The Sunday Mail
West Property Zimbabwe is one of the fast-emerging real estate and property development companies in Zimbabwe. The company is not only solving accommodation challenges in Zimbabwe, but claims it is offering a lifestyle. We (SM) recently sat down with the company’s chief operating officer, Mrs Tatiana Ellis (TE), to discuss a wide range of issues
SM: How did West Property transition from a distribution company (West Distribution) to a company that is into property development?
TE: This is an incorrect assumption as there was no transition whatsoever. The two companies were never linked and had different shareholders and management from day one. When I came into the country in 1997 on the invitation of my brother-in-law Kenneth Sharpe, I started off working through many departments in West Food Distribution and eventually became the managing director when Mr Sharpe left for South Africa in 2001.
The distribution business remains operational to this day as a stand-alone entity, which I am no longer involved in running the operation since 2018 when I joined West Property as the chief operating officer.
West Prop Real Estate was started to play our part in the realisation of Vision 2030 by investing in Zimbabwe’s property and infrastructure. Inspired by an avalanche of investment opportunities in the real estate sector — covering residential, commercial and public infrastructure — we continue to challenge ourselves to make Zimbabwe an infrastructure hub for Africa through action.
In fact, we want to bring the much-hyped Dubai-style facilities to Harare and Zimbabwe as our chief executive officer, Mr Ken Sharpe, envisions.
SM: What was your first project?
TE: We have done a number of projects to date, with our first commercial project being the Mbudzi Mall. We are glad that the project’s architecture and economic impact were highly acknowledged by all stakeholders. Our residential housing projects are works in progress at various stages of completion. We, however, have some housing units that already have occupants. The high-quality standards in our properties and the legitimacy of all our offerings have been distinctive factors that continue to make our clients happy, including the general public.
SM: Over the years, Zimbabweans in the Diaspora have been targeting the real estate and property development sector for investment. Do you have packages to cater to this market and what has been the response from the Diaspora?
TE: Firstly, I wish to restate that investing in real estate is financially rewarding, particularly so in a global economy that has endured environmental shocks from pandemics, geo-political conflicts and climate change, to mention a few. In this context, Zimbabweans in the Diaspora have taken full advantage of West Property’s diverse and tailor-made property portfolio.
It seems, Zimbabweans are aware that they are in foreign lands on a temporary basis and will have to come home one day. We are grateful to our Diaspora clients for taking up investments in our world-class residential and commercial property developments — including townhouses, residential apartments, retail stores, schools and health facilities.
SM: Currently, what major projects are you working on? Two years ago, there were media reports that you were planning to build a hotel at the Warren Hills Golf Course, Harare. How far have you gone with the project?
TE: We are currently working on Pokugara, Pomona City, as well as Millennium Heights, and looking forward to starting the Warren Hills Golf Estate project.
On the Warren Hills Golf Course, yes, we are planning to transform it into a world-class mixed-use facility, incorporating a golf course, compact residential villas, a hotel, indoor sports facilities and a lot more.
Our vision is to make Harare the sub-regional destination of choice and to bring co-existence of sports, living and entertainment in one area.
SM: The past three years have been difficult for most businesses. Apart from the outbreak of Covid-19, it has also been a difficult period, as the country battled foreign currency shortages, inflationary pressures, poor utility supplies, waning disposable incomes and low demand. How have you been able to remain operational despite these challenges?
TE: We have a strong leadership that makes us work hard, united and focussed. Again, the one above us all has been able to lead and guide us, and here we are today celebrating the results of our hard work and resilience. We thrive on teamwork and learning to focus on our mission and vision.
SM: The biggest challenge facing the property market currently is the likelihood of an extended downturn against the urgent need to regenerate our central business district (CBD), renew building infrastructure to match international standards and the need to embrace and implement modern tech-enhanced real estate services. How have you been able to meet and address these challenges?
TE: We are happy with the Government’s tone towards urban renewal, including the retrofit and repurpose approvals on residential and commercial developments in response to market needs. The regeneration of our CBD infrastructure to mixed use will propel investor attractiveness and capacity utilisation levels of our urban buildings in line with global trends. For this reason, West Property’s eye for innovation compels us to invest in futuristic communities, where people happily live, work, learn, play and connect — a smart city ecosystem.
SM: Looking at how the brand (West Property) has grown, I would like to believe that you have a number of corporate social responsibility activities that you are engaged in. Which ones are these and how have you been assisting the said communities?
TE: Yes, as corporate citizens, we continue to invest in corporate social responsibility initiatives. Before delving into these initiatives, we take pride in our direct contributions to Zimbabwe’s development goals, as expounded in the National Development Strategy 1 (NDS1), through job creation, infrastructure development and the promotion of enterprise development.
On the social front, we are contributing to the Government’s fight against drug abuse through an awareness campaign against drug and substance abuse. Already, we have empowered informal traders and surrounding communities at Mbudzi Market in Harare on the scourge and its impact on their lives, including rehabilitation and support options. We also train members of the informal sector on business management and etiquette.
Our brand subscribes to the notions of gender parity, the protection of minors, youth empowerment and the promotion of peace at work and at home. This is why we embarked on a programme against early child marriages, child abuse and gender-based violence. The programme is currently ongoing at Look and Listen Mine in Shamva, and we continue to challenge ourselves to do more. We also support sports development through sponsorship.
As part of West Property’s youth empowerment interventions, we also sponsor a number of youths with school fees, as well as provide training and development opportunities, particularly in terms of income-generating psycho-motor skills for self-sufficiency.
SM: There have been concerns that most of your housing schemes are elitist and do not cover the needs of ordinary home seekers/low-income earners. Can you explain the different types of residential schemes that you have?
TE: As you are aware, each business model is designed to capture a different market segment. We identified our playing field based on our quality competencies, hence the niche market approach.
However, to demystify this myth, we also have investments for the low-income earners in our commercial arm, headlined by the Mbudzi Market.
It is our small way of presenting a business growth opportunity to upcoming entrepreneurs in Zimbabwe. We continue to explore viable investment opportunities for various segments of our society with the ultimate objective of making Zimbabwe a better place for all.
SM: What would you describe as the biggest challenges facing the property sector in Zimbabwe, and what can be done to overcome them?
TE: At West Property, we see challenges as stepping stones to success. However, to answer your question, we are confident that more effort towards improving turnaround times for project approvals, including the issuance of development permits, will expedite Zimbabwe’s infrastructure transformation agenda through an increased investor appetite, in the process aligning its citizenry to the constructive aspirations of Vision 2030.
SM: Coming back to you, Mrs Ellis, you are an international investor, who has been in Zimbabwe since 1997. How have you been able to keep your head above water?
TE: When you have a strong team around you, all challenges melt like ice. The Almighty blessed me with a great team and, with their support, we have soldiered on, together, anchored in the confidence that we have had in brand Zimbabwe since 1997.
Again, a clear vision clears the way. As a team, we have used the challenges to strengthen our resolve to lay one billion bricks in Zimbabwe alone by 2050. We have so far laid five million bricks and still have a long way to go.
SM: Having a female chief operating officer is a good sign that your organisation appreciates gender equality and the role women play in economic development. How does your company fair when it comes to creating equal opportunities across sexes?
TE: Our workstations promote growth and competency and do not discriminate against gender. The sky is the limit for all our employees. I am personally grateful for being recognised for this post and I will always work hard to bring the desired results.
SM: Your experience in real estate and property development is quite vast, a development that has seen you clinch global awards. What would you attribute your success to?
TE: Our key to success is pretty simple. We invest in leadership, hard work, teamwork, humility, creating a positive work environment and the promotion of a high-performance winning culture.
At the centre of it are our people, who are West Property’s most valuable assets.
SM: Looking into the future, what does West Property Zimbabwe have in store for the real estate market sector in Zimbabwe?
TE: We have an ambitious goal to lay one billion bricks by 2050. The business prospects are very encouraging, especially as we navigate past the Covid-19 environmental headwinds. There has never been a better time to invest in Zimbabwe than now.
We are creating infrastructure ecosystems that are suitable to live, work, play, learn and shop in — a modern and connected lifestyle in the real estate sector.
SM: Any other comments you would want to make?
TE: The time is now for Zimbabwe’s renaissance, as we march towards the realisation of Vision 2030. As property developers, we stand ready to play our part in the revitalisation of Zimbabwe, with particular focus on infrastructure development. We are also cognisant that this new dawn will promote law and order, and the ease of doing business in Zimbabwe — highly sought-after reputes by both local and foreign investors.