabwe to start preparing the ground.

The property executive said there are a number of funds that have shown interest to develop Africa.

Top on the list is an African fund that wants to fund a R1.6bn projects in South Africa which has just been approved.

This has propelled more funds to seek opportunities in Africa, Louis said.

“That’s is why I believe in Zimbabwe that it is time for investments because I have experience. Where I would never see African funds investing in Africa, they are now coming in. That is why I believe Zimbabwe is perfectly placed in what WestProp are doing, creating development because people aren’t going to give funds to build a hotel. They are not going to give funds to build a commercial building as much as housing infrastructure, sewerage farms, alternative energy, and development funds,” he said.

“Why I think it’s our time is because I can see it happening. That is why we need to prepare the ground. ”

The executive has been an African investor for more than 20 years.

He debuted in Namibia after investing in one of the largest farms in the southern hemisphere along the Orange River, which exported table grapes to Europe and the Far East.

“I realised that there are very few places in the world that have development potential like what Africa got and also the water potential of that Orange River. Where can people get employment of those numbers? We are talking of a thousand people. Which country can give you that? You can’t get it in Norway or Sweden. Where will you get projects of that size?”

Louis said WestProp has shown the need for world-class leaders that have world-class experience and world-class entrepreneurial skills, the belief and commitment to the country.

“That’s what I know about WestProp. It’s all about the people,” he said.

The property expert said WestProp CEO Ken Sharpe is a stickler for quality and wants only the best for Zimbabwe.

“When we went to the gatehouse that we are opening at Pomona City, there were queen palm trees. Ken Sharpe said to the landscaper “these trees just don’t look good enough for my development. I want the royal palm trees. The royal palm trees are over double the price of the queen palm trees,” Louis said.

“Yesterday we had to go and make a decision to replace all the palm trees, which will be double the price just because we want the best for what we are.

That is the type of leadership we need in this country; leaders that want only the best for this country. They are not looking only at price but will give us only the best or what will raise standards so that we can bring something international”.

His greatest disappointments in Zimbabwe are those that are prepared to pull down people that want to lift up the country, which is not the norm in European countries his companies have been involved in.

“When they see a leader going up, they pull him done. It’s a phenomenon that I only see in Zimbabwe.”

In Europe, Louis said, people push a leader up, “support and encourage” them.

“Here I find leaders being pulled down when they start rising up. That is one of my greatest fears and tragedies. We must be careful that is not something that is going to deter foreign investments or great leaders to come to this country if they know they can be pulled down,” he said.

WestProp is developing projects such as Millennium Heights, Pokugara Residential Estate, Millennium Office Park, The Mall of Zimbabwe, Pomona City, Warren Hills Golf Estate and a 60-ha eco-park village.

Louis said US$226m Warren Hills and the US$100m Mall of Zimbabwe projects are in the planning stages.

The company posted a profit of US$11m last year and projects an increase this year.

“At the moment, our balance sheet is US$54m net asset value and should have a net asset value of US$300m in the next five years.

“We are confident to deliver on time serviced stands with compliance certificates and be able to effect transfer of title without fail to the 500 plus stand owners who bought stands from us in Pomona,” he says.

Asked to comment on a court case affecting the Pomona City development, Louis had this to say: “As a matter of fact the recent judgement has been appealed in the Supreme court and we are very confident we have a very strong case. However the law is the law and we will respect the decision of the court. The Board is not losing sleep over the matter because the amount being claimed is less than 5 percent of our net asset value.

“We are opening the gatehouse because we want to show that we are committed. We are happy with the support of the people who have invested in the project who have shown “fantastic” confidence in the Pomona dream.

The property expert said Zimbabwe has a huge potential and the property market “is going to soar”.

Louis is from a third generation business that is 104 years old and that has been involved in property finance; hotels, IT with offices in London, Singapore, Germany.

“We have done many property developments and I think we are one of the largest private owners of real estate,” he said.

For 10 years, Louis was shopping centre property executive for OK Bazaars and wants to bring that experience to make the Mall of Zimbabwe “very special”.

Does distance matters in shopping malls?

“Distance does not matter. It all goes about customer experience. Size does matter because of your choice of merchandise in a big regional shopping centre. Woolworth doesn’t go to a small regional shopping centre. They will go to a big regional shopping centre,” Louis said, adding the Mall of Zimbabwe would attract the “best that Africa has to offer”.


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