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An Evolving Business

We find out how the Kirsh Group moved from maize importation to property development and ownership. By Chris Farnell

THE KIRSH GROUP ARE INTERNATIONAL PROPERTY DEVELOPERS AND OWNERS. OVER FIFTY YEARS THEY’VE BOUGHT AND DEVELOPED A HOST OF PROPERTIES ACROSS SWAZILAND AND SOUTHERN AFRICA AND ARE LEADERS IN THEIR FIELD, WITH AN IMPRESSIVE PORTFOLIO OF PROPERTIES AND BUSINESSES ON THEIR BOOKS. SO IT COMES AS SOMETHING OF A SURPRISE TO DISCOVER THAT, IF YOU GO BACK IN TIME HALF A CENTURY TO THE BIRTH OF THIS COMPANY, THEIR ROOTS AREN’T IN PROPERTY DEVELOPMENT OR FINANCE AT ALL. NO, THE KIRSH GROUP STARTED ITS LIFE AS A COMPANY THAT SOLD MAIZAS THE KIRSH GROUP’S CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER PAUL FRIEDLANDER EXPLAINS TO US, “THE KIRSH GROUP IN SOUTHERN AFRICA HAS BEEN AROUND FOR 50 PLUS YEARS AS A BUSINESS. IT ORIGINATED IN SWAZILAND, THEN SPREAD TO SOUTH AFRICA AND BEYOND. OVER THAT PERIOD OF TIME IT HAS EVOLVED IN A GREAT NUMBER OF WAYS.” . FROM MAIZE TO MANAGEMENT But how do you get from selling maize to developing property? “Swaziland a few years ago wasn’t that developed,” Friedlander tells us. “We were the first company to carry out the importation, milling and distribution of maize to the greater population. We had an effective monopoly on the importation, manufacture and distribution of the staple food for the population, which was a good position to be in except for the fact that it was a controlled monopoly heavily regulated by the government.” This meant that while the company had a pretty solid foundation, there wasn’t really much room for the firm to develop. Which isn’t to say they didn’t try. “From there we identified needs in various sectors of the community. We bought maize from the farmers, and we sold them the seed and the fertiliser,” Friedlander says. “but we soon realised we were also able to sell them the insurance they needed, arrange financing for them and a whole range of other activities.” For half a century the company continued to expand and diversify. From P32 I BUSINESS FOCUS I ISSUE 39 I



“When we’re looking for new staff we like to hire self starters who can learn on the job without too much handholding”

strictly agricultural concerns they moved into property development. From property development the company began to invest in other businesses, and develop further assets of its own. It was not a speedy progress, but by working steadily and dependably the Kirsh Group took on the shape of the international business that it is today. However, even as the business has been expanding the Kirsh Group has stayed true to the qualities and ideals that made them a success in the first place. SLOW AND STEADY WINS THE RACE “Our unique selling point is that we understand the marketplace in this part of the world,” Friedlander tells us. The other major characteristic that Kirsh Group has built itself on is the ability to resist the temptation to make a quick buck at the expense of more long term opportunities. “As a business we take the long view,” Friedlander says. “Our organisation has built up its resources and skill base over a long time so we understand the importance of not taking shortcuts. Instead we focus on quality and

sustainability and we apply those methods wherever we go and in whatever we do.” It’s a strategy that’s yielded some great dividends, however that doesn’t mean the company hasn’t seen its fair share of challenges to overcome. All across the world businesses have been feeling the bite of the global financial crisis. “The economy is difficult and a lot of businesses have been struggling over the last few years,” Friedlander admits. “We don’t really have any internal challenges when it comes to lack of resources or ideas, but like everyone else we’re subject to the vagaries of the economy at large. However we’ve managed to stay stable.” Friedlander is actually extremely optimistic about the future. “We’ve been able to weather those challenges,” he says. “And more importantly, with those challenges come opportunities.” Indeed, the Kirsh Group has just seen a truly great past twelve months. Despite issues with the economy at large the company has continued to see good levels of sales and profits. “It’s been a really fantastic year,” Friedlander says. “We’re all very happy I ISSUE 39 I BUSINESS FOCUS I P35


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John Thomson +26876020417 Milan Wilsch +26876053355 Clinton Mc Namara +26876054032 / +26878026868 with the way things have been developing.” A TEAM OF SELF STARTERS As with many businesses, the Kirsh Group can put its success down to one key quality. Friedlander is the first to point out that it’s the Kirsh Group’s great staff that have made the company the success that it is. With the majority of the company’s workforce being based in Swaziland, alongside a small pool of local partners, the Kirsh Group’s people tend to show a lot of loyalty to their employer, with a very low staff turnover. Friedlander himself has been CEO of the group for over 12 years. However, low staff turnover means that their recruitment process tends to be a lot less formalised than some businesses. “We don’t do much hiring or firing to be honest so we don’t really have any hard and fast procedures,” Friedlander admits. “The Southern African environment we operate in is quite small, so we know the people in the industry and we can virtually hand pick them. “ Part of the attraction to newcomers to the company is the extremely flat and open structure of the company. Friedlander says, “Within the Kirsh Group we have a very open environment without many layers. Everyone in the company has exposure and access to everybody else.” Despite the relatively informal recruitment process, the Kirsh Group is clear on the qualities that it looks for in its new staff. Friedlander lays those qualities down clearly, “When we’re looking for new staff we like to hire self starters who can learn on the job without too much handholding or mentoring. You just do your job and what you need to do.” So where is the Kirsh Group going next? Currently the company is looking to find new properties that can be added to their portfolio for development. However, in the long run Friedlander’s attitude is one of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” “I see more of the same for us,” he says. “We need to buy and sell and keep doing what we’re doing.”




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