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.

Finweek English Edition - - ON THE MONEY - By Glenda Wil­liams

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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.

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