CAPE TOWN - In 2001, Greeff Properties boasted an annual turnover of R109-million. In their second, sales had grown to R320m. By 2017 – a tumultuous year for the property sector – overall sales had reached a total of R12-billion: all of it concentrated on the Western Cape market.
It’s a phenomenal growth trajectory, for an agency that started out just over 16 years ago in Constantia with four agents in the home of Mike Greeff.
Competition in the sector was already tight, but Greeff and his agents weren’t picky: they’d take on mandates for dilapidated “fixer-uppers” and “absolute dogs” in the leafy suburb that the big names at the time balked at.
As a young entrepreneur famished for work, Greeff quickly made a name for himself in Constantia. Soon, other talented agents came knocking at the door. The big, expensive properties also came their way and mansions were being sold for the likes of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s son, Mark, and, ironically, the son of his nemesis, Equatorial Guinea’s President, Teodoro Obiang.
Currently, Greeff has outlets throughout the Cape including the Peninsula, False Bay, the Atlantic Seaboard, Winelands and Breede River, and the local property portfolio includes sole mandates on 22 developments, which are priced from R1, 775m to R17,5m per unit.
Then there’s a coveted exclusive affiliate relationship with Christie's International Real Estate, a division of the renowned auction house, which was sealed in 2011.
The Christie’s affiliation gives Greeff Properties an international platform to market its sole mandates directly to its buyers and access to the Christie’s Auction House, which also owns the luxury goods brands Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Yves Saint Laurent, and Boucheron.
The road to his success hasn’t been easy, Greeff explains from his head office in Kenilworth, Cape Town. He battled at school with an undiagnosed learning difficulty – attention deficit disorder – and he had chronic anxiety. “I was constantly told I was naughty. My self-esteem was crippled, and I became convinced I was stupid. I finished matric but never went to university.”
In later years, he received diplomas in accounting, marketing and leadership.
“I really wasn’t expected to succeed. But I knew I was good at sales and at tennis, which opened doors for me personally and professionally – I met my best friend, Clive Beck, through the game and his father, Graham, became a mentor.”
Beck snr stepped in when it mattered: when he needed to move stock from Greeff’s father’s failed clothing store, Beck dispatched three top salespeople from his own store, Stuttafords, to sell in his Sandton branch. Years later, when Greeff had started his own property agency and was desperate to clinch a big property deal that would propel him into the big league, Beck used his clout to ensure it went through. He didn’t buy the property, but his advice secured his position as both mentor and coach. For that, he’s eternally grateful.
Greeff’s first job was selling sweets from his father’s factories – he grew that business by supplying Stuttafords, Garlicks, OK Bazaars, Pick n Pay and Clicks. When that eventually ran into trouble, his father, with whom he had a troubled relationship, told him: “You’ll always work for someone and that’s okay. But you’re very good at selling.”
Not to be discouraged, Greeff focussed on his talents, starting his career in real estate with Pam Golding Properties, before moving to Seeff.
Professionally, Greeff, a workaholic with no “off” button, was flourishing: he says he made big sales and got the promotions, because he was “brilliant at closing deals”. Personally though, his health suffered. He was in excruciating pain, his GP couldn’t diagnose physical causes so referred him to a specialist, who prescribed medication.
“It helped me slow down a little – for the first time ever, I was able to read an entire book. I devoured my literature on business and management – it was like a do-it-yourself MBA,” he says.
“It was a revelation: I had waited 33 years to feel like this. It was extraordinary, like being reborn. The pain also disappeared,” Greeff explains in a book he self-published in 2010, “With my head held high”, which he co-wrote with long-time friend Hedi Lampert-Kemper, after taking a writer’s course – a feat he could never have accomplished before the diagnosis.
He’s come a long way since those early years, growing his agency to 140 staff members, and bringing on board his sons, Ryan and Tim, and a business partner, Simon Raab, whom he credits for being instrumental to their success.
“I came to appreciate my learning disability… it taught me to listen more attentively to those I interacted with and also helped improve my selling skills because I paid closer attention.
“In the end, I cracked it, in spite of my poor academics. I learnt more from the one-on-one challenge of tennis: it taught me about leadership and about people. I do not conform. I’ve had to confront my practical deficiencies and work on a plan to improve them. I came to appreciate my learning disability had forced me to strategise and problem solve, which are invaluable skills, in all areas of business.”
- BUSINESS REPORT