BY NEALE PETERSEN
Rhys Rocke is the Managing Director of prominent South African property developer FWJK, in Johannesburg. FWJK was first founded as a Quantity Surveying business way back in 1953 in East London. One of the original founders and directors Dave Williams Jones (whose surname initials WJ is still embedded within the company name FWJK) is still an active shareholder today and provides direction to the company as its CEO. The other original founders Bill Francois and Paul Kgole have moved on.
In the ‘80s and ‘90s, FWJK expanded the business from their roots in East London and opened offices in Durban, Queenstown and Mthata. In the last five years they have established and rapidly expanded their footprint with highly successful property developments and offices in key development areas of Cape Town and Johannesburg.
They have now assumed the mantle of the country’s largest privately held property developer and have secured over four million square metres of new property developments in the national pipeline. Today, Rhys is a key player of FWJK’s national executive which oversees their 250 employees and 9,500 contract workers. New developments include a number of mixed-use buildings, office accommodation, residential apartments, industrial estates, medical facilities, hotels, private hospitals and retail centres.
Besides being leading property developers, they are also trail blazing innovators in the property development investment space. They conceptionalised a lucrative real estate investor model which they call the ‘co-development at cost methodology’. This model was initiated to attract investors after the impact of the global financial crisis (GFC) in 2008. This model presents an opportunity for private investors to get some skin in the game in the success plans of FWJK’s new developments. The pioneering of this innovative investment methodology which, for the first time offered property investors the opportunity of investing in newly built real estate developments on an “at cost” basis. It offers opportunities for owners of land and those who wish to get into property development but don’t have the time to undertake investing with successful property developers. Since the day this innovative concept was launched they have flourished as a practice.
Rhys was born the eldest in a family of three boys in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal. He grew up in the suburb of Everton where his folks still reside. His father is a medical doctor and Professor of anaesthetics while his mother gave up her teaching career to look after their three boys. Rhys was educated at Highbury Preparatory School and Hilton College in the Natal Midlands. He thoroughly enjoyed his school career which he says taught him life the true value of friendships, loyalty and team work.
Rhys acquired the property bug from his father, who aside from teaching and practicing anaesthetics, invested in property and exposed Rhys to the benefits that the property industry can offer both as a career and as a solid investment asset class for investors. He was guided by his father to start the Property Development undergraduate programme at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He subsequently completed a Bachelor of Science degree in Property Development with a post-graduate Honours degree in Quantity Surveying. University taught him the value of hard work and dedication.
KEY STATS: RHYS ROCKE
Current position: Managing Director, FWJK
Family: Wife – Michelle & son Huw (5 months)
Books currently reading: Sapiens (Yuval Noah Harai); Zeckendorf: The Autobiography of William Zeckendorf
Life motto: Old ways don’t open new doors.
FWJK has been home to Rhys for his entire business career for the last 10 years. He first started out as a Quantity Surveyor and later moved directly into the property development arena within the company. He has continuously and steadily progressed within the organisation and currently assumes the role of Managing Director of their Gauteng office.
Rhys is a passionate property player, so much so that his wife Michelle says he is one-dimensional, as all he talks about is property. According to Rhys, property is streets ahead of any other asset class such as shares and bonds in terms of risk and return. He has personally invested successfully in shares (Mr. Price) before, which once doubled in value in little more than a month. He attributes this to a bit of luck. He eventually lost faith in stock and share investments when his portfolio lost virtually more than half of its value overnight as a result of the GFC, hence his move into real estate investing. Real estate is his first love and he knows that if invested wisely on sound principles, it is by far the safest and most lucrative investment category.
He confidently accounts that property in the form of bricks and mortar (or concrete and glass) has given him consistent above average solid returns over an extended period. He also puts his money where his mouth is and has consistently invested personally in his own products including the FWJK development at cost methodology. This has consistently brought him returns on investment (ROI) from 40% to 60% annually as well as for their investors in the last ten years.
On Rhys’ first deal he netted himself over R1 million in profit. He concluded an investment in FWJK’s fifth co-development project dubbed “Ridge 5” where he acquired a 145m2 sectional title office unit in Umhlanga Ridge, Durban at R16 700 per m2. He sold the property on completion 18 months later, for a healthy return of R24 300 per m2. This experience taught him the power of using the bank’s money to leverage your own wealth-creation aspirations. He learnt the art of not over-extending himself with the banks money. He realised after some sleepless nights of wondering whether he would be able to conclude the on-sale that he would not have been able to afford the bond repayments without having a tenant. This was another moment of truth in his investment career.
Rhys’ business philosophy is to foremost pursue an outcomes driven approach to business endeavours. His employees enjoy generous flexi-time and discretionary leave but are taught the skill of self-management and accountability and often work in teams during odd hours to meet deadlines. Ultimately, his employees come first, as their happiness and fulfilment ensures that their clients and investors receive the highest level of attention and professionalism.
“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted” – ALBERT EINSTEIN
His career and business highlights include earning his professional status as a Chartered Quantity Surveyor, registration of his first property development and becoming part of FWJK’s national executive and seeing the firm grow from strength to strength. The lows include dealing with dilatory and incompetent individuals in the local Council Development Planning departments.
Rhys sees many opportunities in the property sector/industry in South Africa as well as throughout Africa. Property growth in South Africa and Africa presents various compelling opportunities to undertake purposeful and profitable property developments. He learns something new every day. Perhaps, the hardest lesson for him has been learning to trust those around him given his keen attention to detail in managing an ever-expanding operation.
FWJK’s future is most certainly exciting and they enjoy over four million square metres of secured new developments in the national pipeline. These new developments include mixed-use buildings, office accommodation, residential apartments, industrial estates, medical facilities, hotels, private hospitals and retail centres to the value of approximately R150bn. They have won many awards for their efforts including PMR Africa award for business excellence in Property Development, Architecture, Project Management and Quantity Surveying. His vision for the company is to continue managing its growth in a responsible way and to venture outside of South Africa to their next target destinations of New York, London and Perth on a ten year horizon.
In his opinion, South Africa is following established trends seen previously in the development of other first world countries. He believes that the introduction of the new inclusionary and affordable housing policies, while a seemingly insurmountable challenge for the average private developer, represents an amazing opportunity for those few developers ahead of the curve to dominate this market. “The company drives a big transformation agenda seen both in our diverse staff complement and in helping the government solve the ongoing housing crisis in South Africa by producing affordable housing.”
Rhys’ Top Investment Tips:
1. Invest in real estate first.
2. Stay away from the stock market as it is difficult to track and understand the markets.
3. Diversify your property portfolio into multiple sectors of real estate including residential, industrial, commercial, medical and retail.
4. Location, location, location is important for returns!
5. Use the bank’s money to best effect.
6. Always buy under market value to ensure the rental covers the bond repayments.
7. Be prepared to learn continously.