STRENGTH, INTEGRITY, PASSION (SIP) PROJECT MANAGERS have been leaders in the field of Construction Project Management in South Africa. SIP employs highly skilled project managers from a broad range of professional disciplines with experience across a wide range of sectors. SIP is the single point of contact for the client when dealing with all other parties.
SAprofessionals.com spoke to Rod Oosthuizen about his personal, professional and entrepreneurial journey at SIP.
Tell us about your early life, training, professional development to your role today
I initially wanted to study architecture. However, after completing aptitude tests, it became clear that I was more suited to either quantity surveying or construction management. Based on this advice, I decided to study quantity surveying. During my period of studies, I worked for a professional quantity surveying practice during vacations. Once qualified, I felt that I wanted to do something more exciting than work in a professional office and this resulted in me joining a construction company as a quantity surveyor. After about 2 months of working for the company, I was given the opportunity of working on one of their major projects as a site agent. Initially I wasn’t keen on this opportunity but once I started working on site, I soon realised that this was indeed what excited me. After approximately 4 years of working for the construction company, I was approached by one of my university classmates to consider getting involved in project management. This culminated in me joining SIP Project Managers (JJ Schneid & Associates as it was called in those days). I have never looked back since. Project management gave me a far wider range of exposure to commercial projects from inception through to handover.
What does it mean that your colleagues have entrusted you with your position at SIPPM?
Whilst I am honoured at having been chosen by my colleagues to perform the leadership role in the organisation that I have, this comes with an immense responsibility. SIP has a very flat organizational structure. Each director is a cost centre for the company requiring them to take up lead positions on projects. This means that I am leading a very competent and talented bunch of people with my role being to guide them rather than nurse them. At SIP we endeavour to play each person to his own personal strength rather than being a “cookie cutter” type of organisation where everybody is expected to come from the same mould.
It is also important that the business of the business is properly structured and monitored in order to ensure sustainability and robustness for the next generation of leaders of the organisation. SIP must not just be steppingstone in a career but rather a long term and rewarding future for the talented and competent individuals. Each person should be able to achieve their aspirations to grow to the highest level in the organisation without being threatened by or threatening to their colleagues and teammates.
What would you like to have achieved by the end of your term?
Whilst the Shareholder Agreement of SIP provides that I should retire at age 65, I am here to serve the organisation for as long as the company perceives that I can play a productive and valuable role. My objective is to ensure that SIP survives the current downturn in the economy and that the organisation comes through these trying times with a robust organisation, transformed and ready to take on the challenges once the market starts to pick up again. Furthermore, that SIP retains its leadership position in the provision of project management services in South Africa and that our services continue to be able to compete with the best available internationally. It is also important to ensure that proper succession is in place so that once the time comes for me to move on, my successors will have been groomed to take over leading the organisation into the future, in a seamless and inconspicuous manner.
How do you describe your management and leadership style?
It has always been important for me to command the respect of others rather than to demand it. In doing so, one must lead by example and not expect anybody to do anything that one is not prepared to do. I have a simple “no nonsense and keep it simple” approach without trying to over administer processes for administration’s sake. I like to nurture an environment of trust and teamwork. However, it is important that one understands that teamwork is not always about being nice to everybody at all times. Teamwork is about making sure that every member of the team pulls their weight and to the extent that they are not doing so and are letting the team down, that they are urged to correct their approach to make sure that the team as a whole operates effectively and efficiently.
The best positive pressure one can put on any individual is to trust them. Once one feels that you are trusted one carries the burden to deliver and uphold the trust that has been placed in you. My team know that what is important for me is that they know when they don’t know and are able to ask questions rather than merely to guess or to be too proud to ask. There is no such thing as a silly question and questions are the way one learns and becomes a better project manager and leader. I strongly believe in “on the job” training and that the best way for one to learn anything is to learn when it is has a specific context. This makes any theory far more understandable. Fortunately, our business is relatively simple, and one does not need to be a rocket scientist to be a project manager but what one does need is to be a clear logical thinker and a leader with the ability to get the best out of your team. Mentoring needs to be leading by example. My mentees must understand the power of teamwork and the importance of having each member of the team being prepared to go the extra proverbial mile when it is needed. If one leads by threat, then the best one is ever going to get is compliance with obligations. Rule by fear does not get that extra mile which is so important in delivering high profile and complex projects.
What makes you tick and what keeps you awake at night with respect to your position?
We find ourselves in very a challenging economic and political climate with lack of certainty in all sectors of the industry. This is reflecting itself with there not being enough work available for all the service providers in our industry. Our challenge at SIP is to ensure that we retain our valuable staff members through this difficult period. This creates a management challenge to provide enough income and control of costs to allow this to happen. At the same time, SIP is busy implementing its transformation process with the next milestone being 51% black ownership. The challenge is to find the right solutions that will ensure the survival of the business in its current format, retaining its valuable staff and positioning SIP to take advantage of the upturn in the economy as and when it occurs. We also find ourselves in a situation where the skills in the industry are diminishing and degenerating, making it more and more difficult for projects to be delivered. After retrenchment, very seldom do people return to the industry but rather find careers in other sectors. This is a huge concern to the industry at large as there is indeed a risk that we may lose our construction sector and its capability of executing large projects. This could result in having to employ off shore companies in the future. This indeed would be terrible for the country and a solution needs to be found to retain and develop skills in our industry.
On a personal basis, I enjoy pressure and challenges and the greater the pressure and the greater the challenge, the more I enjoy what it is that I am doing. I have been taught and have developed a mindset of solutionist thinking and believe that for every problem there is a solution and that one must never despair or give up. This mindset needs to be passed on to the others in our organisation and the industry if we are to succeed.
How do you take part in mentoring others?
Project management is a very “hands on” business. On the job project training is far more effective when things have a specific context as opposed to theoretical classroom type training. Our business is not all about theory. It is about people; it is about relationships and being able to think on one’s feet.
Mentoring involves inculcating the SIP culture and philosophies so that these are perpetuated through the organisation. SIP has for a long period of time endeavoured not to employ anybody with more than about 5 years’ industry experience so that we can mentor our staff in and ingrain the SIP cultures and philosophies so that these become instinctive. We also encourage our project manages to play to their strengths rather than to have each person being a “cookie cutter type” project manager.
What experiences have been your highs and lows in your working career?
There are two distinguishing highlights to my career. The first being the Lost City at Sun City which started at the end of 1989 and opened to the public at the end of 1992. I was 34 years old at the time and was given the responsibility to head up the project management team on this project. It was to be the first time that our organisation had interacted with international consultants on such a large scale. The “fairy tale” concept was like nothing that had ever been undertaken in South Africa before and involved trades and skills that did not exist in South Africa at the time. This required finding solutions to so many challenging problems whilst adhering to a very challenging time frame. A good example was the integration of artists from Hollywood film studios with local companies outside of the construction industry to develop some of the pre-cast elements to the Lost City façades. In retrospect our naivety was in fact our strength because nothing was seen to be impossible and we were able to find solutions to all the challenges and delivered this world class resort in South Africa in record breaking time. There was no option but to work as a team with every person assisting in finding solutions to problems. The experience gained from this amazing project has been retained in the organisation with numerous of the participants still working for SIP. Having completed the Lost City Project successfully, we developed a confidence that no job was going to ever be too big or too complex for us to project manage.
The second highlight was setting up SIP in Dubai delivering several of Dubai’s landmark projects and completing successfully with the best project managers in the world. SIP operated in Dubai from 1997 to 2012 and during this period proved that we are able to compete favourably with the best project management companies in the world.
The lows of my career are undoubtably the two periods in the existence of our organisation when we had to go through a retrenchment programme. It is something that we embarked upon very reluctantly but there was no other option to ensure the sustainability of the business going forward. The bright side of this process, however, was the fact that as soon as the economy did change, we were able to re-employ a number of the people that we were forced to retrench and this is an endorsement of the relationship that SIP has with its staff and the commitment each to the other.
What notable accolades have you or the organisation received recently?
SIP has over its period of existence received numerous accolades and awards and continues to do so. Although these awards and accolades provide an acknowledgement from the industry, SIP finds it far more rewarding to gain the recognition for our value-added service from our clients, fellow consultants and contractors. It is this recognition that motivates our organization and its people!
How has the firm fared in terms of achieving its business growth objectives?
SIP has a policy that every project is executed by a director with assistance staff as may be necessary. SIP also has a policy of only employing people with 5 years or less experience in order to inculcate the SIP philosophies and culture into the individuals. So, whilst in the current economic environment, SIP has substantial capacity to grow, the growth in boom times is controlled by the philosophies that are in place and that have been throughout its existence. SIP is not prepared to comprise the quality of its service and delivery in pursuit of super profits and stretching the organisation beyond its natural capacity or by outsourcing work to untried and untested resources who may not have the SIP culture.
Through what means does the organisation ensure that the firm maintains high levels of Ethics and Integrity?
I believe a very important differentiator of SIP is the fact that we do not employ people with more than 5 years’ industry experience and that our staff tend to stay with the organisation thereby growing from within and ensuring that the culture and philosophies of the organisation are engraved into the mindset of all of our staff. This way our ethics and integrity become intuitive and instinctive.
Is transformation considered a key objective at the firm, if so, how?
Transformation is most definitely a key consideration for any business wishing to have a sustainable future in this country. SIP has always had a policy of the shareholding of the company residing in those people directly employed in the day to day operation of the organisation. In our efforts to transform the organisation, we are holding true to this policy in order to ensure that the business is not only transformed but also sustainable in the future. SIP currently is a Level 4 contributor and our objective in the very short term is to obtain 51% black ownership again stressing that this ownership will reside in the executives of the organisation. That means that the equity in SIP will reside in those people who have grown up with the organisation. There are many organisations which are acquiring positive ratings by finding loopholes in the legislation. SIP believes that this is not sustainable in the long term, nor is it staying true to the objectives and duties of every citizen and business in the country. The transformed SIP business is and will continue to be true to its values ethics and integrity in the delivery of its project management services
Highlight some of the contributions by the firm to the community and to the relevant profession your professionals are part of
SIP Project Managers was established in 1978 and effectively created and formalised the profession of construction project management in South Africa. My partner, Charles Israelite and I, were founder members of the Association of Construction Project Managers and this was the springing board that led to the establishment of a recognised professional construction project management profession which culminated in the promulgation of the Council for the Built Environment (Act 43 of 2000) which required recognition of Construction Project Management as a profession and to regulate the requirements and competencies required for such registration. Charles Israelite was appointed as a councillor to the SACPCMP for two 4-year periods during which time the determination of the necessary competencies required by individuals undertaking project management work was determined to ensure professional ethical and consistent service delivery by registered construction project managers and construction managers. Charles Israelite was also very instrumental in establishing the professional client – consultant service agreement committee (PROCSA) in 2000 and since then has been the Chairman of this organisation which has resulted in a standard set of documentation legislating the relationship between clients and the professional team including a definition of work stages and services particular to each discipline. This suite of documents has now become the norm for use in the building industry.
From a personal perspective, I was a member of the SAPOA Building Development Committee for approximately 6 years, the last two of which I chaired this committee. During my tenure on this committee, I was appointed to the JBCC Committee as SAPOA’s representative.
The JBCC committee was established to standardise documentation for construction contracts in the building industry. I served on the JBCC Committee for approximately 15 years being a member of the Technical Committee, the Executive Committee and the JBCC Board and for approximately 10 years was chairman of the Executive Committee. I was instrumental in transforming JBCC from an organisation that required subsidisation from its constituent members to an organisation that was independent and profitable at the time I resigned due to work pressures.
In 2010, I was appointed as a member of the Pretoria University Department of Construction Economics Advisory Board and I am still a member of this board.
SIP has always been the nursery of the project management industry and many of our competitors were indeed trained in the profession during their tenure with SIP Project Managers. This alone is a substantial endorsement as to the important role that SIP has played and is playing in the development and sustainability of the project management profession in South Africa.
How does the firm ensure that professionalism and good customer service are upheld?
I believe that big differentiator of SIP is the fact that we have a policy of only employing people with less than five years’ industry experience, to develop these talents within the cultures and ethics of SIP. In that way, the essence of our vision mission and philosophy become ingrained and instinctive in all our members of staff. In addition to this, the fact that we able to hold onto our staff even though they become very attractive to competitors and that there are often attempts to poach them. In substantiation of this, SIP has amongst its directors in excess of 300 years of service to the organisation. This ensures achievement of our vision to consistently build on our reputation for being the most unique cutting-edge construction project management organisation serving clients with clear goals and positive attitude, delivering an unparalleled quality of service.
Core to our values is that the fact that we regard the project as being more important than any individual and we fulfil our role by ensuring that at all times the objectives of the project are put first by all members of the project team. SIP stands for Strength Integrity and Passion and these values are core and ingrained in the philosophy and culture of each member of our organisation.
What values do you hold dear to your heart and why?
I am a firm believer that contracts do not build buildings, but relationships do. Relationships based on honesty, commitment, passion and teamwork are core in the success of any project. Throughout my career, I have been true to these values. It is only once one has an established relationship with other members of the team that will they be prepared to go that extra mile when needed and not simply comply with contractual obligations. This differentiates success from failure or mediocrity.
Do you think your organisation is a great company to work for?
SIP has a policy of employing people who have the potential of becoming directors and shareholders of the organisation and those people that we do employ we expose to all aspects of projects and of the organisation. We entrust them with substantial responsibility whilst supporting along the way. It is important for us that each staff member sees a continual advancement of career within the organisation and this results in a dedicated, passionate and motivated work force. Our very low turnover of staff is very indicative that these values are supported by our members of staff, making it a desirable organisation to work for. SIP’s employees see their employment with SIP as more than just employment but as being a member of a family and culture, which becomes second nature to them as well as being a long-term career.
When you not at work, what do you get up to, including family life?
Outside of my work environment, I enjoy spending my spare time with my family and extended family, enjoying the basic things in life. I am not one who enjoys a flashy lifestyle and would much rather have a simple family braai or spend time in the bush surrounded by the amazing nature that South Africa has to offer. I also enjoy an occasional game of golf although I am far from having mastered this challenging game.