The new firm, Mahlati Ntene Liebetrau, comprises three ex-Farrow Laing directors, Hatla Ntene, Pusesto Makote and Johan Liebetrau, as well as Nontando Mahlati from Johannesburg’s Mahlati and Associates, Harris Kamanga, based in Swaziland, and Gary Stevens, all of whom also came through Farrow Laing.
An effect of the move is that Farrow Laing has lost its black equity partners, whereas the newly formed Mahlati Ntene Liebetrau – which is being described as the first black quantity surveying firm in the country – is well positioned to benefit from the national commitment to black economic empowerment.
Contracts secured by the new firm include Transnet’s refurbishment of the Carlton Centre in Johannesburg in joint venture with Farrow Laing, the construction of Wilberforce College in Gauteng, and work on the Nigel prison and Diepkloof hostel. The new firm has also bought Farrow Laing’s Lesotho and Swaziland operations.
Liebetrau emphasised that the vision of Mahlati Ntene Liebetrau is to be recognised as independent, strong and competent and even though it will not turn away joint venture projects, it will favour situations where it can be awarded contracts in its own right.
In an interview with Engineering News, Farrow Laing deputy senior partner Fanie du Plessis conceded that the loss of the firm’s two black equity partners – Ntene and Makote – was disappointing, but stressed that the development did not indicate any change in the firm’s commitment to affirmative action or black economic empowerment. “We still employ more previously-disadvantaged individuals than other firms, which includes more than 20 black professionals.” Ten previously-disadvantaged individuals hold bursaries with Farrow Laing.
Du Plessis stated that the firm was already considering strategies to restore black equity. These included the preferred option of promoting promising professionals from within the firm, or purchasing a black-owned quantity surveying company, or head-hunting black professionals. He expressed reservations about this last option though, as it would be preferable to bring in people who have been loyal to Farrow Laing and who are part of the firm’s culture and standards.
Currently, Farrow Laing is engaged in a global realignment and entered a partnership-type agreement, known as a ‘Swiss verrein’, with the world’s largest quantity surveying firm, Davis Langdon Seah International, during 1999. As of the beginning of this month, the firm is to change its name to Davis Langdon Farrow Laing.
Du Plessis is upbeat about the expanded opportunities offered by this new arrangement, and has been exposed to a wider client base including BP and Landlease of Australia. This is likely to build on the international reputation which the firm has built for itself through its involvement in large offshore projects, such as the building of Check Lap Lok airport in Hong Kong, as well as extensive work on the African continent, including the construction of shopping centres in Nairobi, Lusaka, Botswana and Morocco.
Du Plessis refutes any suggestion that his firm’s concern with global expansion have come at the expense of affirmative action in South Africa. “Our international partners expect us to restore black equity in our firm, as they understand the challenges of the South African situation. ”They also expect us to maintain our empowerment record, which has seen most black partners in South Africa come through Farrow Laing.” Du Plessis considers recent developments as the end of another chapter in the firm’s empowerment history, as “another black practitioner has grown out of Farrow Laing”.