“The business world is a roller coaster ride. You have to be willing to firmly hold onto the bars and never let go.” It’s this sentence that seems to encapsulate Xoliswa Daku’s approach to life. The CEO of Daku Group of Companies has come a long way. Born in the small industrial town of Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape, Xoliswa spent her childhood in several rural villages. Today, she heads up a 100% female owned company, specialising in investments and developments. Ranging from commercial and residential properties, to facilities and project management, Xoliswa isn’t standing back for anyone.
Education plays a key role in this game-changer’s life. “It’s essential to broaden your knowledge through professional learning and education,” she says. Having attained an executive MBA, a LLM, B.Proc, MDP Diploma, postgraduate diploma in Project Management, and a diploma in Human Resource Development, it’s clear that this is a woman who values knowledge.
Her journey to property happened organically: “I was practicing as an attorney before joining the trade and investment space. There was a clear focus on local and foreign direct investments across sectors. Gaining knowledge through this exposure fanned the flame for developments. I developed a passion for packaging and developing CBD business models and strategising public and private sector structures. After landing a partnership in a multi-billion Rand project, I gained insights into the private sector property development cycle. Since most partners were international, this placed things into a global context.”
Established in 2003, the Daku Group of Companies today boasts a portfolio worth in excess of R600 million. But, Xoliswa explains, success doesn’t come without some tough lessons: “When I was starting out in property development, a mere regulatory delay on planning led to significant cost overrun, a legal battle, and having to sell shares to sustain the development.” But, she continues, the thrill of being able to run a business that’s “all about innovation and thinking ahead for ways to create spaces for people to relax, live, work, and play” has made it worth it. After more than 20 years in the business, Xoliswa says she’s wiser and possesses a sense of business maturity – but she’s quick to point to a quote by Winston Churchill: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
2017 Has been a big year for Xoliswa, winning the Standard Bank Top Woman in Property Award, the WPN Business Woman of the Year Award, as well as the 2017 Top Performing Entrepreneur National Business Award. “It’s shown me that hard work pays. I’ve managed to remind focused on the goals I set for myself, allowing me to run a property development company that we can be proud of,” she says.
The Daku Group has big plans, explains Xoliswa: “We have a focus on asset development and growth in Africa. We also have an exciting mixed-use masterpiece development on the south coast coming up. It’s going to be a game-changer for small towns, and that’s what we love.” As has been clear over the past few years, mixed-use and affordable properties are becoming hot commodities in Africa. Xoliswa echoes this: “Many reports are indicating that worldwide population growth over the next few years to 2020 will be driven by developments resulting from far-reaching economic and social changes. It’s already happening. It’s leading to more diverse opportunities, some with higher risk, but showing a strong growth. We’ve also seen more and more developers partnering with the government to mitigate such risks.”
Xoliswa’s focus has been on direct investments in mixed-use residential development precincts, since they offer attractive living spaces and good investment opportunities. “We’ve also found that provinces and metropolitan municipalities around the country have adopted densification as core to their urban development strategy. Johannesburg and Cape Town have gone further, encouraging the development of mixed-use precincts around major transport nodes and along major transport corridors,” she adds.
It’s clear that the Daku Group is about more than returns: “Whilst we are very clear of our investment reward in developments, I strongly believe in creating developments that have an impact on society at large. This is why we focus on emerging, untapped markets. I have a strong belief in taking the risk on these markets, investing in new nodes, and focusing where no one else seems to be paying attention. We’ve seen time and again that this approach yields results.”
It’s been stated many times that the African continent offers many opportunities for those willing to think outside the box (and beyond borders.) Xoliswa highlights two key sectors showing strong growth: “The retail property sector continues to be a major focus for development activity, which means the shopping mall concept is taking root in an increasingly wide range of sub-Saharan cities. Nairobi has been a retail development hotspot over the past two years, highlighted by the opening of the Two Rivers Mall, Garden City Mall, and The Hub Karen. Light industrial property has also emerged as a focus of new development in Sub-Saharan Africa in recent years. There is a growing recognition that the region’s key cities are undersupplied for modern warehousing space.”
Thinking for the future
Xoliswa makes it clear that her focus is on creating opportunities for the future. One example of this is the launch of the Daku Group Academy. The programme sees 20 women in business being mentored, in partnership with MANCOSA and Radison Blu Sandton, something Xoliswa is “something I’ve always wanted to do. Seeing it come to life this year has been life-changing.” Furthermore, she’s been a patron of female empowerment programmes in several instances, including the launch of a women empowerment programme for social NHBRC. The programme consists of training and mentoring of 100 women in property and construction through the GIBBS Business School.
This mentality is applied within Xoliswa’s own business, as she explains the importance of developing talent: “One of the greatest obstacles to general access and advancement in this sector is education. I believe in developing my own highly skilled teams, mentoring them and positioning them for success.”
As anyone in business can tell you, your deals are only as good as your name: “If you’re good at what you do, one partnership leads to another. The more a market gets to know you and sees your great reputation, the higher your chances of securing your deal. Finding a mentor is first prize, but even if you can’t: mentor yourself through education and direct involvement in your business.”
Key stats: Xoliswa Daku
Current position: Founder & CEO Daku Group of Companies Pty ltd
Family: Two kids
Book currently reading: Women’s President Organisation’s 50 Fastest Growing Women-Owned/Led Companies, by Dr Marsha Firestone and Susan Johnston
Life motto: Always lift whilst you climb.
To read the full article, with additional info on Xoliswa’s success, read it in our digimag here.