Marc Wainer: ‘He called it as he saw it’
The real estate doyen, who began his career in his parents’ grocery store in Yeoville, leaves an enviable legacy
Few people in the local property industry had more impact than Marc Wainer, and hardly anyone had a more irrepressible character. A heavy smoker with a gruff voice, Wainer, 71, died of heart-related complications this week after a recent operation.
A titan of the property industry with an unsurpassed working knowledge, he will be remembered as someone who always said what he thought — even if it made his peers uncomfortable.
At the end of August last year he retired from the company he founded, Redefine Properties. But he was still consulting, and was energetically putting together a new property trading fund. Wainer saw this as going back to his roots, preferring the freedom of operating on his own away from the bureaucracy of a listed entity.
Norbert Sasse, CEO of Redefine’s rival Growthpoint, tells the FM that Wainer was "one of the doyens and foremost dealmakers in the industry".
Sasse says Wainer helped put property on the investment map. "He started off when property was a swear word as an asset class, rode the wave for 10-12 years with property as a most-favoured asset class, and back down to where we are again today."
Wainer had no formal education. He began his career working at his parents’ grocery and fish shop in Yeoville, where he and his brother would unpack groceries in the evening and weigh mealie meal, flour and rice into packets. At the age of nine he was allowed to work on the shop floor, experience that he credited for teaching him the importance of profit margins.
In 1973, he saw a job advert for a shopping centre manager in Kempton Park. He got the job, mainly because he was the only candidate who’d bothered to go to the mall before his interview.
He moved rapidly up the ranks and in 1999 he co-founded Redefine with just five people.
Two years later Redefine listed on the JSE with about R900m in assets, putting a value on the company of R450m.
It was a triumphant success, so much so that when he left in August last year Redefine was valued at around R46bn, with assets just shy of R100bn. These included 300 local properties and interests in new markets such as Poland, Germany and Australia.
Over the years, Wainer clinched some of the largest deals in the property sector. In the early 2000s he, together with Eric and Sid Ellerine, bought Canal Walk shopping centre in Cape Town’s Century City development for R1.1bn. At the time, Canal Walk was seen as a white elephant. But within five years, its value soared threefold.
More recently, Wainer pipped Growthpoint in a takeover race for Fountainhead Property Trust, before beating out a number of rivals for the majority share in Polish mall owner Echo Polska Properties.
Throughout it all, Wainer remained remarkably unassuming.
One of his favourite meals was a boerie roll at the now defunct roadhouse on Louis Botha Avenue in Orange Grove, the Doll House. On offshore investor tours, he was known to sneak off to the nearest Burger King, preferring a quick Whopper to a silver-spoon five-star meal.
Journalists loved him too, partly because he never succumbed to garbled PR-speak. And his generous spirit was evident, in part through the various mentorship programmes he ran.
Last year, asked by the FM whether he was enjoying his new life as a consultant, while also developing properties in Eastern Europe and selling them, he gushed: "I love it. I’m having fun. I’m doing what I like to do."
Wainer said at the time he’d begun to find Redefine stiflingly bureaucratic.
"The worst thing you can do when you build offices is put in boardrooms or meeting rooms. Once you’ve got meeting rooms all people want to do is have meetings. I went to a development in Pretoria a few weeks ago and I found they had the solution: no chairs. Everyone stands and the meeting takes half an hour."
Last year, Wainer’s wife Lesley died, which devastated him. Between them they had five children and 10 grandchildren.
He was foremost a family man: he delighted in spoiling his grand-kids and reserving Saturday mornings for breakfasts with his children — no spouses or kids allowed. It was a sign that, throughout, he never lost sight of his priorities.