Changing the face of SA's pale, male property industry

Denise Mhlanga
25 September 2008

Meet the new real estate sector CEO tasked with steering long-overdue racial and gender "transformation".

Born on Heritage Day in Soweto 38 years ago, Portia Tau-Sekati's working class parents could not imagine their daughter would become tasked with driving transformation in the property industry - arguably one of the slowest sectors to address racial and gender issues.

Tau-Sekati became the Chief Executive Officer of The Property Sector Charter Council in mid-July 2008. The council is an organisation tasked with getting the property sector moving on transformation.

Tau-Sekati says one of the challenges of her job is that not everyone has fully bought into, and in some cases they do not necessarily understand, the transformation process of the property sector.

"It's a gradual process and people have to start the transformation process willingly and understanding the objectives and what they expect out of it," says Tau- Sekati.

Tau-Sekati jumped in at the proverbial deep end of the real estate sector. She was appointed the first CEO of the National Association of Real Estate Agencies (Narea), an organisation which recently merged with the Institute of Estate Agents of South Africa (IEASA).

Narea was, she says, her "call to the property sector" in 2006.

Initially, she was hesitant to take the job when approached by the Narea steering committee members. But she took the position, telling herself she needed to make a difference somehow.

Narea, says Tau-Sekati modestly, provided her with the opportunity to learn from others. She got to understand and like the residential property market in particular and the property sector in general.

Big picture

"Given that property is the second biggest contributor to the economy following mining, it's not given the profile it deserves in this country," she says.

Property plays a significant role in the economy, and the residential property market employs a high percentage number of women in comparison to other industries. However, says Tau-Sekati, there is still more to be done to attract previously disadvantaged individuals.

Talking of the new education dispensation for estate agents, she says the sector deals with huge amounts of money so it is good that people are being nurtured to become and think of themselves as professionals.

Asked why in the property sector so many women are still either just estate agents or hold administrative jobs, she said it's partly a lack of information from the property sector itself to attract women to top positions.

However, she says this is slowly changing. In addition, black people are beginning to understand property not just as home ownership but as presenting business opportunities too.

"The majority of black people prioritise shelter and other basic needs before considering being in the property business," says Tau-Sekati.

She says the council is working on ways of bringing more black people into the property sector at all different levels, including raising enough awareness at schools. This will ensure that students are aware of property as a career of choice.

Tau-Sekati acknowledges that her job is set to be challenging, given resistance to change from certain quarters, but says: "Leadership is about courage of taking on new challenges and be ready to take on calculated risks."

She describes herself as "optimistic and certainly not naïve" about the tasks ahead.

She's a shopper - for property

Tauk-Sekati revealed that she enjoys shopping around for property bargains to add to her portfolio. Without telling how many properties she owns, she says a property portfolio "really can never be big enough".

She says she buys as much property as she can get either to dispose of later or keep, but the idea in property investment is to create a balanced portfolio.

This philosophy of balance extends to her personal life.

Married, and with an 18-month Rorisang (loosely translated to mean praise), Tau-Sekati focuses on her son and husband at home, which is in Morningside, Sandton.

She loves reading, carrying a book in her bag always, and says she celebrates life everyday - regardless of what the day brings with it.

Balancing act

She is aware of the responsibilities that come with this job but she is determined to make a difference one way or another while remaining "grounded" and true to herself.

Tau-Sekati believes women, even in top positions, do not have to change who they are to fit in. Rather, they should strive to be themselves and do things their own way.

 "I hope to look back some day and realise that I have made a little contribution to the bigger picture in the transformation journey of the property sector," she says.

Tau-Sekati holds a post graduate diploma in business and Honours in Bachelor of Arts from the University of Natal.

She has previously worked for Thebe Investment Corporation as a group marketing executive, as marketing executive for the Johannesburg Fresh Produce Market, Roche Pharmaceuticals as sales' manager and Gillette Company as brand manager.


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