Meet Vagn Nielsen, CEO, Helderberg Village
Vagn Nielsen, who has a background in local government law and administration in the public sector, describes his current job as CEO of Helderberg Village - where he manages nearly 300 staff, a sizeable budget and 800 properties - as a passion.
Located in Somerset West, Helderberg Village is one of the largest gated residential estates in South Africa with nearly 800 houses and 1200 residents. Under his leadership, the estate was awarded the coveted title of “Best Retirement Development in the World” at the International Property Awards during 2012/13.
Due to his wealth of knowledge on gated estates, he regularly advises and assists developers and other trustees and estate managers on best practices and workable solutions. Nielsen is also a familiar voice in the media as an industry commentator. In a recent Sunday Times Your Neighbourhood feature he comments on the future of retirement estates. It makes for interesting reading given that the senior generation of today is so vastly different to retirees of yesteryear.
According to Nielsen, the life of a community manager on any large estate is exciting, but especially when one is responsible for maintaining and growing the estate’s apex position within Southern Africa’s competitive retirement market.
While Nielsen is quick to point out that he has an excellent management team who share his vision - and are actually incentivised and encouraged to share ideas to constantly improve service delivery, we decided to find out more about the person in the chief executive’s chair at Helderberg Village.
What are some of the most profound business lessons you have learnt over your career?
VN: Always research and work on your ideas before you implement them. Surround yourself with a team that inspires you. Have patience, determination and passion. Be a people person.
How has working with an older generation enriched your life? What have you learnt through dealing with seniors over the years?
VN: One develops long lasting relationships ranging from months to years. We can learn a lot from the older generation – listening to residents can teach one a lot. I find that our residents are filled with different experiences, stories and advice – and they are happy to share their wisdom!
I have certainly gained a new perspective on aging and I can see that getting older can be fun. There’s no doubt that interacting with a different age group will add some colour to your life, residents make you laugh while doing your job, making for a fun day at work.
What other profound things you have learnt over your 17 years at Helderberg Village?
1. Don't hesitate when you should act
2. Good things don't come easy.
3. Never fail to try more.
4. Take care of your health early.
5. Make every moment count.
6. Live and let live - we are all human beings and irrespective of how wealthy one is, we all face the same challenges as we age.
Which of your personal attributes have helped you to enjoy such a successful career at HV so far?
VN: Depending on where one works, certain attributes come to the fore, but at Helderberg Village, working with a slightly older and very sophisticated clientele, personal attributes like sincerity, honesty, understanding, loyalty, truthfulness, trustworthiness, intelligence, and dependability are essential to be successful.
What personally motivates you in life?
VN: I have a number of things that motivate me: learning new things; acquiring new skills; meeting deadlines, goals and targets; coaching others; improving processes; problem solving; leading a team; being part of a team; completing a difficult project; overcoming challenges and coming up with creative ideas.
There a countless benefits to investing in and living at Helderberg Village, but if you had to consider the one reason why residents love it (something that you have heard the most over the 17 years), what would it be and why?
VN: It must be the bouquet of services that we offer to our residents: security, healthcare, lifestyle, world-class facilities and financial security and investment.
But one repeated response? “Thank you, thank you, thank you for caring and looking after us!”
If you weren’t doing this job, what are some of the other avenues that your career could have taken you?
VN: I majored in local government law, so probably in some public sector role such as a City Manager, but definitely not a politician! I am often asked, ‘so where to after HV?’ My response is always ‘to go and manage some island resort or game lodge in Africa.’
Let’s see. In the meantime, to see the joy and smiles on the faces of my residents and staff, keeps me going!