by Lyse Comins

R&G GROUP OF CONSULTANTS (PTY) LTD

CEO and Chairman of R&G Group of Consultants, Dumi Gqwaru, has firmly established his brand of companies in South Africa’s highly competitive construction and property sectors. He now has his sights fixed on breaking new ground across borders

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Conversing in his modest Umhlanga Ridgeside office, which overlooks an expansive view of distant merchant ships on the ocean, Dumi Gqwaru is unassuming and soft-spoken but his pensive disposition belies a highly driven entrepreneur.

Gqwaru, 45, is clearly a man of vision. This becomes evident as he shares his journey, which saw this son of a poor sugar cane cutter rising from a rural family in the Eastern Cape, to a labourer on a construction site, to qualifying as a quantity surveyor and then finally establishing his own successful firm, initially opened as Ilangalethu Consult CC, with two staff members and his business partner, Patrick Rwexu, in 2003.

The company grew exponentially from its earliest years and today, the award-winning group has grown to include eight subsidiaries with offices across the country in Durban, Johannesburg, Richards Bay, Bloemfontein, Port Elizabeth, Mthatha, Pietermaritzburg and East London. The firm, which employs approximately 100 people, was recognised when it received the National African Federation for the Building Industry (NAFBI) Black Business Excellence Award in 2012.

Its subsidiaries include R&G QS and PM, which focuses on quantity surveying and project management; R&G Properties, which is involved in property development; Magalela Architects, which also offers interior decorating services; MTV 3 Healthcare Architects, which focuses on architecture, interior decorating, town planning and healthcare architecture; Alex Projects, which offers private sector project and development management services; Pimok Health and Safety, which renders occupational health and safety services; Brava Consulting Engineers, which focuses on civil and structural engineering, roads, transportation, training and facilitation; Moduks Turnkey Solutions, which offers maritime, agricultural and travel agency services and Your Earth Solutions, which provides services ranging from energy consultation to energy and carbon footprint audits.

Projects that the company have worked on over the years have included the R12 million Dube Tradeport Corporation AgriZone offices; the R147 million Addington Hospital revitalisation programme; the R67 million Signal Hill development; the R53 million Birdswood Secondary School; the R275 million The Sails apartments at the Durban Point Waterfront and the R525 million Khotsong TB Hospital in Matatiele. Among its current projects is the new Richards Bay Magistrate’s Court, the redevelopment of the 517-bed Tshilidzini Regional Hospital in Limpopo and the phase two development of residences for the Mangosuthu University of Technology in Durban.

Gqwaru’s passion for the construction and property sector, and for quantity surveying as a profession, was born out of his selfless act of seeking part-time jobs on construction sites during the school holidays and during the height of Apartheid in the 1980s to supplement his family’s income. His family lived in the Eastern Cape and his father worked as a migrant labourer in Mount Edgecombe, KwaZulu-Natal.

“I had to do my early schooling in the Eastern Cape because things were unstable then and during the holidays, I had to be here in KZN. With my father being a cane cutter, I wanted to assist where I could to find a part-time job. Working on a construction site was a job that you could get and I would work on construction sites as a labourer and, come the end of the week, I would have that R60,” Gqwaru says.

“On the construction site you, work, work, work and there are those special days where the professional team would come and inspect. Our bosses would want to make sure everything was so perfect on that site and they even went to the extent of coaching us on, ‘this is how you should handle yourself when the inspectors are here’. I ended up enquiring who these people were and I learnt they were engineers and quantity surveyors. I thought, ‘I think I will do this’, and that’s how I developed an interest,” he says.

Gqwaru’s father, Kempe, inspired him to rise above the challenges of the era.

“As low as he was in terms of the job he was doing, he was able to make me believe in myself and that despite the situation at the time, there was that possibility that I would be somebody that the community could be proud of. I held onto that,” Gqwaru says.

But why quantity surveying and not engineering? His reasoning for the choice has stood him in good stead in business and has enabled him to grow subsidiaries to encompass the value chain in the construction and property sector.

“The different disciplines in the built environment, like architects and engineers, only understand their part but as a quantity surveyor, you need to understand all the disciplines so that you can come up with a costing that is informed by your understanding of the designs, which are all different. The fact that I was going to be able to know about all of those disciplines was appealing,” he says.

Gqwaru graduated with a BSc in Quantity Surveying from the Howard College Campus of the University of Natal (now known as the University of KwaZulu-Natal) in 1998 before undergoing three years of mandatory practical training at several local quantity surveying firms. He then wrote his Assessment of Professional Competence Board exam in 2001.

However, instead of rushing ahead to open his own practice, as many young graduates tend to do, Gqwaru wanted to gain more experience in aspects of running a business, such as marketing and management, so he joined the National Department of Public Works in Bloemfontein as a Chief Professional Quantity Surveyor where he managed more than 100 staff.

“I gave myself a period of two years because you don’t want to spend a lot of time in the public sector when you want to be in the private sector. In about eighteen months of being there, I was happy that I had huge responsibilities. I was responsible for the entire directorate of infrastructure and for all the projects in the region. I gained a lot in order to come out and open up my company and make sure it was successful,” he says.

Gqwaru moved back to the Eastern Cape where he met Rwexu and they co-founded Ilangalethu Consult CC, offering quantity surveying services in Mthatha. The company later changed its name and structure to R & G Group of Consultants.

“In about two years, we were doing very well and we became a household name in the area. But having two of us in the same office was wasted resources and one of us had to open an office elsewhere,” Gqwaru says.

Gqwaru opened a second office in Pietermaritzburg in 2005, which proved an instant success and when he kept a promise to his family to move to Durban in 2007, he opened an additional small office in the city to avoid commuting daily.

“Work started pumping in and the small office, which was meant to be for convenience became big and is now our head office in this building which we co-own,” Gqwaru says.

Within several years, Gqwaru and his partner seized opportunities to open additional divisions that led to the establishment of the eight subsidiary firms.

“Automatically in our field, as you gather experience you start diversifying. When you are a quantity surveyor with experience, you automatically become a very good project manager. We needed to expand and diversify,” Gqwaru says.

He developed the subsidiaries by initially opening internal divisions headed up by experts in fields from project management, architecture and civil and structural engineering to occupational health and safety.

“We make sure that in terms of resources, we obtain the best. Our resources are not cheap at all but the mileage we get out of their experience and expertise is immense.

“One of our key strengths in our strategies is that in every service we render, we ensure the team is being led by a specialist, which guarantees the satisfaction of our clients who derive a lot of value. We give the competition a serious run for their money and that revolves around the quality of services that we render,” Gqwaru says.

Recognising that a business is only as good as its professional staff, the partners’ business development strategy has a two-pronged outcome—growth and staff retention.

“When the expert running a division is so experienced to the extent that we are comfortable that he can be on his or her own, then we open up a separate business and they go from a salaried employee to a core business owner. And that’s how we make sure we retain our skills,” he says.

Gqwaru describes his personal leadership style as transformational, which sees him crafting the firm’s vision and working with his team to achieve its goals. One current goal is the ISO 9001 Quality Management System certification, which the group is working towards in preparation for expansion into SADC countries.

An area of no compromise for Gqwaru is integrity and this is a quality he strives to ensure the entire staff complement buys into every day.

“Our organisational cultural is an area of strength because when we start something, we ensure everybody buys into it and practices it. We have a norm in the company that when staff members are involved in a project, they must do it assuming they are going to be audited tomorrow, so we are guaranteed that whenever there is a potential problem, everything has been done spotlessly and documentation is properly filed and awaiting the audit,” he explains.

When it comes to creating value for customers, Gqwaru understands that clients perceive value differently, whether it means throwing in a line item on a development at no extra charge or providing a 10-year maintenance plan at the end of a project. He believes it’s the firm’s strong value proposition that has enabled it to weather the storm and even thrive in the tough economic climate.

“Construction is one of the main elements of the economy and if there is a problem affecting the economy, construction gets affected. Right now, national treasury is struggling to collect enough revenue and that has already started to affect the work that we do because government departments are starting to delay in terms of payments because their cash flow is not looking good. One could argue that this is related to the downgrading of our economy by international rating agencies,” he says.

Gqwaru says another problem faced by black businesses is that it is difficult to gain entry into the “closed” private sector.

“The only way you will get involved there is if you create that work yourself and you decide to become a developer and you participate. But the existing participants have closed it. People are scared of opening up but by not opening up, the current situation is not sustainable with people not having jobs. Basically, we are just creating a disaster for the future,” he says.

R & G Group of Consultants’ mission aims not only to create value for clients and shareholders but also for communities living near its developments. One such project involves the training and equipping of unemployed people in skills needed to become successful building contractors who can run their own businesses.

“The people in the communities where we work need assistance like bursaries, and they are looking for jobs or training. We get involved in all these activities to make sure we don’t go into a community, complete a project and go—we make an impact,” Gqwaru says.

Despite the pressures of being at the helm of the group, Gqwaru still makes time to take on at least three to four quantity surveying projects that he personally oversees. This takes him out to inspect construction sites as part of the formidable team he once looked up to. But now that the tables have turned, he aims to give back because he has not forgotten what it was like to be young and poor.

“At that time, there were not too many roleplayers but young people are better off today, as there are many people whom they can use as role models. We need to work very hard towards assisting them, ” he concludes.

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