Ian Watt: MD, Old Mutual Properties.

Posted On Wednesday, 27 November 2002 10:01 Published by
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MONEYWEB: Well it’s on to the property focus now, as every Monday evening at this time. Welcome Ian Watt, managing director of Old Mutual Properties, with a fascinating story.
MONEYWEB: Well it’s on to the property focus now, as every Monday evening at this time. Welcome Ian Watt, managing director of Old Mutual Properties, with a fascinating story. Ian, you’ve won a contract to provide services to Ukraine’s biggest retail complex. Now you have done some work in the Middle East, but this is the first time that you’re moving into an area where I guess they don’t speak much English?

IAN WATT: Well, on the contrary. Good evening to you. No, they do speak English, it’s not as difficult as that. But yes, I think it’s a very different sort of cultural background to what we’re accustomed to, but it’s a good opportunity to show the skills that we’ve developed here in South Africa and show that we can export the skills that we have.

MONEYWEB: Is this part of a general strategy at Old Mutual Properties? To move into the global arena.

IAN WATT: Well, we have been. Our move to the Middle East was the first foray and we have been involved in discussions and various sort of consulting in much smaller ways in other parts of Europe. But this is the first significant appointment in Europe, and we would see this as an opportunity.

MONEYWEB: How do you land a contract like this?

IAN WATT: Well, it’s a lot of hard work. This contract goes back to five years ago, on one of the various missions that we’ve taken over to Europe in selling ourselves, and this one has come back and we’re now at a point where we’ve actually been able to sign it. And it’s because of the length of time it’s taken to put the whole project together, it’s taken that length of time to wait for the final appointment. But there’re a number of others that we’re also looking at and hopefully in the not too distant future we will secure those appointments as well.

MONEYWEB: It’s in Kiev, a city of 4m people. it’s called Univermagukrania, it’s a 25,000 square metre centre. In South African terms, can you give us an indication of how big that is?

IAN WATT: Well, that’s not all that big. It would be typically a shopping centre size in one of the smaller towns. Probably about the size of our project that we did in Nelspruit. But one has to look at this in the context in Europe, of course, that the city centres still thrive and are very busy. And this is a conversion in actual fact of one of the old Soviet-style department stores that’s now been converted to a shopping centre. It has other facilities in the nearby proximity, so it’s more an urban development than a suburban shopping centre.

MONEYWEB: Now you have us at a disadvantage here. What does a Soviet-style department store look like?

IAN WATT: They were very large buildings – sort of the style I suppose, in a way, like your commonly identified American or West European department stores, but more basic than that and obviously run by the state. Obviously, with the change that has taken place there you don’t have the same state involvement in retail as you used to and many of these department stores, because of the lack of offering, are unable to compete with the various brands that are now available. And not only that, the customer has become more aware of Western-style retailing, if one can put it that way. What you now have is a demand for different offerings that are more in keeping with what the people are wanting. So it’s sort of seen the demise of those kinds of department stores and rather the arrival of a more conventional type of retailing, as we would be aware.

MONEYWEB: Ian, for South African visiting a place like Kiev, would it be quite easy to pick out this department store, this complex?

IAN WATT: Oh yes, it’s in the hub of Kiev, and it’s right opposite the opera centre so it’s not difficult to find. It’s in a good upmarket area, and a lot of residential apartments and so on are around it. The university is not far from there and it’s right on the main transport infrastructure, both trains and trams, so it has a lot of people going past it every day. So, yes, it’s not difficult to find.

MONEYWEB: Now this is a deal with a New York-based company called NCH Capital, which owns the complex. Are you being put to the test here, because NCH Capital have many other complexes in Eastern Europe and the old Soviet Union? So in other words, if you crack this one, can you get a lot more business?

IAN WATT: Well I think that’s the idea is, to try and build a relationship with them and, obviously, from their point of view, if we do this well and it works for them, that’s one of the opportunities that exist – to go and work on other projects as we get to know each other better, because I think the difficulty that one has in a place like Ukraine and many of those East European and Central European countries, the level of sophistication in the management and running of facilities like this just doesn’t exist. It still has to be developed. And so it’s not like they can go out and get a ready supply of people to assist them with it.

MONEYWEB: And many volunteers from Cape Town to go to icy Kiev?

IAN WATT: I think there’re a number of volunteers and we won’t only necessarily be looking at people from Cape Town or South Africa. It may well be from a pure logistical point of view that we have other people that are based in the region, Just getting to the site and dealing with issues, it may be appropriate to have some local hires or hires from out of Europe, so those are the sort of things that we need to look at as time moves on. But in the initial stages of this particular project we will use local resources to boost it and make sure we’ve got the right skills on the ground.

MONEYWEB: You said they understand English there. Do they speak Russian or Ukrainian?

IAN WATT: Strangely enough, in the city of Kiev, as I understand it, about 60% of the people are Russian-speaking today. But if you move into the more country towns you’ll find the percentage switches the other way. So it’s probably about 40/60.

MONEYWEB: Have you got many people who speak Russian at Old Mutual?

IAN WATT: We don’t have any, so it makes for quite an interesting discussion. Most of the people we’ve had to deal with speak good English, so it hasn’t really been a tension at this point in time, and there is a local team, as I’ve said. So it’s really about developing that local team as well, so it’s working with them and making sure that they do the translating and manage that aspect for us.

Publisher: Moneyweb
Source: Moneyweb

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