Grit – the secret to her success
The word ‘impossible’ is not in Bronwyn Corbett’s vocabulary. Corbett, the CEO of Grit Real Estate Income Group, spoke to finweek about the company’s decision to invest in Africa a region often avoided by property funds.
six-year-old Bronwyn Corbett, CEO of Grit Real Estate Income Group (the rebranded Mara Delta property fund), is a pioneer in many ways. Heading into the rest of Africa, a region where most SA-listed property funds fear to tread, she has built a pan-African dual-listed property company with a $600m value in a mere three years.
When you come from humble beginnings, you can either blame this for lack of success or you can use it to your advantage, says Corbett. “I used it to my advantage.”
Her parents were unable to send her to university, so Corbett worked and studied simultaneously. A job straight out of school at accounting firm BDO and a student loan allowed her to obtain her chartered accountant degree.
“I’ve had to fight for what I wanted my whole life, even in the property industry. Of the 36-odd listed property companies I think there are two female CEOs. We work in a very male-dominated environment; Africa is extremely male-dominated. There are obstacles every day and I have to overcome them.”
She comes from a line of tough matriarchs, women she describes as “not necessarily the most educated women, due to lack of opportunity, but the most resilient women”.
Corbett says she may not outsmart you, but she will outwork you, her work ethic having been strongly influenced by her mother.
“My mother held a humble job but worked very hard for 40 years. She pushed me extremely hard as a youngster. She taught me that I could do so much – better; that I could push boundaries. And she taught me a work ethic. I am my own worst enemy now because of that… I always put myself under immense pressure.”
A career in property
“I fell into the property sector. I was on an audit reconstructing records for a property business that had not submitted tax and VAT returns for almost 20 years. I sat in a basement for two years reconstructing all the records and fell in love with property then.”
As chief financial officer and then chief operating officer at Delta Property Fund, she was instrumental in its listing on the JSE and asset growth from R2.2bn to R11.8bn. Together with partner Sandile Nomvete, she was a founder member of Delta International Property Fund, the company that became Mara Delta Property Holdings and which, as the rebranded Grit Real Estate Income Group, she continues to head up.
Forging into Africa
In the chase for yields and hard currency, many SA property funds forged into Eastern Europe, not Africa. “The SA market is very shut to the continent and tougher on Africa than any other,” says Corbett.
But Corbett and Nomvete knew nothing about Eastern Europe. “We would have just been followers and there were countries in Africa we believed had as much, if not more, opportunity as Eastern Europe.”
They decided to focus on multiple markets, not just
Grit Real Estate Income Group CEO Bronwyn Corbett with the JSE Kudu horn during the unveiling of Mara Delta’s rebranding and name change to Grit.