Leading women in property: Meet Ulana van Biljon, operations chief at Emira


With August being Ladies’s Month, The Property Pod is profiling main girls in South Africa’s industrial property sector.

The business comparatively has much more girls in government positions, in stark distinction to different main sectors of the financial system. Nonetheless, it has not all the time been this manner.

On this episode, we communicate to probably the most skilled girls within the native property sector – Ulana van Biljon, COO of JSE-listed Emira Property Fund.

She has been an government director at Emira since 2012, however has a profession within the business spanning some 26 years. This makes her one of many forerunners in breaking the glass ceiling within the property sector, which nonetheless has some option to go by way of better girls’s empowerment

Van Biljon shares her story and fervour for property on this interview. Beneath are some highlights. Hearken to the total podcast within the hyperlink above or obtain it from iono, Spotify or Apple Podcasts.

“As COO of Emira I’m principally liable for all these each day operational capabilities of an organization. After all it additionally consists of the executing and the implementing of our technique. However I believe a very powerful factor is to guarantee that these operational outcomes are achieved.”

“Mentoring and managing many of the workers right here at Emira is my accountability, and it additionally consists of authorized and advertising and marketing issues. So, for me it’s such a multifaceted function, and it completely fits me, and my skillset and my expertise.”

Emira has been one of many top-performing listed property funds over the previous 12 months …

Emira itself [has] modified fairly considerably over the previous few years. Beforehand the portfolio was extra closely invested within the workplace sector, however now it’s lower than 25% of our complete property. Now we’ve acquired a top quality very balanced portfolio, which is extra various between workplaces, retail and industrial – and we’ve acquired one residential property. So, 78 directly-held right here in South Africa with a worth of round about R10 billion.”

“We’ve additionally acquired some partnerships within the USA, 11 grocery-anchored open-air comfort buying centres … So, I believe the rationale for us being one of many prime performers the previous 12 months can also be as a result of the Emira portfolio is structured, and it’s tailored to ship stability and sustainability via, particularly, the previous 12 months, year-and-a-half.”

How did you get into the property business and have you ever all the time been on this sector?

I truly began as a human sources officer at Sanlam. I studied BCom on the College of [the] Free State and in January 1998 I used to be provided a human sources place. I’ve all the time had an excellent talent set in individuals, and find out how to take care of individuals. However whereas I used to be at Sanlam and particularly in human sources, my focus was properties and I used to be being transferred to [what was] in these days Sanlam Properties.

“However then I acquired married in 1995 and once we moved to Durban unexpectedly, our MD on the time, Barnes van der Walt, stated to me: ‘Ulana, I’m truly going to make you a centre supervisor’ – and this was within the midst of a serious redevelopment at Musgrave Centre. I requested him: ‘What do I find out about property?’ He stated: ‘Ulana, you will have the individuals expertise – and all the remainder will come.’”

Apart from her time at Sanlam Properties, and Emira presently, Van Biljon has labored at Pangbourne Properties (which was later taken over by JSE-listed) and at Melrose Arch.

“Now it’s unbelievable that this September I’ll have been at Emira for 10 years.”

“I’ve been very lucky that I’ve actually had lots of memorable moments. They differ – from letting, to mentoring workers, to [being] a part of Emira altering to a diversified fund.”

“However perhaps if I can spotlight two. The primary one was after I was appointed government director to the Emira board. I used to be one of many first feminine executives – and that was in 2012.”

“[The other] spotlight is when all my efforts over the previous years have been recognised and I used to be honoured and awarded the Commonplace Financial institution Prime Lady Award within the property class in 2019 …

“I can’t inform you how ecstatic I used to be. I assumed my coronary heart was going to blow up and I simply wanted to inform my husband.”

Van Biljon’s recommendation for up-and-coming girls contemplating stepping into the property sector?

I believe what is essential is that girls should take their alternatives. We’re given alternatives, however we should take them, and we should present that we’re expert.”

“It’s extraordinarily vital to guide by instance and to additionally present the outputs. After I began – and it’s nonetheless a really male-dominated business – I embraced it from day one. I didn’t work in opposition to it. For me it was vital that I do it alone phrases and that I keep true to being myself as a feminine.”



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