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GVK-Siya Zama Building Contractors recently acquired the expertise of Lance Cohen as Group Production Director. Cohen is a construction long-timer with a passion for the industry and is steadfastly people-centric. He discusses the challenges in the construction industry, the superb talent pool of emerging construction youth, and the future for GVK-Siya Zama.
Like many students, Cohen wasn’t sure what he wanted to do after school, but he was interested in engineering, so he signed up for Wits University’s Engineering Week programme, in which students stay at the university for a week and experience for themselves what each engineering discipline is all about. During this week, the students visited the then construction site of Southgate Mall, and it was there that Cohen realized construction would be a good career for him.
In his third year of studying Civil Engineering at Wits, Cohen was required to get work experience (vacation or ‘vac’ work). He managed to get vac work on a building site in Richards Bay working for WBHO. After that, he asked WBHO for more vac work and then a job, which he was granted when he finished university.
And so, his 22 years with WBHO began, with unique experiences such as the 2010 World Cup construction projects. It was also where he registered as a professional civil engineer. He worked his way through the ranks and finished up in a senior management position.
After WBHO, he decided to try his hand at property development and joined Investec Property where he received invaluable coaching in people, management and leadership skills. “I did however learn that property development wasn’t my forté. Construction is my passion, so I was extremely excited to join GVK-Siya Zama.”
Cohen’s role at GVK-Siya Zama is to take care of the production side of the business at group level. He says, “What’s important for me is maintaining solid, authentic relationships with clients and suppliers, and making sure that we deliver on our projects.”
Regarding his personal and professional goals, Cohen says, “I think that my future is definitely with GVK-Siya Zama and I’m very happy to be in this role, working with our management teams on the ground to build on the success of the company and make it the contractor of choice. I love the entrepreneurial spirit and problem-solving approach I’ve encountered here.”
Cohen sees himself as client and people centric. “Our people mean everything to me and I spend a lot of time understanding and nurturing them. I also want our company to be the most client-centric construction business in the country. We must have empathy and understand what our clients’ needs are, and then tailor our response to make sure we are aligned.
“We want our people to be heard – and that includes clients, subcontractors and suppliers. We see ourselves as a cog in the greater construction team and we want to know if people are happy working with us, and that extends to our employees as well.”
The talent emerging from universities and even high schools is impressive, says Cohen. However, there are limited work and career opportunities for them. “The industry needs to focus on creating careers for our emerging talent as it is uniquely able to play a critical role in creating employment,” he says.
When it comes to advising students how to choose their careers, Cohen says, “I hope the universities still have the programmes that I attended to help students choose which career to pursue. I advise students to follow their passion even if it’s not a popular choice or the ‘sexiest’ career. Think about what makes you feel comfortable and what you’re passionate about. You’ll likely make a success of it if you do.”
After hours, Cohen likes to exercise. “I find that it calms my mind. I’m also very blessed to have two daughters who I try to spend as much time with as possible.” Passionate about his work and his family, Cohen is an unequivocal asset to the GVK-Siya Zama team.