Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition)
Greeff defied odds to build top estate agency
Despite crippling challenges he held his head high and learnt
WHEN it started in 2001, Greeff Properties managed an annual turnover of R109 million. The following year, sales grew to R320m. And during the 2017 tumultuous year in the property sector, the company recorded R12 billion in sales from its operational areas of the Western Cape.
It has been a phenomenal growth trajectory for an agency that started out in Constantia with four agents in the home of Mike Greeff. Competition was already tight but Greeff was not picky: his agents would take on mandates for dilapidated “fixeruppers” and “absolute dogs” in the leafy suburb that the big names at the time balked at.
As a young entrepreneur famished for work, Greeff quickly made a name for himself. Soon, other talented agents came knocking at the door. The big, expensive properties also came their way and mansions were being sold for the likes of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s son, Mark, and, ironically, the son of his nemesis, Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang.
Currently, Greeff Properties have outlets throughout the Cape Peninsula. The group’s local property portfolio includes sole mandates on 22 developments, which are priced from R1.775m to R17.5m per unit.
Then there is the coveted exclusive affiliate relationship with Christie’s International Real Estate, a division of the renowned auction house, which was sealed in 2011, which gives Greeff an international platform and access to Christie’s auction house, which also owns the luxury goods brands Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Yves Saint Laurent and Boucheron.
The road to Greeff’s success has not been easy. He battled at school with an undiagnosed attention deficit disorder and had chronic anxiety.
“I was constantly told I was naughty. My self-esteem was crippled, and I became convinced I was stupid. I finished matric but never went to university.” In later years, he received diplomas in accounting, marketing and leadership.
“I really wasn’t expected to succeed. But I knew I was good at sales and at tennis, which opened doors for me personally and professionally – I met my best friend, Clive Beck, through the game and his father, Graham, became a mentor.”
Beck sr stepped in when Greeff needed him most. Greeff was desperate to clinch a big property deal that would propel him into the big league and Beck used his clout to ensure it went through. He did not buy the property but his advice secured his position as both mentor and coach. For that, he’s eternally grateful.
Greeff ’s first job was selling sweets from his father’s factories. When that eventually ran into trouble, his father, with whom he had a troubled relationship, told him: “You’ll always work for someone and that’s okay. But you’re very good at selling.”
Not to be discouraged, Greeff focused on his talents, starting his career in real estate with Pam Golding Properties, before starting his own company. Greeff says he made big sales and got the promotions because he was “brilliant at closing deals”. Personally, though, his health suffered. He was in excruciating pain, his GP couldn’t diagnose physical causes so referred him to a specialist, who prescribed medication.
“It helped me slow down a little – for the first time ever, I was able to read an entire book. I devoured literature on business and management – it was like a do-it-yourself MBA,” he says. “It was a revelation: I had waited 33 years to feel like this. It was extraordinary, like being reborn. The pain also disappeared,” Greeff explains in a book he self-published in 2010, With My Head Held High, which he co-wrote with long-time friend Hedi Lampert-Kemper, after taking a writer’s course, a feat he could never have accomplished before the diagnosis.
Greeff has since grown his agency to 140 staff members.
He has brought on board his sons, Ryan and Tim, and a business partner Simon Raab, who he credits with being instrumental to their success.
“I came to appreciate my learning disability. It taught me to listen more attentively to those I interacted with and also helped improve my selling skills because I paid closer attention.
“In the end, I cracked it, in spite of my poor academics. I learnt more from the one-on-one challenge of tennis: it taught me about leadership and about people.
“I do not conform. I’ve had to confront my practical deficiencies and work on a plan to improve them. I learnt to strategise and problem-solve, which are invaluable skills, in all areas of business.”