Real estate tycoon thrives on a challenge
ABR: Where were you born and where did you grow up?
LG: I’m a born and bred Johannesburger.
ABR: Where were you educated and what qualifications do you have?
LG: University of Ramat Aviv Tel Aviv Israel majored in Economics
ABR: Tell us about your career and how you got to your current position?
LG: Real estate is in my blood; I’ve been involved in the industry since 1972; first in the family company Aida Real Estate, which my parents, started in 1958. I went out on my own about 10 years later, though, and started Lew Geffen Estates. I grew the company in Johannesburg which accumulated 200 agents and was a market leader in Johannesburg until 2000 when I, in conjunction with my son Barak, acquired the Master Franchise for Sotheby’s International Realty in South Africa.
Since then we have created 60 niche offices across the length and breadth of South Africa and today are one of the leading Real Estate Brands in the country with over 900 agents in our employ.
ABR: What influence did your parents have on your career choices?
LG: My mother taught me to have courage and I learnt the selling business from my father. He was one of the best salesman I have ever come across.
ABR: Who in your career has been your biggest influence?
LG: No question about it; that would be my father.
ABR: What and where was the most expensive property your company ever sold?
LG: The most expensive property ever sold would be in Sandhurst, Johannesburg for R150 Million
ABR: What does success mean to you?
LG: Success to me is building infrastructure and people that are happy and proud to work in a company that has recognition.
ABR: If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be and why?
LG: I am very happy to live between Cape Town and Johannesburg which I do at present and would not want to change it.
ABR: What sort of house do you live in now?
LG: I commute twice a week between Cape Town and Johannesburg and have a sizable family home in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg. Our beautiful little dogs live in our big house in Johannesburg and we have children and grandchildren at both ends.
ABR: What motivates you?
LG: I absolutely thrive on challenges. I really enjoy the marketing side of Real Estate - when I have created a campaign from the top of my head and implement it, I enjoy watching and experiencing the success that is derived from such a campaign. I also enjoy all the people who work in my company and am motivated to bring out the best in them.
ABR: What do you prefer and why - a city condo or beach house? LG: I am happy where I am which is combination of family home and pied-à-terre
ABR: What do you consider are the main ingredients for business success?
LG: Having a vision of what you want, and sticking to it no matter what. But every business has to be built on a foundation of respect and ethics. If these are not present you can never make it in the long term. I’m also sure you need ability.
ABR: What was the best piece of advice you ever received?
LG: It was from my Dad, who told me that one has to build infrastructure layer upon layer.
ABR: What was the worst?
LG: To go into the auction business.
ABR: What do you do in your free time?
LG: I’m an avid golfer and I love hiking. I also spend a fair amount of time at the gym, but in terms of relaxation, travel and listening to jazz are right up at the top of the list including snow skiing.
ABR: What advice would you give a budding property tycoon?
LG: You have to roll with the punches and get up off the canvas often bloody and exhausted but you have to get up nevertheless.
ABR: If you could it all again, would you have followed the same path or done it differently?
LG: Everyone would like to go back and rewrite some of their history because people are human and we all make mistakes, but on the whole I think if I had my “groundhog day” do-over, there’s very little I’d change. I’ve been married for 42 years, have wonderful children and grandchildren and a business that makes me excited about going to work every day. You can’t ask for better than that.
5 minutes with... Janthana Kaenprakhamroy, CEO, Tapoly
Founder and CEO of award-winning insurtech firm Tapoly, Janthana Kaenprakhamroy heads up Europe’s first on-demand insurance platform for the gig economy, winning industry awards, innovating in the digital insurance space, and leading with inclusivity.
Here, Business Chief talks to Janthana about her leadership style and skills.
What do you do, in a nutshell?
I’m founder and CEO of Tapoly, a digital MGA providing a full stack of commercial lines insurance specifically for SMEs and freelancers, as well as a SaaS solution to connect insurers with their distribution partners. We build bespoke, end-to-end platforms encompassing the whole customer journey, but can also integrate our APIs within existing systems. We were proud to win Insurance Provider of the Year at the British Small Business Awards 2018 and receive silver in the Insurtech category at the Efma & Accenture Innovation in Insurance Awards 2019.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I try to be as inclusive a leader as possible. I’m committed to creating space for everyone to shine. Many of the roles at Tapoly are performed by women and I speak at industry events to encourage more people to get involved in insurance/insurtech. Similarly, I always try to maintain a growth mindset. I think it’s important to retain values to support learning and development, like reliability, working hard and punctuality.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
Build your network and seek advice. As a leader, you need smart people around you to help you grow your business. It’s not about personally being the best, but being able to find resources and get help where needed.
How do you see leadership changing in a COVID world?
I think the pandemic has proven the importance of inclusive leadership so that everyone feels supported and valued. It’s also shown the importance of being flexible as a leader. We’ve had to remain adaptable to continue delivering high levels of customer service. This flexibility has also been important when supporting employees as everyone has had individual pressures to deal with during this time. Leaders should continue to embed this flexibility within their organisations moving forward.
They say ‘from every crisis comes opportunity’, what opportunities do you see?
The past year has been challenging, but it has also proven the importance of digital transformation in insurance. When working from home was required, it was much harder for insurers to adjust who had not embedded technology within their operating processes because they did not have data stored in the cloud and it caused communication delays with concerned customers at a time when this communication should have been a priority, which ultimately impacts the level of customer satisfaction. This demonstrates the importance of what we are trying to achieve at Tapoly in driving digitalisation in insurance and making communication between insurers and distribution partners seamless.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
Start sooner, don’t be afraid to take (calculated) risks and make sure you raise enough money to get you through the initial seed stage.