A woman in the dusty world of industrial property

The industrial leasing landscape in South Africa remains a largely male-dominated sector, but a small group of women are making inroads in this specialist sector. Nicola Neil-Boss, leasing broker at JLL, is one the them.

September 28, 2018

Property is in her blood. She started her career as a young graduate in the residential market but quickly made the switch to commercial, preferring the financially-motivated decision-making to the more emotional home market. She was then introduced to the high-spec nature of industrial real estate and was hooked.  A decade later, Nicola has made a name for herself as a niche specialist in this competitive, fast-paced environment.

What I love about industrial leasing is its complex nature. Every brief is completely different, and I appreciate the in-depth understanding required to find the best property match for a client. And the requirements are diverse depending on the sector, a manufacturing company one day, a logistics business the next. I enjoy the technical, fit-to-purpose specifications. I feel like I’m living in a programme of How it’s Made which is very cool!

It can be challenging to be a minority in a traditionally man’s world but if you can prove you know your business, respect is quickly earned. Clients want a trusted advisor in their industrial broker. They want to know you have their best interests at heart – which means a comprehensive understanding of their business, and the economics and efficiencies required. When a client is looking for a new property, there is usually a pain point involved and you must bring the solution. When the plan comes together its incredibly rewarding.

One of my rules is finding the right solution for each client’s specific needs. Each deal comes with its own set of challenges – it may be a timeline, budget constraints or design limitations – but really listening to and understanding what makes a business tick (their structure and their operations) is most often what seals the deal. When you walk through the issues with a client from start to finish, no matter how long it takes, you build relationships and you celebrate together when the deal is done.  It makes all the hours worthwhile.

My favourite industrial space right now is Hilti’s new headquarters in Waterfall Logistic Precinct which I was fully involved with from start to finish. The space combines offices with warehousing and the ultra-modern design is spectacular and has won many awards. It’s one of a few projects I’ve done in the node.

To make it in this industry hard work is a given. Sole mandates are not common in this market so you’re competing in an open market. A robust work ethic is the fastest path to success. You need strong organisational skills, and your negotiating expertise will be put to the test every day. Then you need attention to detail when formalising detailed lease offers. It is a customer-centric environment, so nurturing relationships is essential – it’s the secret to long-standing business associations.

 It’s a sector with opportunities for growth, considering the rise of e-commerce and with it the logistics market. This means a bigger demand for warehousing because as more people shop online, there is naturally an increase in distribution space to service the growth.

Looking ahead, I would like to see the industrial leasing industry give rise to more empowered female entrants making inroads in this specialist sector. Then I’d also like to continue to see brokers across the board establishing, building and then maintaining strong relationships with their clients to ensure our industry is grounded for greater success.

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