As property business head at RMB, David Downes was familiar with Atterbury and its people. On a business trip to Eastern Europe last May, he met with the Atterbury Europe team. A year later he lives in the Netherlands as a key part of the Atterbury Europe team. David shares his story.
You joined Atterbury Europe in January 2019. Can you tell us a bit more about your career path until now?
I studied BCom Finance at Wits University and then completed my CFA charter. My first job after varsity was when I joined RMB through its Class Of Programme where I worked in various areas of the bank and ultimately ended up in the Real Estate Investment Banking business. One of my colleagues was Morné Wilken, and in 2008 he joined Atterbury (and went on to list Attacq under his leadership). I ultimately headed up the property business unit at RMB, and always had numerous touchpoints with the Atterbury team – whether financing their African expansion through AttAfrica in Ghana (Achimota and Kumasi) or competing to become the preferred banking partner in SA and Namibia. Then last year, during a business trip to Cyprus, Serbia and Romania, I met the Atterbury Europe team. At the time I was looking for something interesting and different, but most importantly with the right team and the stars aligned…
Talk about synergy! What is your role at Atterbury Europe?
I look after the treasury and funding aspects of our business. We are a capital-intensive business and always looking for additional or alternative sources of capital – from traditional banks, the capital markets and any other forms of liquidity.
Are there major differences in the sector compared to South Africa?
The South African financial and banking sector is highly efficient and very competitive – it has well established and sophisticated players who are always willing to try new and different financing structures and alternatives. Liquidity is almost taken for granted for well established players like Atterbury. Access to liquidity in our chosen markets is very different – these are tough jurisdictions to bank with fewer players and alternatives – but this provides the challenge as capital is the lifeblood of our business. Through our local partners, the team has built some solid relationships with the banks who have gone to great lengths to understand our business. But we are constantly looking to build on this foundation.
And what has it been like working at Atterbury Europe so far?
Working in a small team in the Leiden office with some of the team in the Middle East and Romania, our partners in the various jurisdictions and shareholders in South Africa is somewhat different to what I was used to at RMB. I think we have perfected the art of doing business through conference calls across multiple time zones in any airport, boardroom, hotel or on the sidewalk – the team is always on the go! From a cultural point of view, the Atterbury “can do” attitude and values-based culture that I observed from the outside is alive, well and thriving in the Netherlands. It is a very detail focused and competent team – who also makes some time to enjoy the lighter side of life!
When you had to decide about this position, what made you join Atterbury Europe?
You know, coming from a fantastic company like RMB there were not many opportunities or companies that I seriously considered. But the core fundamentals of the Atterbury Europe business, the people, shareholders and strong entrepreneurial culture was a deciding factor. The leadership core has worked together for many years which says something about the company.
Is living in Amsterdam what you had hoped for?
Everything – and more! Amsterdam is an incredible city and has to be one of the best places in the world to call home. It is actually a fairly small city but is packed with so much energy, variety and things to do. You can move around effortlessly by walking, cycling or public transport and it has no shortage of parks, restaurants, galleries, canals and quirky shops. Just exploring the little streets on weekends is an adventure – and less than 2km south by bicycle and you are in the countryside! It is such a multicultural and open society which, despite the weather (lots of wind, rain in every direction and a little bit of sunshine), lends itself to an active lifestyle.
Can you name any highlights in your first nine months in Europe?
If I have to single out one highlight it would be the opening of Iulius Town in Timisoara, Romania. Although I came in at the backend of the project, it was clear to me that years of hard work culminating in a spectacular opening was something special. The project has opened my eyes to what can be done – creating an aspirational and quality mixed use development which will redefine Timisoara.
How do you experience doing business in Romania and Serbia?
It can be quite challenging dealing across time zones, cultures and the different languages – and it is easy for things to get lost in translation! But there is a very respectful way of doing business and I think we have been fortunate in our choice of partners. In Bucharest, for instance, the Iulius Group’s family culture is very strong and there is definite synergy with the Atterbury way of doing things. And there is growth which is always exciting when you can see opportunities.