RLB Pentad is a South African based, registered Quantity Surveying and Construction Cost Consulting Practice that operates both locally and internationally. The company’s head office is located in Johannesburg, South Africa with other offices in Pretoria, Cape Town, Botswana, Mozambique and Mauritius. The company was founded in 1997 and the name, Pentad, originated from the five founding members who were symbolic of the definition of the word “pentad”, being a “group of five”.
One of the founding members, Leon Cronje, spoke to SAprofessionals.com about his career and the company.
How do you view your role as a director of the company?
Since inception, I have always been the director responsible for the financial side of the company. In fact, in the early days I did the book-keeping in addition to my role as a quantity surveyor. Of course, the company has now grown in size and scale such that we have a clear structure with defined roles and responsibilities across different departments. Each of the directors remains responsible for specific areas of the business, which we oversee, with our CEO Nicolas Sheard heading up the entire organisation. In addition, each of the directors and some of our senior staff believe strongly in the value of mentorship and training, and we invest a great deal of time in nurturing our young professionals.
Frans de Jager, the third of the original founding shareholders, currently mentors a large group of young quantity surveyors. In addition, there are various directors and associate directors assisting him in this role. Together, this team is responsible for running two of the largest office developments currently underway in the country.
What makes you tick?
One of the most interesting things about the building industry is that every project is different. No two buildings are the same and each new one brings fresh challenges. Technology, for example, has really changed over the years since I started in the profession. Similarly, building materials and methods have evolved – and even the legal and regulatory environment has changed, and continues to change. That keeps us on our toes and ensures that no matter how long we have been in the profession, we never stop learning. We take a very pro-active stance on this as a company, and strive not only to stay abreast of new technologies in the industry, but to be at the forefront of those developments. It is this continual learning and growing that really makes me tick. Furthermore, the young people coming up through the profession have their own energy and ideas, and I find it exciting and motivating to see that happening and find ways to let them express those ideas in their daily work.
What do you consider the highs and lows of your long working career?
The high is probably when I resigned from a secure job in 1994 to start my own company, which has evolved into RLB Pentad today. I was fortunate to have worked with some amazing people at my previous company, who coached and mentored me. I knew at the time that I needed to make a decision as to whether I should stay on and continue my career path there or take a leap of faith. When I took that leap, I had nothing other than the hunger and yearning to make it work.
The low has to be the 2008 global financial crisis when over 50% of the projects we had going on suddenly stopped. We had to retrench a small percentage of our staff, which is an experience I’d never wish on anyone. It was probably the worst time in my life.
How would you describe your management and leadership style?
We have an open and relaxed company culture here. Rather than being hierarchical and authoritarian, my fellow directors and I have consciously fostered a culture of mutual respect and leading by example. We always say that we would never expect a staff member to do something that we wouldn’t do ourselves. HR has also been one of my areas of responsibility since we started, and over the years I have lent an ear to a number of personal stories from staff and they know that they can always talk to me.
What would you like to achieve by the time you retire from the RLB Pentad board?
There are firms in which directors hang onto their shareholding indefinitely with no succession planning. We decided five years ago that we would not be one of those companies. We have a structured process in place, by means of which the older directors progressively shed their shares to younger members of staff who hold the potential to be the next leaders of the company. We don’t want theRLB Pentad story to end with us – we want to leave a legacy.
In light of this, we are careful in our choice of potential successors. Our shareholders’ agreement requires us not to hold any shares past the age of sixty-five. I personally have no intention of retiring in the traditional sense. I believe that one can and perhaps should work for as long as one is able to make a worthwhile contribution. Even when I am no longer a director or shareholder in this business, I would like to continue to make a positive contribution past ‘retirement’ age and I hope that the management at that time will find that I am adding value.
It is also worth mentioning here that more than half of our company is under thirty-five years of age. This creates a strong pool of young professionals who can grow their careers with us. Under thirty-fives are eligible to join “RLB Link”, which is a networking group for young professionals which aims to lay early foundations for sustained industry relationships.
What is your contribution and that of your partners to the quantity survey profession?
I was appointed a member of the South African Council for the Quantity Surveying Profession for a four year period which ended in 2013. I also make a contribution to the profession via academic institutions like the University of Cape Town and the University of Pretoria.I have been appointed as an external assessor for the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors at University of Cape Town. I also serve on the advisory board of the Department of Construction Economics at the University of Pretoria. Nicolas, myself and one of our senior quantity surveyors will start part-time lecturing at the University of Pretoria for the final year students during their second semester. We are also members of the Association of South African Quantity Surveyors and we encourage all our staff to actively take part in their activities. Other than giving talks to university students, our directors also accept invitations to participate in panel discussions at conferences and to other organisations such as architectural firms on a variety of topics.
What has been the contribution of RLB Pentad to the community?
We take black economic empowerment very seriously within the company, and we also engage in various community upliftment projects. We were recently invited to assist in a building project at a school in Pretoria where we provided our services free of charge.
You mention black empowerment, is transformation a key objective at this company?
Indeed, it is. Before the new BBBEE codes we published by the DTI earlier this year we were a Level 2 BEE company. Under the new codes we are now a Level 3, 51% black-owned company. We have also established a black female owned trust, which is a shareholder in RLB Pentad. Furthermore, we also have directors of colour and we try and develop our staff in-house rather than shopping around for people to ‘window dress’ our credentials. We are always looking to recruit talented previously disadvantaged individuals to take our company forward. We sponsor prizes for the best student at the University of Pretoria and there we often spot talented young quantity surveyors. At one of the university’s recent prize giving ceremonies, we took notice of a young black female student who won the prize for best student that year. We were so keen to recruit her that we paid off the bursary that another organisation had given her so that she could come and work for us immediately.
What awards has RLB Pentad received recently?
Over the past 13 years we have won either a gold or diamond award at the PMR Africa Awards for small to medium firms.
How would you describe your business growth in recent years?
We currently have about 80 members of staff, which is the biggest we have ever been. Our growth has been significant and an important development has been our joining the RLB international family. This gives us the advantage that our company is seen as part of a global brand by young quantity surveyors. It has also opened up possibilities for international collaboration. For example, we recently had the opportunity to assist the RLB Melbourne office with some work, and four of our staff have been seconded there. Whilst there, they have the opportunity to learn to use RLB’s in-house measuring software on the job, so they are working and learning at the same time.
When it comes to projects, we have had the privilege of being involved in some extremely prestigious projects in both Pretoria and Johannesburg in recent years, and we are proud that the clients in each case have selected us to work with.
What is your firm’s view on professional ethics and integrity?
One of the important cornerstones of our business is that we have always run an ethical company. This has been the case right from the outset, and it is a value that we try to instil in all our staff.
How do you know that you are providing your clients with good customer service?
Our main measure of success is that they keep coming back. We now have an established track record in the industry, but we don’t rest on our laurels and we strive to make sure that we deliver excellent service on every project. I believe the amount of repeat work we receive from clients – many of whom are now long-standing customers – is a testament to that.