Louise Martin uses the CFO role to be a better CEO

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Estate Living CEO Louise Martin has had to serve as the company’s CFO, and uses this different perspective, as well as her past experience, to deliver value and growth.

Louise Martin’s experience of having to be CFO at Estate Living, a consortium of businesses that offer in-depth insight into residential community living, while also being its CEO has given her a different perspective in terms of how to best run the company. Also having oversight of the financials helps her with building the bigger picture in terms of strategy, especially when it comes to budgeting to make growth a possibility.

Businesses like Estate Living often find the CEO wears many hats. Each experience provides a learning opportunity that helps the company grow, even though there are challenges along the way. Louise has a solid accounting team, and employs her knowledge of the market and industry to make sound decisions.

She says she understands costing, economies of scale and what she needs to produce to be able to show a profit or loss in the business. “I think there is a strategic, financial insight that can be provided by people with the right training, but you also learn a lot from experience. I have had a working career of over 30 years, where I have managed large budgets in previous jobs and as a business owner.”

Louise explains that understanding Estate Living and the nature of the business assists her in areas where she lacks traditional education and qualifications. “These years of experience aren’t not one year repeated 30 times. They are 30 years, each time learning something new.”

At the same time, Louise doesn’t go it alone when it comes to the numbers.

“I understand the mechanisms of accounts, and the bigger picture of running a business and the importance of the financial aspects, but I lean on my accounts team for the finer details.”

Louise explains that she would like to hire a CFO as well as a sales and creative director. “These are key positions that would go a long way in driving the value of our business and taking us to the next level.”

Staying relevant

The Estate Living platforms include a publishing house, digital platforms and an events division that collaborates with the residential community market to provide advice and insight, focusing on all aspects of the residential sector, including property developers, management, board of trustees, residents, potential investors and even folks moving overseas.

“My focus for the business has always been to create an environment where all the stakeholders within the residential community sector can see value. I have a passion for building, developing and helping people find a solution in what could be one of the biggest transactions that they make.”

The homegrown business was built from nothing at a time when there were a handful of estates that were primarily focused on golfing. In 2012, the company saw a need for a unified communication platform that relates to residential community living or community schemes.

“Our launch was filled with excitement and risk. Our brand and our name were out there, and we launched on a vision of what we expected the future to be. We invested heavily, and when we bought the first printed Estate Living Publication out, six or seven communities supported us.” Now, the publication has a distribution to 230 residential estates, which Louise says would be larger barring the print budget.

“We have survived major things like the Covid-19 pandemic, and what they called printers’ death. The business has also evolved with a digital platform that started well before the pandemic hit.”

Other wins Louise mentions include launching a website and a radio show segment, as well as making YouTube and TikTok channels for video content and hosting events with keynote speakers that speak directly to their audience needs. “We have other platforms too, where we talk about community value, and try cross-pollinating our media coverage to reach everywhere. It is deeply satisfying to be able to assist a developer with a sale as much as it is to assist a homeowner who has had their power switched off because they could not pay their levy, or an estate manager who has found a solution for what they need for their community.”

The industry, too, has grown. When Estate Living started there were about 1,000 Homeowners’ Associations (HOAs) and now there are over 10,000, and about 70,000 sectional title developments. “I still remember some of the objections that we had in the early days of how estates will never become a thing.” Today, almost 25 percent of people in formal housing live in a community.

Louise’s passion is to ensure all stakeholders benefit so they receive quality information, enabling everyone to make informed and profitable decisions.

Perhaps this enthusiasm comes from her days in advertising. She started studying design at the AAA School of Advertising, where graphic design and marketing were some of the skills she developed.

“For many years, I worked in the creative department within the film industry. It taught me a lot about time management, how to understand budgets, timelines, rollouts and developing confidence.

“I learned that what really matters at the end of the day is the product you deliver and customer service. What happens behind the scenes stays behind the scenes. Having a good team around you with people who are committed to their roles can be difficult to find, but is so important.”

Some of the all-female (apart from a videographer) team is based in a full-time Cape Town office, while others are remote freelancers, including some from Mauritius. “We all work together, and my team are experts in each of their own fields.”

Helping to make good decisions

In her spare time, Louise volunteers when she can, helping to look after and walk rescue dogs, as well as helping at her 17-year-old daughter’s school.

“I think my core contribution to society is to try and help people make good decisions for their family based on real information that has integrity.”

She’s also an avid, but slow, runner who takes advantage of her Western Cape surroundings of hills and trees. “I also like doing hot yoga, which I discovered just before lockdown and which I find amazing. I am a bit of a germ-o-phobe, so the sweating is quite a challenge, but I really enjoy being able to escape from reality and letting my brain slow down.”

Yet, most of Louise’s interests are around work, which is typical of entrepreneurs.

“I am extremely determined for my company to be successful. That is interesting, and it certainly interests me.”

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