Acsion CEO Kiriakos Anastasiadis leads from the front to build property empire

Posted On Saturday, 12 March 2016 16:32 Published by
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Arriving in South Africa as a youngster, Kiriakos Anastasiadis was in for a culture shock.

Kiriakos_Anastasiadis

Sporting long hair with bell-bottomed pants and a half-buttoned shirt, the then-19-year-old was greeted by looks of amusement from fellow students. Khaki shirts and shorts were de rigueur. Such were the scenes at the University of Pretoria’s lawns and lecture halls in the 1970s.

But, for this man from a Greek island, culture shock was of linguistic type rather than the looks. “The language complicated things for me. Before registering I was told that that was a bilingual university only to find out that lectures were strictly in Afrikaans. Subjects like engineering economics were new to me and taught in high language,” the soft-spoken bearded Acsion CEO reflects in an interview with eProperty News at Mall@Reds, one of the firm’s assets.

Now a father of two – a son and daughter, both adult and British-trained – he isn’t complaining. His dream has crystalised into a JSE-listed firm whose board is chaired by David Green. Pieter Scholtz is the CFO.

Despite steering Acsion as the CEO, or being married to an artistic wife whose career draws her to public arenas, the self-made property mogul shies away from public life. The grandee, who says his style is to lead from the front, still lives in the capital which fate drew him to in 1974. His hobbies include scuba diving, enjoys following painting, listening to classical and Greek music, fishing and football (which he watches and, occasionally, plays).

Tuks FC and Barcelona are his teams. Now-grey-haired Anastasiadis has given up on Greek football. Like wildlife, horse riding is also on the list of pastimes. On the island, it was donkey riding – a much trickier sport.

Listed in 2014, Acsion owns malls, and light industrial and residential properties straddling nearly 200 000m². Market cap has shrunk some R700 million, to R3.6 billion, since last February. At 920c per share, and yet to declare its maiden dividend, the property developer and owner is trading at a discount, the chief says, noting that the group’s net asset value is R4 billion (but that is set to double in four years’ time). Meanwhile, some rivals are trading at a premium of up to 20%.

“We’re quite far (with plans to grow our footprint),” says the executive. “We have agreements in Mozambique and in Zambia. In Ghana we are in discussions. (An Acsion team) went to Europe in January. There are opportunities there too because we could exploit the differential between interest rates and the returns.” But it’s not that simple, he warns. Aggressive investments in a climate like this could turn out badly because, Anastasiadis half asks, what happens when interest rates rise from 2%?

To understand this businessman’s never-say-die attitude, consider that he had zero contact with Afrikaans until enrolling at Tukkies. His proficiency in English was basic but did suffice while his bucketloads of determination made all the difference.

That is what enabled him to sit through maths and other lectures – all in Afrikaans – and progress to eventually attain a civil engineering degree in 1978, and work at an SAB site at Tshwane’s Rosslyn (in order to be registered as a professional engineer). A stint as a junior lecturer and a master’s followed before registration. In 1981, he set on a lonely entrepreneurial path, forsaking a life in academia or as a salaried engineer.

Notwithstanding receiving some of his earliest business lessons, as a preteen, from his folks who ran a store at a village in Thasos, a northernmost Greek island, Anastasiadis couldn’t have predicted what awaited him. His project management venture, which he started with nary a rand (as a freelancer), but plentiful faith and tenacity, demanded a taxing 18 hours a day. “I was always anxious, couldn’t sleep. That made me tired. In the evenings I played the stock market to earn a bit more.

That worked well but all else was tough,” he says, adding that since trading wasn’t exactly his thing he quit not long afterwards.

None of these potholes were going to detract this second-generation entrepreneur from his childhood dream. “I always wanted to build a big company – that drove me.”

Mall@Reds is suddenly plunged into darkness, during our interview. This part of Pretoria has lost power. With generators taking over, things are back to normal in a space of seconds.

“Civil engineering was my only choice and that’s probably because I think in mathematical dimensions,” says the man who went on to teach himself architecture. That’s yet another weapon in his arsenal.

Slowly but surely, the plan came together. Money came in, notwithstanding prejudices (being of Greek descent invited a degree of exclusion in the 1980s). “I got marginal jobs.” Indeed, things changed when apartheid finally fell. “Since that period I received a lot of government contracts – prisons, police stations...”

Around this time a shopping centre contract, in Emalahleni, came along. That helped along in his hitherto rocky journey.

With two decades of slugging, which birthed Simarlo Rainbow and Moreleta Square in the late 1990s, the beginning of the millennium marked the beginning of another chapter, with Anastasiadis and mates Peter Chatzimichael and Dimosthenis Papadoupolos clubbing together to raise R12 million from their pockets.  Chris Koukoudis and John Georgiadis joined along the way. Banks were unwelcoming, recalls the engineer. The R12 million seed capital, used to build Acsion, “has grown exponentially,” he says. Just look at Acsion’s NAV, asset base and company’s prospects.

It’s been a long way since Anastasiadis sailed off from the sparsely populated Thasos at a tender 12 to pursue high school at Kavala, a mainland town, where he stayed by himself. On the island, his parents’ general dealer store stocked “clothes, cement, nails, timber – anything you can imagine. That’s where I first learned about the world of business.”

Anastasiadis’s choice of this part of Africa, for tertiary education, was sparked by the fact that a friend and homeboy, Steve Karkalemis, was already here.

The question about this engineer’s favourite book – The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus – spurs a fleeting chat about mythology. That extends to philosophy and the slavery era. Names like Casanova, Socrates, Trojan and, naturally, Sisyphus come up. “Everyone of us has a Sisyphus in them – we do the same thing every day. But if your job is a hobby, you wouldn’t mind doing it over and over again. Find your niche,” says Anastasiadis, recommending Camus’s work. “It’s a very good book.”

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.

Last modified on Saturday, 12 March 2016 16:51

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