Operating throughout South Africa, with offices in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, Capex Projects is a successful project management consultancy that specialises in BIM (Building Information Management) and construction management, including the design of industrial and commercial property. Founded 22 years ago, Capex Projects has successfully collaborated with Zenprop Property Holdings, one of South Africa’s leading commercial property development and investment companies, since 2002, and it is this collective vision that undoubtedly gives them the necessary edge in the face of a challenging industry.
We spoke with Andrew Usher, one of Capex Projects’ three Directors and shareholders, who is emphatic about the crucial role that communication and collaboration play in the company’s current stability and future ambitions. Andrew spoke to us highly about the harmonious and “unique” 17-year partnership between Capex and Zenprop Properties, and since he has held his own position at Capex since 2002, it’s fair to say that he knows the partnership very well.
Capex Projects are currently expanding their BIM consultancy services to ensure that they are more efficient and, thus, more cost-effective. As Andrew enthuses; ““Our big focus is the expansion of our BIM consultancy service. We have identified this as a new, exciting tool that we are developing from within our company, and with the collaboration of clients (Zenprop) and other professionals.” BIM most commonly stands for Building Information Modelling, but Capex Projects also expand the acronym to ‘Building Integrated Models’ and ‘Building Information Management’. The key factor in all three is the communication of information and planning; Andrew describes BIM as a tool that “enhances multi-party communication” and “reduces site co-ordination problems”. To apply this successfully, he feels that performing and delivering this service requites “high levels of project team involvement and collaboration.” It is therefore cyclical in nature, giving back what has been put in and, in turn, relying upon effective communication in order to yield positive results.
One factor that cannot be altered by financial investment is time, and the clearest method of reducing cost – and thus increasing profit – is effective time management. While a large and complex project, involving several contractors and sub-contractors as well as incorporating material factors and systems, runs a very clear risk of haemorrhaging losses, effective and co-ordinated BIM minimises that risk. By effectively forecasting building performance in relation to environmental factors, BIM can even safeguard against potential future losses. By pushing the boundaries of BIM to improve its efficiently, Capex can save the valuable resource of time, whilst achieving results in ever greater detail, with great coordination and minimal information loss.
Focusing on developing BIM to its most efficient degree is almost guaranteed to pay dividends, as each project is like a living structure, and not only has limbs but is a work in constant progress, integrating systems and ideas, requiring energy and resources, time and space, each of which are subject to change.
Unfortunately, whilst Capex are ambitious, and ready to apply this forward-thinking planning system, the industry is not as active as they would like. “South Africa’s building and construction industry is stagnant at present.” Economic struggles mean that the government is being frugal in its spending on infrastructure construction and maintenance, and “local and national business sentiment is weighing on the negative side in terms of large capital investment.”
It can be wearying to fight the tide of poor economic growth or limited government expenditure, and of course the instinctive response is to increasing operating costs, coupled with a very tangible decline in capital investment. However, these choices lead to poor business and a less satisfied customer; instead, Capex Projects is continually developing methods to offer even better services to their clients. Rather than focus on the recent economic downturn, Andrew instead draws his attention to the value and cost effectiveness he can offer his clients: “Our collective construction experience and management style focuses on the ultimate customer service, ensuring value-based solutions that are both efficient and cost-effective.”
The South African construction sector experienced a short-term boom in the early 2000s, and as a result, overheads were increased, perhaps optimistically. When the expected government infrastructure spending ceased to materialise, and previously established large capital investments were no longer forthcoming, the construction industry suffered. Of course, it pays to be prudent in times of adversity, but it also pays to be bold.
Although Andrew describes the South African construction industry as stagnant, he doesn’t see that as an excuse for his company to flounder. In fact, despite the downturn of recent years (during which 2017 saw a 17-year low in the South African construction industry, which impacted negatively on investment), Andrew enthuses about Capex’s planned “new and innovative construction methods and management techniques and technology”. A confident company doesn’t clamp up during hard times, but continues to grow, ready to receive the positive to external factors when it comes, and true to form, some moderate growth for South Africa forecast.
It is of no surprise that Andrew recognises mentorship as focal to the success of the company. With seasoned staff, shareholders, and ‘new blood’ all contributing to their current workforce, it must be impossible for enthusiasm or ideas to go stale. Similarly, Capex’s “flat communication structure” ensures that no individual, once on board, is excluded from the task, and with collaboration both their lifeblood and forte, the more focus that is paid to a Capex project, the more likely the success of the outcome.
As a part of this flat communication structure, whilst the company directors lead projects, this is where ownership ends, and collaboration takes over. In fact, Andrew’s “no closed doors” approach is not only a policy he advocates when heading a project, but one he applies to every aspect of leadership, and advocates open and non-hierarchical communication. Some might be tempted to cite that age-old aphorism about ‘too many cooks’, but it seems that Capex Projects has honed the technique, and continues to demonstrate that with an open communication platform, shared success is both the aim and the driving force; as such, any number of ‘cooks’ is not only manageable, but favourable. Furthermore, Andrew puts all of their successes down to “collective construction experience and management style”; when efficiency, cost-effectiveness and the aim of delivering a professional project are all key, there really is no place for ego.
Andrew’s seventeen years as a director and Capex, and as many years invested as a shareholder, is testimony to his underlying confidence and belief in the company. Andrew is evidently committed to, and invested in, its success, and his enthusiasm is an example of the “pride and passion” he highlights as key to Capex Projects’ continued evolution. Yet, he takes no personal credit.
How heartening it is that a director of a project management company of such standing, with a long list of completed projects, and a list of new projects currently planned in Sandton, Johannesburg (‘Africa’s richest square mile’), expresses no self-importance when it comes to business. Instead, he puts success down to “co-operation, partnership, concerted action, and collaborative innovation.” He considers his role in developments with high profile clients as “fortunate”; we think that sounds like a very modest summary!
You only have to take a brief glance at Capex’s portfolio of commercial and industrial projects to confirm this. Past projects include Central Sandton landmarks such as the Sasol Head Office, a R2 billion project developed to accommodate and centralise a workforce of over 3,000, and Katherine Towers Office, an impressive 21,000 square metre development housing the Head Office for Bidvest Bank, as well as the BMW South Africa body in white production plant in Rosslyn, Pretoria. To call Sandton ‘affluent’ would be something of a discredit to one of the most important financial and business districts in South Africa, so with a portfolio of completed projects under their belts as well as new contracts such as the Sky Royal Hotel underway, Capex have their feet firmly on the right sort of ground.
Andrew admits that it’s not all plain sailing; the industry has encountered its challenges, but challenges such as these create drive, and not only is Capex Projects driven, but it has the technology, innovation and individuals necessary to drive it.