Real estate investment trust, Exemplar REITail, has acquired Katale Square shopping centre.
At 8 734sqm, Katale Square (Marapyane, Mpumalanga) is the first full centre acquisition for the group following the purchase of the refurbished and expanded portions of both Modi Mall in Modimolle, Limpopo (5 054sqm) and Kwagga Mall in KwaMhlanga, Mpumalanga (5 274sqm) in the last quarter of 2018.
The purchase price for Katale Square was R116,000,000 and it is the first of 3 centres that were purchased Exemplar as detailed in the prospectus that was released in May 2018. Mabopane Square (Mabopane, Gauteng) is set for completion and purchase in or about October 2019 while construction on Riba Cross Mall (Burgersfort, Limpopo) will begin by the end of 2019.
Anchor tenants at Katale Square include Shoprite, Shoprite Liquor, Roots and Cashbuild. The full gambit of banking, fashion and food is also accounted for with Absa (ATM), Nedbank (ATM), Standard Bank (ATM), SAPO, Rage, Ackermans, Pep and KFC all represented.
Exemplar listed in June 2018 with a property portfolio value of just over R5 billion and a market capitalisation of just over R3 billion. The group was created from the core of McCormick Property Development – a company with over 35 years of experience in the development and management of retail centres in primarily under-serviced areas.
CEO of Exemplar, Jason McCormick, says the acquisition of Katale Square marks the start of what promises to be an incredible journey. “Acquisitions will play a dual role for us – not only will it accelerate value growth for our shareholders but it gives us the opportunity to broaden our shareholder base and increase liquidity of stock.”
Exemplar REITail Limited spent its #67minutes with the children and elders of Dimphonyana Tsa Lapeng, an NGO that holds a place close to the heart of one of the Shopping Centres in our portfolio, Olievenhout Plaza.
Twenty team members from Head Office visited the care centre for orphans and underprivileged teenagers to help repaint and repair the living areas and classrooms. Geyser repairs, cracks and water proofing issues were also addressed by the Exemplar team. In addition, a number of elders in the community each received a warm meal and blanket.
Between the 20 centres in the Exemplar portfolio, over R370 000 was donated to local communities in honour of Mandela Day.
Diepkloof Square recognised the importance of reading and education by hosting a book drive. Customers and tenants alike were invited to donate in addition to the packs of books that were donated by the Mall.
Kwagga Mall, worked with the Public Protector and donated R50 000 worth of cupboards and shelving to Mkhephuli Secondary School in Kwaggafontein C, Mpumalanga.
Initiatives by other Malls included the donation of 200 ‘Dignity Packs’ (made up of toiletry necessities), the hosting of soup kitchens, blanket donations and assisting with improvements to local schools/old age homes.
Recently listed on the JSE, Exemplar REITail is the only real estate investment trust to focus purely on emerging market retail and offers investors a new and fresh investment option in a particularly defensive sector of the real estate market.
It takes passion, dedication and integrity to make it in property. Possessing all these qualities, along with a keen eye for opportunity, Jason McCormick is a refreshing voice in the real estate industry.
We sat down with the CEO of newly-listed Exemplar REITail and managing director of McCormick Property Development (MPD) to find out what makes him tick.
McCormick was born in Centurion in 1987, attending Waterkloof House Prep School and Michaelhouse High School. His childhood was, at once, ordinary and unique. Growing up in a family of property developers, he explains that he’s been exposed to business his entire life.
“Growing up we were always somehow involved in the goings-on of the family business which is located on the same
property as the family home and has been since its inception in 1983,” he explains.
The family business, MPD, has been at the frontier of rural retail developments, introducing the first BB-BBEE
scheme in Giyani in 1987. McCormick is acutely aware of his father’s continuous influence in his own business dealings and philosophy: “My father always saw property development as a means to help right the wrongs of the political system, that he abhorred, which existed in South Africa upon his return to the country following his MBA at Stanford University in the USA. As an intensely liberal person, he became socially, politically and commercially marginalized on the basis of his English-speaking background and then-politically discordant views on equality. It is from this background that he built a property company to take “the town to the townships”, saving people travel time and taxi fares to get the most basic goods and services.”
He explains that, playing witness to this from a young age left an impression: “It is little wonder that I remain completely committed to my father’s founding principles of creating economically inclusive developments that fundamentally shift the livelihood of their communities for the better.”
The decision to create Exemplar REITail was a natural one. Rather than being a capital raising initiative, McCormick explains that it was the outcome of a process of restructuring of MPD. The move allows the established development company to take care of its growing pipeline of projects without having to dispose of assets in order to make capital available for further developments.
Since its inception, MPD has raised finance for each retail development on a ring-fenced basis. McCormick explains the decision: “We have been looking to restructure our activities for some time now, although to begin with we were not necessarily looking to list. However, with the cheaper cost of capital and the interest-only profile that is really only available to a listed entity because of the high levels of compliance and transparency that funders are assured of, it became clear that this was the best way for us to effectively grow our portfolio and roll out our substantial
pipeline of new developments, recycling capital into the business. It made the most sense to list.”
A true advantage for Exemplar is the fact that the assets in the portfolio will continue to be managed by the experienced team at MPD. Given that the management team has a combined tenure of 238 years at MPD, this is good news indeed. “I have always been a committed team player in sport and in life (I still captain my own cricket side, who incidentally won the Tshwane Premier League in 2017) and am an ardent believer in allowing my team members the space to shine, giving them the direction they need but without inhibiting their space to perform and grow. For us to have achieved what we have – currently developing between two to seven new malls a year in the development company, as well as listing the only REIT of our size on the JSE in the past 18 months, given the
current market, is a testament to the vision, drive and energy of management as well as to the team that we have built over the years,” McCormick says.
He continues to explain that the team is more a family than employees, insisting that he doesn’t have people working for him, but rather with him. “Life is all about partnerships. I know that sounds cheesy, but without partnerships and like-minded people, we are nothing.”
These partnerships extend beyond the company. Speaking about his personal highlights throughout his career,
McCormick zooms in on the launch of Atteridge Plaza in 2011. The first development he had taken on from its
negotiating phase to eventual project management, it holds a special spot.
Despite the obvious satisfaction gained from a successful development, McCormick explains that what made this deal special to him was the way in which it allowed them to help the surrounding neighbourhood. MPD took a 49% equity position, with the majority 51% going to a consortium of 41 local Atteridgeville business-owning families. These families are now fellow shareholders in Exemplar.
The development was not only a commercial success, but also showed the value of building good relationships
with communities. “It’s funny – my early days were filled by an unyielding desire to roll out what my commercial
education had taught me…but this was quickly surpassed by the reality that one needs to search for more than profit and that reputation and doing good yields far more in the long run. As property is a long term game, I value relationships and reputation far more than I will ever value short term profit. In fact, I have a complete disdain for anyone who only values short term gains at the expense of longer-term and wider-reaching socio-economic benefits,” McCormick says.
Learning the business
While he grew up in a family of businessmen, McCormick explains that his most important business lessons came before he joined the working world. “At university, I worked two jobs – as a waiter and later sommelier at Tokara, and as a barman at the local student pub “The Terrace”. As part of the “A-Team” that ran the front of house at Tokara, I learned so much about scheduling (read: juggling) tasks, biting my tongue in the face of some pretty adverse situations and learning to restrain my otherwise spontaneous nature to protect the goals of the institution.”
Upon completing his B-Comm (Hons) in Economics and Management at the University of Stellenbosch in 2001, McCormick decided to take a gap year. This, he explains, is where he had possibly his biggest learning experience. Deciding to put his qualification as coastal skipper to good use, he went to work in the yachting industry in Antibes, the south of France. “It was there, as an unemployed South African without any local currency or connections that I learned some of my most important life lessons on the networking, dedication and hard work needed to break into an industry from the outside,” he explains.
McCormick’s timing wasn’t great. Arriving in the Mediterranean shortly after the 9/11 tragedy, he found himself to be one of many people in the same position. The majority of US yacht owners chose not to send their boats due to the Med’s proximity to the Middle East, leaving McCormick with little choice but to improvise. “Having walked the docks of the various ports daily for 6 weeks, until I wore through the soles of the only pair of flip flops that I owned, I was down to the last €100 of my savings when I got my first break – sanding toxic antifoul off the hull of
a boat in Cannes.”
This opportunity, along with his willingness to work hard, earned him referrals that set him up for the rest of his time there. Reflecting on the experience, McCormick says it was a key learning moment: “Having come from a protected youth at the incredible institutions of Michaelhouse and Stellenbosch University, I can say without a doubt that this time of living hand to mouth in an alienated state of desperate survival realigned me to a world that I never knew before and one that I believe was one of the major factors that ignited a fire within me that has burned relentlessly ever since.”
Getting to the point REIM: What has been your worst experience in investing?
JM: Without a doubt, the worst experience was the development of one of our malls in a coal-mining town in Mozambique.
It was a “perfect storm” in which we could not have planned our timing to have been more ill-placed. We had bought the land at the peak of the “coal rush”. Soon thereafter, China’s previously insatiable commodity hunger and the oil price crashed.
The coal mines that had been planned were placed on hold (including the 65 000 expat worker applications that had been registered). Renamo then started their low-level banditry attacking the supply chains from Maputo (scaring off many of our potential tenants), and as if this was not enough, the “Hidden Debt Scandal” followed, where the government of Mozambique bought “tuna boats” (and frigates and munitions to counter Renamo’s
insurgency) with commercial loans backed by government guarantees, without informing the IMF as was required.
The IMF subsequently pulled its funding, the USD went from Mt35 to over Mt80 overnight…all whilst we were building and trying to lease the development.
Whilst the situation has stabilized since then, I have never spent so much energy trying not to lose money, rather than making a difference and a profit to boot!
The experience aged me a decade in two years, but taught me more than most would take two lifetimes to learn!
Fortunately as a company we had been incredibly financially stable due to the somewhat conservative structuring that my father had historically implemented, ring-fencing each development from the rest and we were easily able to come through it all with nothing more than wrinkles and grey hairs from the experience.
REIM: What were some of the most important lessons you learnt from the experience?
JM: So many, that I can hardly mention all of them here now. Simply, though:
Don’t invest in a foreign country with a thinly traded currency whose anticipated growth rates are based mainly on a single primary commodity (hydrocarbons in this example) unless there is sufficient support and economic diversification to weather a fall in demand for such commodity
Never invest on the basis of projected growth rates. “Follow the roofs” and “follow the money that actually EXISTS” rather than the promise of profit.
Invest where there are sufficient quality tenants already in-country, rather than trying to act as a marketing ambassador for the country to convince tenants to navigate the oft-murky regulations to enter the country to support your development
REIM: And tell us a bit about your first investment in property
JM: My first investment in property was buying a semi-detached unit in a new housing development in Stellenbosch off plan in my first year. From an initial purchase price of R183 000, we sold it for R1,050m 5 years later when my brother had completed his studies at Stellenbosch.
It was a fantastic return on the initial investment, however more a function of good timing than as a result of astute investment analysis!
REIM: What are your top business and investment tips?
JM: As I have never been a passive investor in anything, I am sorry to disappoint by saying that I have no tips on how to “get rich quick”, how to pick stocks or otherwise. However, what I can say without fear is that relentless dedication and belief in one’s end goals is what has driven me on over the course of my business career.
I have always felt driven to play a part in equalizing the inequality in our beautiful country. I have, over the past
decade and a half, willingly worked 80-100 hour weeks, networking, deal making and listening to the needs of our people and doing all in my power to deliver on their needs and desires.
REIM: And what makes a great property investment in today’s market?
JM: In our game of retail, it is all about the property’s accessibility to the market it is meant to serve and its ability to dominate that market into the future. Thus available bulk, additional land and the ability to leverage the skills of our asset management team to create additional value uplift are all factors that I consider when looking into a property investment.
The big picture
Asked about insights he’s gained during his career so far, McCormick emphasises four points:
That the road is long and people don’t forget – “Treat people with respect and dignity, for you never know when you may need the return of a favour.
Second, real estate is a long term play and one requires incredible attention to detail if one is to make a true success of it. The third thing would be to never break a promise of go back on your word. Nothing is more important than your reputation and a lifetime of hard work and dedication can be evaporated in a single wrongful act.
Finally, the three most important things in property we all learned in university still ring true today – location, location, location!
The rest is an alchemy of art and science to ensure one is able to extract the greatest value from that location.”
These lessons will come in handy over the next few years, with McCormick planning to continue growing the portfolio with world-class shopping centres. “I want our portfolio of malls to play a part in the social regeneration of our communities, providing more than just the normal goods and services but education and skills development that uplifts the entire community leaving it in a better space than we found it,” he says.
Speaking about Exemplar, McCormick keeps it simple:
“We’re looking at a number of exciting acquisitions which we believe will add significant value for our shareholders. We’re not far along enough on these to provide any details, so all I can say is…watch this space! It’s going to be exciting.”
Over on the development side, he’s enthusiastic about MPD’s upcoming projects. The company is currently expanding Kwagga Mall to 35,000 sqm, ModiMall to 24,000 sqm, finishing off Mahlakung Plaza, and are
about to commence construction on Mall of Tembisa, Mabopane Square, Riba Cross, and Katale Square.
“Things have never been more exciting with a significant pipeline of exciting projects coming together,” McCormick explains.
The company is also in the first phase of developing Capital Mall in Pretoria West, and the project will be MPD’s largest development to date. Leratong City Mall, a 30,000 GLA development on the West Rand is also finally coming back online. In partnership with CalgroM3, MPD will be adding approximately 15,000 housing units to the land surrounding the mall development.
“The total retail development opportunities that we have secured in our pipeline exceeds 500,000sqm GLA and so yes, all in all, there is a fair amount for us to get excited about and it’s great having the team that we do to ensure that it is rolled out to the same exacting standards that has become a hallmark of our company over the decades.”
As a specialist in the retail property market, McCormick is excited for the future. He highlights the opportunities to be had in logistics, the utilities space, and in the possibility of smarter malls and retail solutions. “With the threat of online retail upon us, how we embrace and integrate with our built environment with the “internet of things” will define who wins and who loses out in the malls of the future,” he explains.
What drives this property mogul? At the end of the day, he hopes to be able to halt humanity’s fixation on wealth and money over love of humanity: “Whilst the primary focus of all our developments remains their financial sustainability and economic success (with us having local BB-BEE shareholders in almost all our developments, profitability is non-negotiable) the secondary aims of socio-economic upliftment is really what drives us and keeps
me inspired to work at the somewhat insane rates that I do to create the positive change in our glorious nation that I believe in!”
For investors looking for a promising new opportunity in listed property, Exemplar REITail Limited presents a compelling proposition. The fund, which lists on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange on Tuesday 12 June, has been created by the management of McCormick Property Development, and is South Africa’s only purely emerging market focused retail property fund.
Exemplar has been listed with a value of just over R5.5 billion and a market capitalisation of just over R3 billion. Its assets on listing will include 20 retail properties which have all been sourced, secured, developed and managed from greenfields by MPD. Three further new shopping centres, currently under construction, will be added to the Exemplar portfolio during the coming two years, as they reach completion.
Jason McCormick, managing director of MPD and chief executive of Exemplar, tells Asset that the listing is not a capital raising initiative, but rather the outcome of a process of restructuring at MPD. This will now allow the development company to handle its large and growing pipeline of development projects without having to dispose of assets to third party buyers in order to have capital available for further development. MPD has always raised finance for each individual retail development, ring-fencing that funding for the asset in question and operating an individual set of finances for each centre. “We have been looking to restructure our activities for some time now, although to begin with we were not necessarily looking to list. However, with the cheaper cost of capital and the interest-only profile that is really only available to a listed entity because of the high levels of compliance and transparency that funders are assured of, it became clear that this was the best way for us to effectively grow our portfolio and roll out our substantial pipeline of new developments, recycling capital into the business. It made the most sense to list,” he explains.
He adds that whilst many companies might find the requirements for transparency daunting at first, MPD has always operated with the philosophy that its reputation is paramount, with every aspect of the operation adhering to the strong culture of morals and values upon which MPD was founded and continues to operate on – hence the name Exemplar. “We have no trepidation about going into the public space, other than to make sure that we deliver on our forecasts, because we now appeal to a broader range of shareholders,” he comments.
The township and rural retail assets that the portfolio comprises are all still managed by MPD’s management team which has been internalised within Exemplar, and constitute a very settled portfolio, which should be reassuring to investors. “What is exciting is that we will now have the opportunity to acquire assets which we believe to be congruent with our portfolio and leverage our management team’s extensive experience to maximise value creation for our shareholders.” Jason notes. This presents a new dimension which will allow for the portfolio to grow by acquisitions as well as organically, although any new acquisitions will be very carefully considered by the Investment Committee.
It is well known in property circles that emerging market retail assets are particularly defensive, and specialist developers in the space such as MPD are confident that there are still good development opportunities to be had. “Townships in particular are growing massively. Our trade market for our upcoming 42 000sqm Mall of Tembisa, for example, is currently growing at over 6% as a result of both natural population growth and rural-urban migration,” he comments. In addition, as a specialist company that understands the market, MPD has developed, tenanted and managed its centres very carefully, and that effort has been rewarded with strong trading densities over time with vacancy levels below the industry average.
Exemplar will not develop any assets itself, which Jason says de-risks it for future investors as they will not have to be concerned about development risk. All development activity will be done by sister company MPD, which will also be on hand to assist with the redevelopment of any acquired assets in future. Exemplar will have first right of refusal to purchase any assets developed by MPD, subject to Investment Committee board approval.
Exemplar’s board is made up of professionals with strong property pedigrees as well as long histories of association with MPD. Jason has taken on the role of chief executive, with his father John and MPD’s CFO, Duncan Church, being executive directors. Frank Berkeley, formerly the managing executive of Nedbank Corporate Property Finance, is the non-executive chairman, whilst other non-executive directors include Greg Azzopardi (ex Mr Price, Property Executive), Peter Katzenellenbogen and Phatudi Maponya.
With Exemplar’s internalised management team having a combined tenure of 238 years of employment at MPD at the time of being moved into the REIT, their experience in their niche of the industry is unparalleled and should ensure a seamless transition of the portfolios assets into the listed space.
“This is a really exciting time for us – it gives us a whole new trajectory,” enthuses Jason. “It gives additional momentum to MPD, which now has the necessary headroom to keep developing, and the more we can develop and feed into the REIT, the more that portfolio can grow and deliver rewards to investors,” he says. Many of the shareholders in the individual MPD assets are BEE shareholders who, because of the previous structure which required that MPD repay bank debt first and foremost, often had to wait several years to see dividends. “They now have the opportunity to swop into the REIT and benefit from dividends which will be declared twice a year,” he notes.
The listing of Exemplar has been an exciting event for all at MPD. “Although this would not be an ideal time to list if we were raising capital, I believe that it is actually an advantage to list now because we offer something fresh, new and completely different,” Jason comments. With the projected growth rates that the REIT has forecast for the foreseeable future, a settled and defensive portfolio, and a management team committed to absolute transparency, he believes that Exemplar offers potential shareholders a chance to renew their confidence in the listed property sector and to see that there are still worthwhile opportunities to be found.
While exciting opportunities exist for acquisitions and redevelopments alongside the MPD assets that may be brought into the fund, he maintains that Exemplar’s key focus for the next two years is to operate in a stable manner, deliver on its forecasts and gain the trust of the market. But the foundations are in place for the McCormick team to build on its 35-year long history with renewed vigour, and for the new and unique REIT to offer a promising investment opportunity to investors.
This developer of township and rural malls has just listed on the JSE, and dismisses market talk that SA’s retail landscape is oversaturated
It has been an eventful few weeks for Jason McCormick, the CEO of Exemplar REITail, the first sizeable property company to make its debut on the JSE in 18 months. The listing of the Pretoria-based family’s R5.5bn shopping centre portfolio last week followed shortly after the birth of McCormick’s second child. It also coincided with a trip to Laikipia in Kenya where McCormick, an avid conservationist, is playing in the Last Male Standing Rhino Cup — a cricket tournament to raise awareness of the plight of the near-extinct northern white rhino.
Wearing multiple hats is nothing unusual for McCormick, who also sits on the sub-Saharan Africa advisory board of the International Council of Shopping Centres.
He is a licensed pilot, and keen photographer and fly fisherman.
McCormick joined the family business, McCormick Property Development, in 2002 after completing a BCom (Hons) in economics and management at Stellenbosch University.
The company, which was founded by his father John in 1983, was a pioneer in bringing formal retail facilities to townships and rural areas. John built his first retail property in Mogwadi (then known as Dendron), a small village 62km northwest of Polokwane. “In those days most developers were building shiny malls in the big cities. But my dad wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. He knew he could put money back in the pockets of local communities if they didn’t have to travel 60km just to buy groceries,” says McCormick.
The company has since built more than 50 shopping centres that cater to underserviced township, rural and peri-urban communities. Exemplar’s listed portfolio comprises 20 shopping centres with an average size of 20,000m². Flagship properties include Alex Mall in Sandton’s Alexandra township, Emoyeni Mall in Nelspruit, Chris Hani Crossing in Vosloorus (Gauteng), Blouberg Mall in Bochum (Limpopo), and Lusiki Plaza in Lusikisiki (Eastern Cape).
Exemplar’s JSE listing wasn’t accompanied by an initial public offering. However, the company has a R10bn development pipeline of 26 shopping centres that it hopes to roll out over the next five years. “So we will definitely do a capital raise at some point to help fund new projects,” McCormick says. He concedes that the rural and township retail sector has become increasingly competitive, with a number of developers entering this space in recent years. However, he believes Exemplar’s competitive advantage is its track record.
“We also own the best-located sites for future developments,” says McCormick, who started to “landbank” undeveloped erven in 2008 when he realised other retail developers were starting to muscle in on Exemplar’s territory.”That’s why we now have such a strong pipeline of new opportunities.”These include the 60,000m² Capital Mall that will soon break ground on the western outskirts of Pretoria as well as a 43,000m² mall earmarked for Tembisa on the East Rand.
McCormick says there is also an opportunity to acquire underperforming, existing centres where Exemplar can add value through redevelopment and re-tenanting initiatives.He dismisses market talk that SA’s retail landscape is saturated. While upper-income urban areas may well be overshopped, McCormick says it will take at least another five years before rural and peri-urban areas are adequately serviced. “But it’s not a cookie-cutter model. You have to understand the market and build the right size on the right site.”
Jason McCormick. Picture: SUPPLIED
Article featured in the 21 June Issue of Financial Mail
Exemplar REITail Limited has listed on the JSE. The company was created from the core of McCormick Property Development (MPD) – a company with over 35 years of experience in the development and management of rural retail centres.
Exemplar REITail will focus entirely on the ownership and management of township and rural retail, with no development arm within the company, thus removing development risk for investors.
CEO of Exemplar REITail, Jason McCormick, says they will continue to work alongside MPD and will have first right of refusal for all their developments going forward, subject to approval from the Investment Committee.
The MPD development pipeline currently stands at over half a million square metres of retail potential (at 2017 market demand estimates), with an average size of over 20 000sqm per development.
Exemplar has listed with a value of just over R5.5 billion and a market capitalisation of just over R3 billion. The fund has 20 retail properties and three further shopping centres, currently under construction, that will be added to the portfolio once completed within the next 2 years.
“We are the only fund in South Africa focused purely on emerging market retail and are unique in that every one of the 20 operational properties in the fund were developed by MPD. The same team that has managed them since their respective openings will still continue to do so.” says McCormick.
Having pioneered the development and management of retail in these areas over 35 years ago and with the Exemplar management team having a combined 238 years of employment at MPD at the time of being internalised into Exemplar, it is safe to say that the team’s experience in this niche of the retail market is unprecedented.
“This level of experience in the industry plus a historical understanding of our assets and the market within which we operate should produce great comfort to investors looking for new opportunities in the REIT space,” concludes McCormick.
Exemplar’s board includes John McCormick, Jason McCormick and Duncan Church as executive directors. Industry stalwart and ex head of Nedbank CIB, Frank Berkeley is the non-executive chairman and Greg Azzopardi, Peter Katzenellenbogen and Phatudi Maponya make up the non-executive directors.
Jason, John and Matthew McCormick celebrate the listing of Exemplar REITail Limited with the traditional blowing of the Kudu horn.
Exemplar Board of Directors (L to R) Greg Azzopardi, Peter Katzenellenbogen, Jason McCormick, John McCormick, Duncan Church, and Frank Berkeley. (Absent: Phatudi Maponya)