When Nosiphiwo Balfour, 35, was appointed CEO of Texton Property Fund a year ago, many thought the former banker and Investec analyst had been handed a poisoned chalice. Not only was she the fourth CEO to take over the reins at Texton within barely two years but her appointment came at a time that shareholder sentiment had hit rock bottom following a steady decline in the share price.

Dividend growth was also under pressure, squeezed on the one hand by Texton’s heavy exposure to SA’s struggling office market and on the other by tough trading conditions in the UK on the back of Brexit issues.

Balfour was also one of the youngest and first black female CEOs to enter a sector known for its "old boys’ club" approach.

But unfazed and determined to steer Texton back to stability, Balfour quietly got on with the job. A year later, she has made impressive strides in turning Texton around. Balfour cites the completion of the long-awaited internalisation of Texton’s management company as a major milestone, given that the move will go a long way to align management’s interests with those of shareholders.

She has also grown the company’s asset base and reduced its exposure to office properties by acquiring a logistics portfolio in Cape Town for R205.3m — Texton’s first earnings accretive deal in two years.

In addition, Balfour has successfully navigated a difficult lease renewal period as 42% of the company’s leases expired in the year to June 2018. By May, 36% of renewals were already bedded down — no easy accomplishment in a weak economy where most office landlords are dealing with rising vacancies and rental arrears.

Balfour’s 13-year career in real estate, initially in property finance at Standard Bank and later as an analyst at Investec Asset Management, where she was also responsible for managing client relationships, has no doubt helped her steer the company through what has been a tricky turnaround. She says transparency was a key objective for her.

Nosiphiwo Balfour. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
Nosiphiwo Balfour. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

"As a former analyst, I know how important it is for management to engage with stakeholders."

It also helped that Balfour wasn’t a complete newbie to Texton, having served on the board from June 2014, which she believes provided her with important strategic insight into the company.

Balfour, who spent six years during apartheid in exile in Melbourne in Australia with her three siblings, her mother and father, former sports minister Ngconde Balfour, has always had an interest in bricks and mortar. After matriculating at Wynberg Girls’ High in Cape Town in 2000 where she was the school’s first black head girl, she enrolled for a BSc Hons in property studies at the University of Cape Town. She later also completed a postgraduate diploma in investment analysis and portfolio management.

Balfour accepts that restoring investor confidence won’t happen overnight.

"It is no small feat having to navigate a property company with high office exposure through the current market environment, but we are working hard to return the company to stability and show investors that we can deliver sustainable earnings growth," she says.

Meanwhile, Balfour says it’s high time that property companies help propel more women into decision-making roles. As the mother of an 18-month-old son, she believes women shouldn’t have to choose between family and a career. "There is no reason women can’t do both, so why is Texton the only company among the JSE’s 50-odd real estate companies with a female pairing of CEO and CFO [Inge Pick]?

Given the size of the sector, company representation should be far more diverse, both from a gender and demographic point of view."