The New York Minute

Interview Series: Fascinating Engel & Völkers Colleagues from Around the World

Paul Turner

Paul & Vince would like to welcome to the conversation Paul Turner from Engel & Völkers Cape Town, South Africa.
…what I love about this business is that I can continue doing this. Many of my friends who stayed in the corporate world are retiring. And that’s not even on my horizon. I’m not the retiring type, you know? I don’t know what I’d do with myself…a couple of times, it would have been easy to give up because it was tough…It does test your patience and your resolve.

Born and raised in London, England, Paul Turner has packed an impressive range of international career moves into his 60 years. After graduating in 1983 from Exeter University with a degree in geography and economic history, he worked in sales and marketing for Mobil Oil—first close to home and then farther afield. At age 30, Paul was the managing director for Ireland, and by age 32, he was president of Mobil Oil Poland.

In 2007 he launched his own motorsport marketing company called Turning Point, based in Warsaw and London. The company worked with global brands focusing on The World Rally Championship and Formula One. Turning Point’s own Rally team won three Polish championships and one European Championship, becoming the top private team in the world. Paul and his company managed top drivers and worked with top teams, including Subaru, Ford, and Peugeot in WRC and BMW in Formula One.

In 2010, ready for another change, Paul scaled back his business with Turning Point and relocated permanently to Cape Town, South Africa, deciding to try his hand at real estate. He is currently the 100% Shareholder and License Partner of Engel and Voelkers Atlantic Seaboard and City Bowl and runs two highly successful shops. In the last twelve months, he manages a team of 35 who has sold $50 million (45.3 million €) of property and are firmly established as one of Cape Town’s most respected real estate agencies. Paul has two daughters, Lucy (33) and Amy (29), who live in London working in advertising and film production, respectively, and a son, Charlie (30), who lives in Cape Town and works for E&V. Paul lives in Cape Town with Carrie, his wife of 36 years, and their two beloved rescue dogs Missy and Max. He enjoys mountain biking and walking on the beach and is a lifelong Tottenham Hotspur Football Club supporter.


Paul & Vince: What are the best things about living and working in Cape Town?

Paul Turner: Well, I’m here because I fell in love with Cape Town. You come here, and it grabs you as a city. It’s just a really beautiful place. It’s got Table Mountain, this incredible mountain that you can hike on and go running—it’s just a playground and beautiful. And then you’ve got two oceans: the Atlantic Ocean on one side of the city, and the Indian Ocean on the other. So you’ve got fantastic beaches. I’m in the city’s heart right now, but I could be on the mountain or the beach in ten minutes. So to have all of those things in one city is pretty incredible.

And then, just outside the city, you’ve got amazing wine estates, so you’ve almost got the Napa Valley on your doorstep, and you’ve got the mountain, and you’ve got the beaches.

And on top of that, it’s just incredibly well-organized. Everything works. The hotels are amazing, the restaurants are amazing, the food is amazing, and the wine is amazing. And we’re in essentially the same time zone as Europe.

You’ve got the Northern/Southern Hemisphere thing, too. Right now, it’s the deepest darkest winter in Europe, and people are fed up—but we’re in the middle of our summer. And because of the historical relationship between South Africa and the UK, the popular sports are football, rugby, and cricket, the same sports people in Europe watch. So you can be here and not away from the things you love.

And it’s a direct flight. It’s eleven hours—but there’s no time difference. So you leave London at 8 PM and arrive here at 7 AM. So you throw all of those things into the mix, and it’s just a great place to live. And that’s what drives our business, actually: tourism, and then people who fall in love with it and want to come and live here,

Paul & Vince: So people get a taste and come back for more?

Paul Turner: Yeah. It is, officially, the most re-visited city in the world. People come here once, and then they have such a great time they come back again and again. It’s like that for so many of our clients. I met some Dutch guys at the weekend, you know, we were doing some viewings, and I said, “Oh, how well do you know Cape Town?”

And they said, “Oh, we’ve been coming here yearly for twelve years. We love it here, and we’ll finally buy a house.”

So that’s what happens. And it happened to me! I was on my fourth holiday to Cape Town when I bought my first house. So I think that’s an interesting stat: the most revisited city in the world. And Cape Town has been the top city in the world on the Daily Telegraph travel list for nine years in a row.

Paul & Vince: That’s quite the honor!


Paul & Vince: What did you do before entering real estate?

Paul Turner: I joined Mobil on a graduate scheme, straight out of university, into their sales and marketing division on the fuel station side of the business. It’s now Exxon-Mobil, but it was just Mobil when I worked for them.

I loved working for them from day one. They very much had this “go for it” kind of attitude. Very American in a way, you know? They gave you real jobs with real responsibility right away. I ended up being moved to Dublin with a young family, so I was the managing director of the entire Irish business. At thirty years of age, which is ridiculous when I think about it. But I was! And then that went quite well. And that was a small business— they were testing me out.

And then they gave me Poland. This was 1992, and at the time, all the big companies in the world were trying to establish their brands in Eastern Europe now that the Berlin Wall had come down. So then, I moved to Warsaw, which was a bit of a shock. But I went over, and I loved Poland. It’s a big country, and they allowed me to build a business there, which I did for over four years.

And then I decided to leave. [Laughs.]

I loved being in this developing market. But then, being in at corporate, they want to bring you back in, give you a head office position for two or three years, and then move you again.

And I suddenly felt, “You know what? I want to control my life now.” I just had to ask myself: “Am I going to be a corporate animal for the rest of my life? Or am I going to be an entrepreneur?” And I decided to do the entrepreneur thing.

And I just loved Eastern Europe, and we’d done a lot of motorsport sponsorship—rally and Formula One—as part of the development of the brand. I’d invested in motorsport for Mobil, and I just saw a niche in the market to create an agency to work with big companies doing a lot of motorsport activity.

Paul & Vince: Could you break down the difference between rally and Formula One?

Paul Turner: Absolutely. Formula One is around a circuit, and the rally is on forty-kilometer closed courses on real roads, usually through the mountains. Formula One is cars racing against each other on the same circuit, whereas rally cars go one at a time, and they’re timed on how quickly they go.

And the biggest difference is that the rally cars are based on real cars. They take the road car and they convert it into a rally car. You can buy a Ford Focus, and it’s your car, but there’s also a Ford Focus world rally car. So it looks almost like a normal car—whereas the Formula One cars are completely different.

Anyway, I ran the business for fourteen or fifteen years. It was very successful, but two things happened in a short space of time. One of the drivers I managed was number two in the world in the rally, and he had a bad accident, and his co-driver got killed. And he was a very close friend of mine. And then I was very involved with a Polish Formula One driver, and he had an accident and couldn’t drive. As well, I had been in the business a long time, and I was traveling thirty weeks of the year.

Paul & Vince: Wow, that’s a lot of time on the road.

Paul Turner: Yes. And it’s just tiring, you know, flying to Melbourne and back, then to Argentina and back, and trying to run a business. I had an office in Poland and an office in London. And during that period, I bought this property in Cape Town, and I loved Cape Town, and I was trying to spend a bit more time in Cape Town. And I just decided one day, you know what? I’ve done motorsport now. I think I’ll go and live in Cape Town and have a quieter life.

Paul & Vince: Right. [Laughs.] And then you took on a whole real estate empire?

Paul Turner: To be honest, I had no plans to own a real estate agency whatsoever. I built a house in South Africa—in Plettenberg Bay, which is lovely. And I enjoyed the experience of finding land, working with architects, building a house.

And then I went to Amsterdam to see my daughter and looked in the Engel and Voelkers window and saw a Cape Town property there. And I thought, “Well, that’s interesting.” And I went online, saw an opportunity, and one thing led to another very quickly.


Paul & Vince: What was it like getting established in your real estate market?

Paul Turner: At first, literally all I did was spend money. We didn’t have any clients. We had to start from scratch and build the brand. The brand had been here in the past, but the guy had gone bust and had left a bit of bad taste in the market.

Paul & Vince: Did you meet any resistance from the existing competition?

Paul Turner: Ah—not really resistance, but I think they looked down their noses at us a bit. When I took that shop in Camps Bay, I knew the people there were like, “Oh, we’ll give them twelve months.”

So when I heard that, I took the shop next door too, and I doubled the size of my shop. [Laughs.] So, yeah, I wouldn’t say that people were trying to undermine us in any way, but I think they—maybe to their detriment now—didn’t take us as seriously as they should have.

Paul & Vince: [Laughs.] So in your market, where are most of your clients coming from?

Paul Turner: There are three main sets. There are local South African Capetonians who have lived here for generations. They own property; they run businesses—it’s the local market. Then there’s a market within South Africa, particularly from Johannesburg in Gauteng province further north, which is the financial and economic hub of South Africa. And many of those guys with money are buying property here, either as a second home, or sometimes they’re relocating, or they have a family living here, so they commute up and down.

Thirdly, it’s mainly European investors. The three big countries are the UK, Holland, and Germany. But we also have clients from virtually every European country.

And now we’re beginning to see more and more Americans. They’re not necessarily buying properties yet, but the Americans are coming and renting and running their businesses from Cape Town.

In the eleven years I’ve been here, I’ve seen a change in the investing clients. It used to be older people heading into the early stages of retirement. But they’re being replaced by younger people, with young families, and people who can run their businesses on laptops. I’ve met a few of them—techie kind of guys, mostly.

They can get up in the morning and run on the mountain, do all their sort of fun stuff, and then start running their businesses and run into the evening. And that’s kind of how they’re running their lives.


Paul & Vince: What do you like most about your career in real estate right now?

Paul Turner: I’m 60 years of age now, and what I love about this business is that I can continue doing this. Many of my friends who stayed in the corporate world are retiring. And that’s not even on my horizon. I’m not the retiring type, you know? I don’t know what I’d do with myself.

And I’ll be honest: a couple of times, it would have been easy to give up because it was tough! We did have periods where we were losing money, and it was like one step forward, two steps back. It does test your patience and your resolve.

But we’ve stuck at it, and after eleven years, I’m quite excited about where we can take this business. We’ve weathered the storms, and I think we’re in a good position, particularly because we’ve got this international brand.

And I meet just a range of incredibly interesting people with incredibly interesting life stories from around the world. And we’re selling some incredible homes, so that’s quite nice. The business is becoming profitable, finally, so that’s quite important. But it’s not what drives me, to be honest with you.

Rather than talk about property, it’s always interesting to talk about people. And I always say I’m not in the property business; I’m in the people business, you know? Because at the end of the day, I’m dealing with a seller, buyer, and agent. The property is just part of it. You can’t just flog properties.

Paul & Vince: Agreed! You can’t ever convince somebody to buy something that doesn’t speak to their heart, right? People know what they want.

Paul Turner: Exactly. They either love it or they don’t. And if they don’t like that one, we’ll find the property that sings for them. And my approach has always been not to pressure anyone.

Investing in a country other than your own is always a big decision. My job is to say, “I invested here twenty years ago. I’m dealing every single day of my life with other foreign investors—your investment is safe and secure.”

And I think the other thing has to be developing this team of people who have come into the industry from all different places and seeing people achieve their own dreams and goals within my company. I’ve enjoyed that a lot.

…and one more, Just For Fun

Paul & Vince: You have been chosen to create the most amazing amusement park ride the world has ever seen without budget limits. Describe your design.

Paul Turner: It would be a rollercoaster following the history of Tottenham Hotspur FC! Because supporting this football club, it is a pure rollercoaster of emotion.

English people, in particular, are crazy about football [American, soccer]—and if you support a team, you support it through thick and thin throughout your life. My father was a Spurs supporter, which is handed down through the generations. He always took me and my brother, we always supported the same team throughout my life. He took me to my first game. And two years before he passed away at 92, I was still taking him to games with me, you know? So to have that sort of relationship with my father, with my brother—all my kids are supporters, all his kids—it’s a family thing.

I’ve seen my team get relegated out of the top division, and I’ve seen them be promoted back the next season. I’ve seen them win the FA Cup finals and lose the FA Cup finals—it’s just a rollercoaster.

Paul & Vince: [Laughs.] That’s great! So you think this could make a good literal rollercoaster?

Paul Turner: Yeah! I think my idea would be a ride that takes you through the 140-year history of this club. The year I was born, we were the greatest team in Europe. And we’ve never quite hit those heights again. So I think it would be a ride of highs and lows, and as you go up, it’s the winning goals being scored on screens, and as you go down, it’s some disappointments. And famous players, the noise, and the sound of the fans… And when you support a club, there’s this huge community of other people sharing all these ups and downs with you.

Paul & Vince: I see! So, it wouldn’t be a single roller coaster car—would it be one of those wide ones, with everybody side by side?

Paul Turner: Yeah. One of those ones where you have like four in a row, going back a few rows.

Paul & Vince: And how does the ride end?

Paul Turner: The ride must end on a high.

So, for example, this weekend, my team had lost three games in a row—just a disaster, and we were playing the current champions at their place. They were undefeated in fifteen matches.

And we went and beat them in an incredibly exciting game. And that’s what Tottenham is all about. Just when you think it’s over, suddenly…

Original artwork by Jolisa Robinson, Gavriani-Falcone Team Marketing

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