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.
The South African Professional Services Academy spoke to Charles Israelite about his personal, professional and entrepreneurial journey.
What inspired you to join the profession?
The initial motivation to undertake project management was frustration with the efficiency of delivery of the Construction Industry. Projects were fraught with unnecessary costly delays which at that time (1975) was exacerbated by high interest rates and inflation which was not being appropriately managed by the industry. This changed the way that projects were required to be delivered, in that, the total time a project was reduced to an absolute optimal minimum by the overlapping of design, authority approvals, tender process and construction as much as practicable to ensure successful and timeous delivery. We were pioneers in Fast Track project delivery which effectively placed us on the cutting edge and maintained the drive and excitement in all that we were involved in. We created and formalized the profession of Construction Project Management in this country in a unique inspiring and value add way.
What does it mean that your colleagues have entrusted you with your recent position at SIP?
My position is not recent as our organization has grown organically in response to the demand for Project Management Services and the way we provide such services. We came to realise early on, that a project cannot be managed by a naïve junior but required a dedicated qualified Director and support team to ensure that all the project requirements are dealt with, effectively and timeously. This led to our organization being horizontal in its structure, in that every project requires a Director to take responsibility for the service and project delivery with each project having a dedicated support team. Being ‘top’ became prudent to manage the business in a similar manner in that the more mundane and less exciting aspects of the business being the administration and financial control needed to be managed without creating a burdensome overhead cost component which affects the market related costs of providing the service. Age also had an impact on who took responsibility for the management of the business of the business so that responsibility fell on the senior members of staff to contribute to the running of the business whilst generating income by running projects as well. At no time whatsoever in my forty-year involvement with the company was I not responsible for running at least one project. The other Directors together with our Financial Director help administer the business and undertake the necessary marketing for the essential new work that is required to keep us going. Given the cyclic nature of our industry, continuity of work is always a challenge and the senior directors all have an important role to play in that regard.
What would you like to have achieved when you retire?
The only end in sight is my inability to continue being effective in what I am doing and probably given the coming downturn facing our industry this could bring on an appropriate time to restructure our organization slightly to facilitate my reduction in involvement which would probably start with focusing entirely on the administration and marketing to a point where the other Directors are comfortable in moving on without my involvement. I have already achieved my ultimate objective which was to establish a recognised professional Construction Project Management Profession and company having pioneered the need for the service in the first place. The formalization of this, eventually started in 2000, when the Minister promulgated the Acts governing the council for the Built Environment 9Act 43 of 2000) of which one of these was the requirement to recognise Construction Project Management as a profession and to regulate the requirements and competencies required for such registration. To this end, I was appointed by the Minister as a councilor for two four-year periods from 2004 to 2012 during which we managed to have the work required to be undertaken by such professionals and, the determination of the necessary competencies required by the individuals undertaking such work, to be determined to ensure professional, ethical, and consistent service delivery by registered Construction Project and Construction Managers. Persons now practicing the profession are required to be registered as having a certain minimum competency based on both academic as well as experiential learning (4 years plus 4 years) with a requirement of proving Continuous Professional Development (CPD) every five years.
How would you describe your management and leadership styles?
Our profession is the provision of Management and Leadership of people in relation to the industry that we are in, via the services we offer. This comes through in the way we manage our business. Being in the service industry, our people and the quality of our people are our primary asset and hence the management and leadership is one of breeding confidence and courage from the experience gained to maximise the benefit to the individual, our company and our clients which becomes synonymous with who we are. SIP is a credo for who we are and how we do things. This is an exciting and motivating aspiration which we all live by and as one of the leaders of the organization this is portrayed in all I do to inspire all our staff. It is lead by example in the most empathetic and definitive way which is the commitment of all our Directors. The recognition of potential combined with the provision of early opportunity to individuals supported with mentoring assistance is the practice which all the senior Directors in our company.
What makes you tick or keeps you awake at night with respect to your position?
The biggest challenge to our organization is continuity of fee-paying work. It is essential that we don’t grow too large and that we can keep all our key staff gainfully employed on fee earning work. The extent of ‘risk’ work that we are required to undertake is getting larger and more extended before projects are formalized as the authority’s approvals are far too slow and the bank requirements in respect of funding are very extensive and time consuming in that at least 70% of the income stream needs to be secured before the project finance is made available.
All professionals are expected to work on the risk that the project goes ahead, up until the bank releases the funding. The cyclic nature of the industry is being exacerbated by the inability of the Government Sector plagued with an inept and corrupt procurement process. The public sector should be employing an anti-cyclic policy to maintain the continuity of demand in the industry. If managed properly, the construction industry would be the largest employer of unskilled and semi-skilled labour in an environment of growing unemployment.
The other difficulty is that through naivety and desperation, professionals are cutting their fees on the off chance that the project will go smoothly and no problems, that may be time consuming, will be incurred. Unfortunately, with the general levels of competence consistently dropping in the industry from the client base through the consultants and the contractors and sub-contractors the challenges on the projects are growing in extent and consequence which converting the property development opportunities into an extremely high-risk bracket for all parties concerned.
The lack of proper training and skills in the industry from apprenticeships, professional mentoring and client naivety is creating a massive risk profile for all players in the industry. This is now reflected in the spate of insolvencies and financial problems manifesting themselves in the industry. The large national contractors are taking strain and allowing foreign companies to get work via their competitive edge on skills and efficiency. Unless some groundbreaking initiatives are implemented our industry will be overcome through export contracts being awarded by our naïve politicians to foreign companies from China and other countries.
How have you taken part in mentoring others?
Mentoring is an essential part of our operation as the necessary skills to effectively project manage construction projects is fundamental to the value of our service. The most relevant and essential skills for project management are derived from experiential training. Practice as opposed to theory is the essential differential to competence. We have implemented a formal mentoring process into our organization that ensures that all staff are sensitive to the need to mentor and to be mentored. Our biggest assets are our people and the level of their skills and competence is synonymous with the capabilities of our company, so mentoring is an on-going essential component of our operation which amounts to the protection of our assets and hence it’s the responsibility of all our personnel.
If you had to relate a couple of experiences, what would be the highs and what would be the lows of your working career?
I believe that one of the watershed projects that we undertook was the Lost City Project in Sun City. The primary participants were overseas professionals that Sol Kerzner employed as he wanted to ensure a cutting-edge World Class iconic resort and source the services of the best designers in their field in the World. Not only was the detailing cutting-edge and World Class but our local consultants and contractors were able to rise to the occasion and deliver the unique aspect of this project in record time. The intensity of involvement from all parties was essential in ensuring the successful and timeous completion of a project that in today’s value would be over R5Billion delivered in 36 months. The project was split into four sections and we employed 12 full-time project managers on the project at peak. It was essential that all principals were intimately involved, ready, willing, and able to deliver on time, to the requisite quality and within budget. Since then, no project has been too large and too challenging for us to tackle.
The only lows of my time at SIP would be when we had to restructure and downsize the organization due to lack of continuity of work. As our business operates essentially on cash-flow being fees in and salaries out, we have of necessity adopted an employment policy of “last in first out” due to the unique skills which our people develop being the obvious essential requirement of protecting our primary asset which is our most skilled people.
What notable accolades have you and your organization received?
SIP has received a substantial number of accolades in respect of our project delivery and are pleased to say that we keep on accumulating every year. These are fleeting and egotistical in nature, the most important accolades and ones that we cherish are those that specifically recognise the value that we have added to our projects that manifest in our company being recommended by our fellow consultants and clients for the next or future projects that they are involved in. The repeat client is a client that we really cherish, and we endeavor, on every project to leave a lasting observation that we have contributed to the efficiency and successful delivery of the project. Our primary value is just that we are continuing to strive for the perfect delivery for our clients on all projects.
How has the firm fared in terms of achieving its business growth objectives?
Business growth in the context of our operation is limited to the control we have within our organization to ensure that our quality service delivery is always maintained. This is directly related to the capacity that resides in our senior members of staff, effectively our Directors. No project will be undertaken unless there is an appropriate Director capable of taking full responsibility for the running of that project. Our Directors are like minded individuals steeped in the SIP culture and aspirations. The growth of our organization is thus directly related to the number of Directors capable of running the projects in accordance with our demanding criteria. These are invariably people who have made the appropriate progress in our organization and reached the level of Director having proved their ability in this regard. Our primary concern is quality of service delivery and not the size of or turnover or the number of people that we employ. If we do not have the capacity, we will rather turn away work than take on work that cannot be adequately resourced to ensure maximum quality delivery which will be firstly made available to our regular and loyal clients.
Through what means does the organization ensure that the firm maintains high level of ethics and integrity?
The best way to ensure this is the example set by the senior members of staff and to stress the importance of moral and professional behavior during the mentoring process. In addition to becoming registered as a Professional Construction Project Manager (PrCPM), all registered individuals have effectively taken oath, at the risk of being removed from registration, to abide by the ethics called for by the Council (SACPCMP) which deals with all of the morality issues that face professionals.
Is transformation considered a key objective at the firm, if so, how is it attended to?
Transformation should be a key voluntary objective of every citizen of this country which should render the legislation that has been introduced as superfluous. The legal obligation being imposed on individuals and companies is now starting to have the opposite effect as it is becoming extremely expensive and almost impossible to satisfy which is promoting racialism and prejudice which is taking us back into reverse apartheid. South Africa is the only country in the World where a substantial majority is finding it necessary to legally force the minority to protect the majority through legislation. This will unfortunately fail in the long run due to the resulting promotion of people and organisations into positions of incompetence which is now already yielding the failing results to an alarming scale!!
Kindly highlight some recent contributions by the firm to the community and to the relevant professions your professionals are part of.
Having been a pioneer and creator of this ‘new’ profession, we have since the early nineties, created the structures and wherewithal for the creation of clones of our organization that have been nurtured via their exposure to us and the mentoring and experience that we have imparted to a point where they can, and have, successfully competed in a market that we have created on a sustainable business. We have not only taught the fisherman how to fish but where and what to fish to ensure success.
I was appointed by The South African Property Owners Association (SAPOA) as Chairman and the Professional Client Consultant Service Agreement Committee (PROCSA). I am proud to say that with the support of the Committee representing SAPOA, The South African Institute of Architects, The Association of Construction Project Managers, Association of South African Quantity Surveyors and the South African Black Technical and Allied Careers Organisation, we successfully published generic guideline Agreements for the appointment of professional consultants in the industry including the specific scope of services for the core disciplines in the industry which has become a widely used document acceptable to most developers and professional indemnity insurers.
How does the firm ensure that professionalism and good customer services are held?
We have an on-going and intense mentoring programme and the objectives are clearly captured in our Vison, Mission and Philosophy as follows: –
Our Vision: To consistently build on our reputation for being the most unique, cutting edge construction project management organization which serves clients with clear goals and positive attitude, delivering an unparalleled quality of service, with smart, innovative solutions sustaining our position as leaders in the industry. Our Mission: To provide superior professional services, giving clients the confidence that their needs will be consistently met due to the reliable delivery of their expectations, utilizing our combined experience, knowledge and expertise developed over 40 years. Our Philosophy: To strive for excellence in everything that we do with strength, integrity, passion and absolute dedication to every project. To always be relied upon, to always be leaders.
What values do you hold dear and why?
Our core values are Integrity, Passion, commitment and Professionalism. We value teamwork and the trust and confidence placed in us to deliver projects as effectively and efficiently as possible in respect of all the circumstances prevailing.