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Looking to launch and succeed in a career in the construction and property industry?

by kenya-tribune

Many successful people and industry leaders attribute their success to mentors.

Having someone to tell you that the challenges you’re facing are normal as they share ideas on how to navigate them can propel your career in the right direction.

But mentors are hard to come by sometimes, due to the busy nature of corporate life. In this edition of DN2 Property, three people who’ve grown their careers in different sectors of the property industry since the early 2000s share their experiences, challenges and nuggets of wisdom. If launching a career or considering a switch to this industry, their stories will offer you insight into how to get started, what to expect and how to grow.

“Be teachable and trust the process” Hannah Gathura, Quantity Surveyor and Partner at Barker & Barton (Kenya) LLP

My career as a Quantity Surveyor can be traced back to a chance meeting with an old friend. Before I joined the university, I took up CPA, (Certified Public Accountant) immediately after completing high school with the intention of studying Bachelor of Commerce (Finance).

When our Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education results were released in 1995, we got a chance to revise our course choices. I travelled to The University of Nairobi (UON) with classmates to revise my choices, and by chance, I met an old friend.

He was studying at the university, and after looking at my results, advised me to consider B.A in Building Economics which is now known as Quantity Surveying. He explained that it required aptitude in mathematics and physics – which were my strongest subjects – and that it would lead to a good career. I joined UON for that course in 1997 and graduated in 2001.

Right after graduating, I got my first job in marketing where we sold roofing tiles, but less than a year later, I moved to a QS consulting firm. I worked under a supervisor for the mandatory 18 months before taking my professional exams with BORAQs. After being registered as a QS, I continued to work with consulting firms, growing my skills and my career in the built industry.

Hannah Gathura is a Quantity Surveyor and Partner at Barker & Barton (Kenya) LLP

Hannah Gathura is a Quantity Surveyor and Partner at Barker & Barton (Kenya) LLP. 

Photo credit: Pool

Two decades later, I still enjoy working with numbers. Watching an empty construction site transition into a beautiful building after a gruelling, challenging but successful process is quite satisfying. I learn a lot from the process and the people I work with. I also love the level of demand that comes with my work. There is never a moment of idleness. 

Even then, the construction industry comes with a number of challenges. For instance, the ever-changing economic landscape and technological advancements demand that we constantly update our knowledge and skills to cope. We also have to invest in software that improves efficiency and collaboration with other professionals.

This means constant learning to ensure you stay relevant and efficient. This profession has also become popular over the years, increasing competition and subsequently affecting remuneration. On the bright side, there are other areas of competency a QS can explore such as arbitration and alternative dispute resolution as well as offer services to Banking, Insurance or Oil and Gas industries.

My biggest career highlight is making it to the equity partner level at the organisation I currently work with. I joined the firm in 2009, and after 13 years of hard work, I was invited to be an equity partner in 2022. It is an honour to come this far. One of the things that got me this far is hard work. I focused on growing my skills, the quality of my work and delivery time. That requires time and patience. I’ve also been intentional about embracing new technology and developments in the profession. I’ve never been too comfortable with my expertise.

If you are in the sunrise years of your career, especially if employed or looking for a job, you will need a lot of patience to navigate the career ladder. There will always be a feeling that you are underpaid, for instance. When you first get a job, you are very happy to have something to do, but as you carry on, there is a diminishing appreciation for your salary and your attitude begins to change. 

Though employers are also supposed to revise salaries from time to time, this doesn’t happen the way people expect. There are times when you will feel as if you are being used, but you have to remember that you are also going through a training process and there is a cost to that. Have a teachable attitude. When I was starting out someone told me, “You have to be ready to make money for someone else before you eventually make money for yourself”. Never say you won’t do so much because it’s above your pay grade. Hard work eventually pays off, don’t withhold your skills.

“Give yourself time,” Paul Sila, Marketer, Director, Paul Sila Properties

As early as my high school days, I knew I was going to be an entrepreneur. I approached my uncle for career advice and he told me that with my social skills, I would thrive in a sales and marketing career. In 2001, I enrolled for a Diploma in Sales and Marketing and completed the course in 2003. In 2004, I got my first job at a land-selling company, where I did sales on commission for three years. But I still had entrepreneurship in mind, all through.

In 2007, I partnered with my uncle to start a property company, and with my sales skills, we sold many properties, especially along Mombasa Road. In 2011, I ventured out on my own and founded Paul Sila Properties (PSP), through which I deal in land buying, subdividing and selling, though I also sell on behalf of others. Besides overseeing business operations, I also handle legal paperwork for my clients in conjunction with my lawyer.

One thing I love about the property industry, especially as an entrepreneur is the profit margins, which range from 100 per cent to 300 per cent. The high returns were apparent from my employment days. My first commission was Sh350, 000. In addition to the profit margins, the property industry is a great sector for networking. I interact with many people in different fields and the exposure has broadened my network.

Paul Sila Properties Ltd Director Paul Sila

Paul Sila Properties Ltd Director Paul Sila during an interview at Nation centre on January 27, 2020.

Photo credit: Lucy Wanjiru | Nation Media Group

But as grand as the benefits might seem, the property industry is one of the toughest. When buying land for sub-division, it is very easy to get conned. Before you finally meet the actual owner, there is a long chain of brokers in between. In some cases, they take you around in circles before introducing you to the owner or ask for exorbitant commissions which eat into your profit. Due diligence is also costly because I have to pay experts such as surveyors and a lawyer and sometimes, by the time I’m done with my process, I’m told the land has been bought by someone else.

In some cases, owners try to sell land that has a court case or is charged by a bank, and if you don’t conduct a thorough search, you may end up losing a lot. Some landowners receive money through their lawyers who may defraud them, and this leads to tussles when it’s time to change the title’s details. I normally help them create bank accounts to ensure they receive their money. Basically, the chances of losing money in this industry are very high. On the selling side, sometimes buyers are not able to pay within the required deadlines, yet you can’t sell to another person.

I am almost clocking two decades in the industry and I can attribute the longevity of my career to financial discipline, honesty, time consciousness and respecting my clients. Financial discipline means planning ahead when you get that big fat cheque, rather than spending on luxury. For instance, I used my first commission to start my home ownership journey.

I worked very hard on my commissions for the three years I was in employment and built a three-bedroom house, which gave me equity, in case I needed a loan for my business later on. Land is mainly sold through referral, therefore your reputation is everything in this industry.

If you are in the sales and marketing fields and you want to venture into property, understand the market and know the things that sell. Knowledge of geography, typography and customer preferences will help you avoid wasting resources and marketing properties that might never sell.

Remember that you can never be too knowledgeable when it comes to property transactions. Never take shortcuts on due diligence. Have a surveyor on call, use the right brokers and maintain your connections with other professionals. And when you make good money, diversify to other income-generating projects for liquidity, which comes in handy in the daily operations of your life and business. Also invest in property for equity, just in case you need a loan in the future.

“Integrity will take you to the top” Sarah Wahogo, CEO, Safaricom Investment Co-operative

I started my career as a tutor at a local college in Nairobi in 2005, teaching accounting packages. From this first job, I fell in love with the finance field and I continued to expand my education while exploring the profession in different capacities.

Besides the Bachelor of Business Management degree (Finance and Banking option) degree, I attained from Moi University, I also have a Higher National Diploma in Management Information Systems (MIS). I am also a Certified Public Accountant and a member of the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Kenya (ICPAK). In addition, I am a licentiate member of the Institute of Management of Information Systems (IMIS).

After working in various industries as a finance expert, with time, I have evolved to be a dynamic, turn-around leader who is very passionate about organisation performance, team motivation and increasing shareholders’ wealth.

 Safaricom Investment Co-operative CEO Sarah Wahogo

Safaricom Investment Co-operative CEO Sarah Wahogo.

Photo credit: Pool

I joined the property sector in 2018, as a Finance Manager of a property-selling company and grew further in the industry to my current position as a CEO of an investment company. What motivates me to stay in the real estate industry is the feeling that comes with giving people a home. When it comes to individual financial management, other assets can be unpredictable in terms of value, but land and home ownership have always been on an upward graph with regard to their value.

The attributes that have kept me going and growing in my career are integrity, honesty, hard work and resilience. These four are very close to my heart. I consider myself a lady of unquestionable integrity, a fact that guides me to make the right decisions for the society that God, the Board and members have entrusted me to head. Further, I take responsibility and accountability for my work.

Though climbing up the career ladder is a great joy, heading an investment company is not easy. Most investment companies operate on a trust basis as investors trust you with their money. In the real estate spectrum, especially where land is involved, acquiring parcels that are 100 per cent clean and free from legal or family wrangles is very important. As a leader, I have to be very thorough and ensure the team conducting due diligence ticks everything on the checklist. Documentation is very important in every engagement. I try to maintain zero tolerance for risk.

To anyone joining this field, your confidence will grow with time but ensure you hold on to your integrity. If you join an organisation, ensure that your decisions are in the organisation’s best interest and not just for personal gain. This goes a long way in building confidence with all stakeholders.

Keep learning and embracing change to remain competitive in your space. And if you want to get to the top of the ladder, start nurturing your leadership skills. When job hunting, don’t just think about your career progression, but rather, how to grow the businesses you work for. Research how the business environments work and how leaders operate. That will set you apart from other job seekers.

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