CFO Jenna Sprenger: Growing up with Investec Property Fund

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After almost 10 years at Investec Property Fund, CFO Jenna Sprenger has seen the business grow into its own.

When Jenna Sprenger joined Investec Property Fund (IPF) in 2014, the company only had about 50 South African properties in its portfolio. Within a couple of months, IPF launched and invested in an Australian business (Investec Australia Property Fund), and not long after that, IPF invested in the UK, as well as into a pan-European logistics portfolio. Now, it boasts more than R40 billion worth of assets under management across all three different geographies.

But the story doesn’t end there… instead, IPF is writing a new one.

The property fund recently announced its intentions to internalise the management company (owned by the Investec Group), and in May more than 90 percent of the company’s shareholders approved the new strategy. “As soon as we’ve received the Competition Commission’s go-ahead, we will embark on a rebrand,” Jenna says.

She explains that, while the name of the company will change, IPF’s key value proposition, which it has largely inherited from Investec, remains the same. “We promise speed, agility and passion to our clients, and we try to really understand who our clients are in all three jurisdictions we operate in.”

According to Jenna, the transaction provides a fully aligned internal management function with an established track record across a diversified portfolio and strong revenue streams in all three geographies. It also provides the ability to introduce a capital-light strategy and allow IPF to leverage its management expertise as well as access different sources of capital.

A proactive approach to challenge

Jenna explains that, because IPF sits in a bank, they understand the balance sheet and risk management environment very well. This includes the interest rate environment. As a result, the company has always had a very proactive interest, FX and treasury management processes.

“We understand risk and we can proactively respond to it. Not being caught off guard is what sets us apart.”

In South Africa particularly, the company is focused on working with its clients through macro-economic challenges that have been putting pressure on available cash flows. “If we don’t help them ensure business-as-usual, it will ultimately impact our business too,” Jenna says.

In the South African office portfolio, there has been a massive return to work over the last couple of months, primarily driven by loadshedding. Similarly, retail properties are seeing more customers, Jenna adds. “We’ve seen our trading statistics improve as we’ve improved these centres by adding more restaurant and entertainment offerings for people to enjoy while loadshedding keeps them from doing those things at home.”

In Europe, IPF has a large logistics property portfolio, which was positively impacted by the increase in e-commerce due to the Covid-19 pandemic. “We’re now sitting at less than one percent vacancy, and the supply and demand dynamics continue to play out that way in the region.”

IPF recently increased its investment in the Pan-European logistics portfolio and now owns 83 percent, giving IPF increased exposure to European logistics.

The company also recently acquired a funds management business in Australia with the same team that ran the listed IAPF business. “It is exciting to be partnering with a strong management team again. They have a great track record in funds management, with $450 million (about R8,7 billion) equity under management already and a gross realisable value of $2,75 billion (about R53 billion)," Jenna says.

“There’s always complexity to everything. Figuring out how the puzzle fits together in the best way possible is what gets me out of bed in the morning. I love a challenge, I love working with people, building relationships, and running a business is just that.”

Jenna loves getting involved in the strategy of Investec Property Fund, and it’s been no different with the separation. “It’s quite daunting to be moving away from the zebra, but even more exciting,” she says.

Moving out of Investec will give IPF the ability to access different sources of capital. “We want to differentiate ourselves from some of our peers and use some of our core assets to drive our new strategy,” Jenna explains.

Family first

Jenna joined IPF in 2014 and looked after the company’s balance sheet. She was appointed as the company’s CFO in 2018, but decided to step out of the role in 2020 to spend more time with her family and new baby, Emily, who wasn’t even a year old at the time.

“I love my children, and I love watching them grow,” she says.

She didn’t leave IPF, however, but stepped into a balance sheet and risk management role and also picked up building the company’s ESG function. “I always believed in the company and its strategy,” she adds. “I loved what we were doing and still wanted to be involved.”

Eighteen months later, she was back in the role. “My kids have gotten a bit older, and I am an ambitious person, so I convinced myself that, if I could get the balance right, I could do it.”

Now, Jenna turns her phone off between 6pm and 8pm to spend time with her children. “I love doing homework with Josh. He is in grade one now and gets a little bit of reading to do every day. I don’t want to outsource that,” she explains.

Emily Ann is four years old now, and the family often goes on adventures together. “We’re typical South Africans; we love going away to the bush and spending time outdoors,” Jenna says.

The right people

Jenna explains that she wouldn’t have been able to achieve this work-life balance if it hadn’t been for the strong teams at work or the support from her family.

“You have to surround yourself with the right team,” she says.

“To do that, you first need to know your own strengths and weaknesses. For example, I am quite strong on the balance sheet because of my time in the role, so I don’t need to strengthen the team in that area, but there are other areas, like compliance, where I hire people with the right expertise.”

Jenna also likes to get to know her team personally. “I try to have breakfast with someone from my team once a week where I try to understand what motivates them, what their strengths are, and where they’d like to grow,” she says.

IPF also has an open-floor policy, with Jenna’s desk among the rest of her team’s. “They can come to my desk and talk to me about anything, anytime. We try to have a lot of conversations on the floor so that everyone has the opportunity to give input. And if there is a meeting that sounds interesting to them, we encourage them to join,” Jenna adds.

At home, she has her friends and family to support her. “I have a lot of close friends, most of whom have young children too, and generally are also working moms trying to do it all! My sister lives down the road from us, and I have an incredible husband who steps up whenever I need him.”

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