Bronwyn Corbett, the woman behind Grit Real Estate Income Group, seems to be the living embodiment of her company’s name. “To have grit is to move to action, to animate, to drive, and to energise,” she says of her favourite quote. And this, we have come to see, is exactly what the Co-founder and Chief Executive has.
Born and raised in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal, Corbett explains: “Growing up, the opportunity to obtain a degree or tertiary qualification was never a foregone conclusion, and I worked full time, studying via correspondence to pay my way through university.” It is this that inspires her belief that, through hard work and persistence, you can make your own breaks.
“My formative years taught met you can either be a victim of circumstances or work exceptionally hard to pursue every possible avenue that will allow you to reach your objectives,” she says. She worked hard at maintaining good grades at school and was lucky to be introduced to accounting firm BDO straight after school, where she completed articles whilst studying and paying off her student loan.
Strong and determined women inspired Corbett from a young age: “My mother may not have had the same opportunities in education as I had, but she worked exceptionally hard. My work ethic and drive are largely because of her example and the fact that she never accepted complacency from me.” Pushing her from a young age, Corbett’s mother showed her that she could do better by challenging the boundaries of what she thought possible. “Today, I know that this can be a doubled-edged sword as I keep on pushing myself. I am much more relaxed when it comes to my own daughters though,” she adds.
As one of the few women in an executive position in property, Corbett is acutely aware of what needs to be done to bring about change. “If we can increase the opportunities for women in the workplace, if we achieve equal opportunities, the world will be the better for it,” she says. A strong proponent for female empowerment, Corbett actively supports several mentorship and education programmes.
Getting into property
Obtaining a BCompt degree majoring in tax, auditing and accounting, Corbett enrolled for an honours degree at the University of Durban. She completed the Chartered Accountant (CA) SA board exam with a first-time pass
But her move to property was entirely coincidental. “After qualifying as a CA(SA) at BDO, I was appointed as an Audit Manager at Lucro Auditing. It was during this time that I started working on an intensive audit spanning 20 years of operation of a property developer, providing me with an intimate knowledge of the commercial property sector business. I sat in a basement for two years reconstructing all the records and fell in love with property then,” Corbett explains.
This lead to her joining Universal Property Professionals, where her position included asset and development management. “This further sparked a passion for the operational side of the business, backed up by a solid financial background,” she says.
After joining Motseng Investment Holdings as Chief Financial Officer, Corbett could apply her in-depth knowledge of the property sector with her experience in optimal funding strategies and her deal-making abilities.
This eventually resulted in the listing of Delta Property Fund, the JSE’s largest landlord to national government, in November 2012. During her time at Delta Property Fund, Corbett held the dual role of Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer. She was responsible for the company’s funding strategies, including establishment of a ZAR2 billion Domestic Medium-Term Note Programme (DMTN) and led the team responsible for obtaining a national scale issuer rating from Global Credit Ratings on the DMTN programme.
Since listing in 2012, Corbett was part of the executive who grew the fund from R2.2 billion to R11.8 billion in 2014, when she took up a non-executive position . “I wanted to focus on my role as Chief Executive of Delta International, a company I co-founded with Sandile Nomvete which later rebranded to Grit Real Estate Income Group,” she explains.
At Grit Real Estate Income Group Bronwyn played a significant role in listing and converting the group to its current pan-African focus, underpinned by US dollar-based leases.
This was followed by a merger with the rest of Africa operations of JSE-listed The Pivotal Group to form Mara Delta, significantly expanding the company’s footprint and portfolio.
In mid-2017, Bronwyn headed the team responsible for raising US$121.2 million in fresh equity, one of the largest real estate equity raises on the continent to date.
This not only introduced new strategic investors into the Group, but significantly diversified its portfolio across asset classes, growing the portfolio from 2 assets and 2 countries in 2015 (valued at US$140 million) to 20 income producing assets in 6 countries (valued at US$583.5 million) (excluding listed investments) as at 31 December 2017.
“We road-showed Grit’s investment case literally all over the world,” says Corbett. Marathon weeks consisting of 21 meetings in three days, 28 hours of non-stop travel from Mauritius to a 30-degree Celsius Dubai, to a minus three-degree London became the norm.
“But we laid a solid foundation in 2017, overcame extreme challenges and unbelievable successes through teamwork,” she explains. “I am particularly proud of the fact that we have consistently achieved our dollar distribution targets against guidance since listing and would have paid our eighth distribution at the time of publication.”
Speaking to Corbett makes one thing very clear: To have grit is to seek resolution in a way that inspires passion and activates ambition that is grounded in insight.
Current position: Co-founder and CEO of Grit Real Estate Income Group
Family: Married to Murray Corbett with two beautiful girls
Books currently reading: Other people’s money – John Kay
Life motto: “Never say die!” Being resilient is crucial in the property industry: it is not a place for those who are easily discouraged.