Taking this a step, and generation, further, Marius Muller, whose parents were forcibly removed from District Six during the apartheid years, went on to qualify as a quantity surveyor at the University of Cape Town.
More than 20 years later, as property group Pareto CEO, this man is working his dream job at his dream company. Beat that.
“I like this company and I’ve always wanted to work for it. Also, I’ve always wanted to be a CEO,” says an obviously content Muller, who until recently served as president of the SA Property Owners Association. So, when he was offered the top job in 2010, he instantly accepted, he tells eProperty News from Pareto’s headquarters in Sandton.
Just blocks from here are cranes which signal that the property industry, regardless of concerns or questions of oversupply, is on the boil.
“I thought about going into mechanical engineering, but my final choice was construction,” says this gym fanatic and keen cyclist of his meandering road to quantity surveying. For Muller, it was the allure of the numbers that held sway. “I wanted a bit more focus on the numbers rather than work for a construction company. I chose quantity surveying because of this reason. Beyond that I had a desire to learn as much as possible.”
From quantity surveying, and roles including project management and investment analysis, retail property won him to eventually land key positions at African Bank, Edcon and Kagiso Trust Investments, head iFour and serve on the boards of JSE-listed Resilient then Pangbourne (since de-listed), which he left for Pareto six years ago.
Pareto, the first loan stock to attain the exceptional Level 1 broad-based BEE rating, prides itself as South Africa country’s premier shopping centre investor. Its portfolio includes Cresta, Southgate and Westgate shopping centres in Johannesburg alone.
The Pavilion, Menlyn Park and Bloemfontein’s Mimosa Mall complete the list of assets Pareto holds outright.
Overall, its asset base straddles eight malls (including Tygervalley and Sandton City, which it co-owns). It partly holds an office tower, three hotels and the Sandton Convention Centre.
Pareto’s properties span 1-million square metres, putting its base at R22 billion. Still, it continues to forge ahead, with some projects underway and having recently sold Cavendish in Claremont to Old Mutual in exchange for an interest in the 125,200m² Menlyn Park – Pareto’s only asset in the capital.
Having made great strides last year and, for one, having established Mowana Investments (a management company under Pareto COO Kevin Roman), Muller, a skills development and diversity advocate, says 2016 will be the year of continued growth.
Overseeing a team of 20 (excluding Mowana whose staff count stands at 300), pursuing deals, forging ahead in the face of ever-growing competition amid a toughening economic climate, and strategising, occupies much of his time.
It’s a wonder that this married father of two manages to dedicate a great deal of time to family, church and gym, where he spends an hour-and-a-half six times a week. To relax, the Pareto chief, once in a while, catches a game of soccer: his favourite teams being Ajax and, abroad, Barcelona, Liverpool and Manchester United.
In rugby, Muller roots for the Stormers and Western Province. He approach in music is eclectic, listing George Benson, Freddy Mercury and Frank Sinatra among his favourites. “My music tastes vary: opera, chamber, country rock, jazz, disco, ballet – anything good.”
A look at the rear view mirror shows it’s been a long and circuitous journey for this CEO, armed with a BSc (Quantity Surveying), an MBA, and a raft of professional designations no less as fellow at the Royal Institute of Quantity Surveyors and certified real property executive (International Council of Shopping Centres). He’s distinguished for being the first South African to have passed the exam that earned him the rare epithet.
In his current role, two of the types of numbers stand out: the bottom line, for investors, and rental, for tenants. It’s two sides of the same coin, he reckons, explaining that a great deal of balancing act does it. The past five years have seen Pareto splurging R8 billion on revamps and new assets.
“Retailers are excited about what we’re trying to achieve.” Investors must be delighted too with the returns. The group, corporatised in 2000, is wholly-owned by the Abel Sithole-led Government Employees Pension Fund, Africa’s largest, via the Public Investment Corporation (SOC) Ltd.
Long before Muller became a captain, he worked as a labourer to earn pocket money as a youngster on the Cape Flats. As his CV suggests, it’s clear he knows the industry inside out. But, it’s been just one step at a go. “I live each day as if it’s my first,” he says, before joking about his “consultative dictatorship” management style.
With staff feedback showing an 80% job satisfaction, it certainly isn’t “a pure dictatorship”, he concedes. His mantra? “Life is not a ride but a journey. Enjoy the ride.” Having taken his own counsel, this third-generation builder and cyclist is riding to the apex of his career. His desire to learn, coupled with a step-by-step approach, has rewarded him handsomely.
eProperty News brings you a fresh feature introducing you to the captains of industry every week. Read about their career journeys, management styles, game plan... you name it. This is your opportunity to learn what drives them, and more importantly, what they do when they are not closing deals. See CEO Profile tag.