Talking project management detail with Tarquin Geldenhuys

“The neighbourhood I grew up in is quite similar to the kind of neighbourhoods we work to develop today,” says Tarquin Geldenhuys. It was a multicultural middle-class neighbourhood in the former Port Elizabeth, now Gqeberha. “I wanted to be part of building a better South Africa and part of that is building better and safer neighbourhoods.” As a director and development manager for Similan, he gets to do exactly that. 

Tarquin considered studying architecture or becoming a chartered accountant when a professor introduced him to the field of construction management as a way to combine his talent and interests for a career in property development.

His calm and soft-spoken nature makes it hard to imagine that he can be involved in up to five residential property developments in various stages of planning or construction at any time. He explains that it can take around three years to plan and work with various role-players before construction can start for very large new residential developments of up to 1500 units in mixed-use developments. “As long as we connect with the people involved every day, we move forward,” he says.

What construction project management entails

As a project manager, he is responsible for the management of construction projects from inception to completion to ensure that it is completed on time, within budget and meeting the quality and standards expected. Good project management is vital for the successful development of affordable housing in South Africa. It is very important in both the private and public sectors to ensure that projects don’t incur large cost overruns and to manage both known and unknown risks effectively. According to Tarquin, top-notch project managers will not only make sure that homes are built according to the correct specification but also add value by using the latest technology and specialised techniques to oversee the design, development, and construction to make a development cost-effective and sustainable. 

Development management for large-scale construction projects

He has also taken on development management, which has a significantly wider scope and longer timeline. “Development management entails overseeing all the development stages and managing client expectations as well as consultants from the planning to the completion and management of property developments.’ he explains. “It starts with finding land and new opportunities and helping clients to determine the best way to use it and managing the entire development holistically working with architects, landscapers, local councils, contractors, sales and rental agents, and more. It requires a good understanding of a wide range of disciplines and factors that influence the potential and success of a development,” he says.

The importance of good management during a pandemic or crisis

Delays and price increases due to the Covid-19 pandemic and other local and international changes significantly affected the construction industry recently. “We’ve seen a large increase in costs over a range of materials and suppliers have been struggling to keep their prices locked for longer than a month. We also couldn’t get a specific type of building material for several months which affected both costs and the progress of one of our projects.” Tarquin says. This highlights the importance of good development management and working relationships with contractors and suppliers. “We need to recognise that things may change over time and allow for escalations in our contracts. There is also a certain level of trust needed to build together effectively. For example, one of our contractors bought material months in advance to meet deadlines.”

Keeping in touch with the end-users

Many of the people who live in Similan developed homes are first-time homeowners, some are scaling down and others move in to settle in a well-managed and maintained secure neighbourhood. “With proper communications from the start, we’re able to effectively manage the expectations of our new homeowners. We try to make the process as exciting as possible with regular updates and even competitions. When we face delays that are out of our control, for example, because of state institutions, we keep our clients informed.” 

How empathy and communication boosts productivity

Tarquin worked for one of South Africa’s biggest construction companies doing mainly on-site construction management before he joined Similan as a junior project manager in the last quarter of 2015. “One of the most important things I learned on the ground was the value of empathy and good communication to work well with all people on site. It takes a team that understands and trusts one another to build good structures.” He believes that a team who is comfortable working together on-site will be more productive, taking pride and joy in their work.

Proud moments

He is certainly proud to say that he has personally handed over 300 keys to new homes and have met the people who moved into these homes. “We’re creating more than buildings. They become homes where people can have many experiences and make memories over many years.” He says with a smile. “Sustainability, family and community are woven into everything we do. With every new development, we try our best to push the boundaries in terms of the technology and green building we can incorporate while keeping it affordable.” He says “We also support job creation using local labour on every project. It is good to see how some of the contractors we have used in the past have grown their businesses.” 

Looking ahead

His dream is to continue growing the already strong skilled and experienced Similan team to further expand the services their multidisciplinary property development and management company can offer. After more than 10 years in the industry, Similan can rightly be described as the expert in affordable housing development in South Africa. Tarquin hopes to see how their specialist services assist government and private sector partnerships to deliver more affordable housing close to urban centres.

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