Atterbury Group develops over 1,5m sqm of prime commercial, retail and residential property over 20 years

Posted On Monday, 24 November 2014 16:52 Published by
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Atterbury Group celebrates 20 years of successful operation at the same time as the country marks two decades of democracy in South Africa.

Louis van der Watt Atterbury

Twenty years after its founding, Atterbury, the driving force behind a growing number of SA's landmark commercial property developments, continues to build quality properties and deliver performance for its investors.

Atterbury's business is conducted through two main companies: Atterbury Property Holdings for developments and, for investment, Attacq Limited, which successfully listed on the JSE in October 2013. Atterbury now comprises about 58 trading companies. Together Atterbury and Attacq have over 150 employees and offices in Pretoria, Johannesburg and Mauritius.

However, Atterbury wasn't always the property power-house it is today. It has grown from humble roots. Louis van der Watt and Francois van Niekerk formed Atterbury in 1994, at the same time that SA's democracy was born.

Louis is a natural entrepreneur. His first property transaction was at the tender age of eleven. He convinced his parents to loan him money to purchase, and immediately resell at a profit, a holiday timeshare property.

From a young age, Louis was fascinated by buildings - their design and location. He met Francois van Niekerk as an article clerk for Deloitte at Francois's computer business, Infotech. Francois had recently developed his first building and had more land available.

Humble beginnings

When completing his articles in 1994, Louis joined Francois to form Atterbury Property Group with capital well below R1 million. For five years, Louis and Francois were Atterbury's only employees.

The founders each held a 33% share in Atterbury, and 34% was held by the Atterbury Trust. This started a generous distribution of ownership in the company and an energetic involvement with disadvantaged communities.

Louis recalls: "Our biggest challenge initially was funding. Fortunately Francois's strong balance sheet secured Atterbury's early developments."

From the outset, building and owning buildings was a key focus for Atterbury to ensure development profits and long-term capital gain.

"Our first development was the office of the Auditor-General in Brooklyn, Pretoria. As the portfolio expanded, new funding was hedged using already completed buildings as security," explains Louis.

In 2002, Atterbury co-founded Attfund, an unlisted regional shopping centre fund of which it owned 43%. Attfund was sold to Hyprop in 2011.

Taking a confident approach

Challenging economic circumstances emerged for the SA property sector with the global economic crisis in 2008. Banks were withholding development funding. Despite this, Atterbury secured a R1.3 billion loan the biggest for a private developer at the time to develop Lynnwood Bridge.

Contrary to the defensive strategies many companies adopted at this time, Atterbury took a proactive, innovative approach and concluded the largest property transaction in SA to date.

"In 2008, Atterbury also acquired 1,730,000sqm of commercial property development rights at Waterfall, which will provide a consistent pipeline of development profit for at least the next decade, with 1,400,000sqm of developable bulk available," notes Louis.

Its focused, aggressive approach to property development, supported by innovation, creativity and a strong entrepreneurial spirit makes Atterbury SA's leading property developer, even in challenging markets.

"The global economic climate, slow SA growth, increasing interest rates, declining consumer spending and challenges surrounding government policy motivated Atterbury to expand its focus to attractive regions on the African continent and Europe," explains Louis.

Pioneering new markets

Atterbury has led the way for property development in other African countries. "We're focused on retail opportunities in African countries outside South Africa," reports Louis. "Several investors have partnered Atterbury as developer to build a portfolio of prized retail and commercial assets."

In 2009, Atterbury acquired a 50% stake in the Bagatelle land, Mauritius, where it developed the first regional shopping centre in Mauritius, which opened September 2011.

In Europe, Atterbury has compiled a portfolio of direct, income-yielding and capital growth investments and plans to partner with a listed company to expand this portfolio. Atterbury International is also involved in a new £150 million mixed-use development in Edinburgh, Scotland.

As a commercial real estate investor, Attacq, formerly Atterbury Investment Holdings, was listed on the JSE in 2013. It focuses on sustainable capital appreciation through the development and ownership of a balanced portfolio of properties with contractual income streams. Attacq has gross assets valued at more than R18.4 billion and presently has a market capitalisation of R14.7 billion.

Over 20 years, Louis and Francois have crafted and grown a leading company and an exceptional team at Atterbury, nurturing a reputation of remarkable credibility with a consistently high standard of ethical business conduct.

During this time, Atterbury has established an impressive track record in development, investment and management of quality properties. It has developed over 1,500,000sqm of prime commercial, retail and residential property across SA and, more recently, elsewhere on the African continent and now in Europe. As a developer, Atterbury has become a leader in retail and mixed-use property development.

Passionate property professionals

"Atterbury is driven by a passionate entrepreneurial spirit that is brought to life by a team of committed people," says Louis. "They have a proactive, hands-on approach, coupled with a positive outlook and belief in the future of SA. Thanks to our great people, Atterbury has become the respected industry force it is today."

Atterbury shares ownership and spreads wealth among its employees. The majority shareholding in Atterbury's development company is held by management and staff. It upholds relationships with a growing family of associates and always works with local partners in overseas destinations.

Through the Atterbury Trust, positive community impact is embedded in Atterbury's DNA, and has been since its very first day. "Giving back to the community and creating opportunities is a crucial part of Atterbury's business philosophy," explains Louis.

Investing in communities

Atterbury enacts is social responsibility through two vehicles: The Atterbury Trust and The Atterbury Foundation.

The Atterbury Trust is also a key shareholder in Attacq. It has provided around 350 bursaries to students at tertiary institutions across SA over the past seventeen years. Outstanding potential coupled with severe financial need are the criteria used for allocating bursaries. However, it is not only about a financial contribution, it also invests in the nurturing and mentorship of candidates.

The Atterbury Trust contributes vital monthly financial aid to schools in Pretoria West. The money is used to subsidise teachers' salaries and critical infrastructure maintenance. It also co-established the Triomf Clinic in Danville to provide free medical services to the community.

The trust passionately advances arts and culture. The Atterbury Theatre was completed in May 2011 with a personal contribution from Louis and Francois. The Trust also sponsors the National Atterbury Piano Competition and budding artists with its Atterbury Theatre subsidy and annual Versnit production at Rust & Vrede. It is invested in community radio station, Groot FM, which is a platform to mobilise the public and obtain further support for The Atterbury Trust projects.

"Atterbury is invested in the communities where we have properties. We believe a thriving community is good for business as well as for the community's residents," says Louis.

The Atterbury Foundation allocates a portion of each new project's development cost to the surrounding community. Its many initiatives include two new libraries and a children's home as part of its Lynnwood Bridge development, sourcing alternative accomodation for homeless people with its Newtown Junction development and removing of alien wattle trees in Geelhoutboom, Western Cape.

Award-winning performance

Atterbury's developments, asset management performance and social impacts have won numerous industry awards for excellence and innovation. Among these are various construction awards for its properties, numerous PMR Diamond Awards for "Best Developer" (2003 - 2013) and the Investment Property Databank (IPD) award for best commercial and overall performer for three consecutive years (2008 - 2011).

Unsurprisingly, both Louis and Francois are well-recognised for their remarkable and ongoing contributions to business and property.

Louis received the Young Entrepreneurs Award from Beeld and Johannesburg Chamber of Business in 1983 when he was only 16. He is also the 2009 recipient of the Christo Wiese Medal for outstanding Entrepreneurship from the South African Academy for Science and Arts and most recently received the TuksAlumni Laureaat award. He has been involved in the start-up of over 20 new ventures in many business spheres ranging from restaurants to manufacturing and design to farming.

Francois, who is the founder and current Chairman of the Mertech Group and the Mergon Foundation, and served as a council member of Unisa and chairman of Attacq from its founding until 2012, has received a number of academic, business and philanthropy awards, including the prestigious Inyathelo award.

Last modified on Monday, 24 November 2014 23:19

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