PETER HOFFMANN, together with his late partner, John Manning, has built one of the largest land surveying companies in Africa, but is clear that he doesn't measure success in financial terms. "The work we do gives people a better life," says Peter, "and that inspires me on a daily basis. I wake up grateful for my job and the impact we can make on communities."
Encouraged by his uncle to become a civil engineer, Peter was led into land surveying by a chance encounter. "When I was about 16, I went with my dad to take the family car for a service and got chatting to someone working there. She introduced me to her son, who was a partner in a land surveying company, and before long I was spending my holidays working there and decided this was for me. It was aligned to civil engineering and I was very attracted to the idea of working outdoors."
Peter went on to study a BSc in Land Surveying and began working in Johannesburg. He was fortunate to get involved in major projects early in his career, one of which was the upgrading of the national road network - the Western Bypass project in Johannesburg. "I was doing my articles with John Manning, and the day I was admitted as a professional land surveyor, John offered me a partnership."
He worked as a land surveyor for several years, while also studying part-time. First, he qualified as a town planner and then completed a law degree through UNISA. Peter had identified that diversification was the key to growth. Their company had developed significant project management skills, and they began to build a network of professional teams that were to become the foundation of the GeoAfrika Group.
This diversification extended to Peter's own development. He moved increasingly into development, planning and policy writing, where he combined his legal knowledge with his survey expertise, with legal work gradually becoming his primary interest. "I now focus on specialised legal work for major organisations and stateowned enterprises, particularly SANRAL. At the same time, of course, I have responsibilities as CEO of the business."
Peter has a strong belief in the value that his profession and his company brings to South Africa. "The work we do," he says, "has a positive impact on people, communities and the country. This is true for all aspects of our work; surveying, planning or legal." He points out that they have often worked in areas where other professions haven't always wanted to be. "Much of our work is in informal settlements and peri-urban areas, and where we can give them hope for a better situation."
From a corporate perspective, Peter's vision is to provide a sustainable environment for young professionals to build a career. He points out that most of the industry is made up of small businesses, while MHP Geomatics is a large practice, with a footprint across South Africa and throughout the continent.
"From the outset in the 80s, we decided to offer bursaries to young, black land surveying students, and we also create opportunities for new graduates to do articles with us. Of course, this has also helped us to build up a loyal team of good, professional surveyors. The company now employs more surveyors than the large SOCs and we have created an environment to retain them. This is where they have built their careers," says Peter, "and this is where they want to be."
The company works hard to create and maintain a strong value system in the business and Peter is clear that ethics and integrity form the basis of their culture.
"I introduced an orientation programme for our new articled surveyors, and I always tell them it's okay to make mistakes. In fact, we expect it; it's the only way to learn. As professional surveyors, however, we are servants of the community at large and we must never compromise our integrity. So, if they make a mistake on a survey, they just have to admit it, so they do not generally make the same mistakes over and over again."
When asked what advice he'd offer people joining the industry, he notes that in every job, there is routine work, ups and downs, and sometimes even boredom, and it helps to do what matters to you.
He says he starts each day with gratitude for his life and his job and advises new entrants into the workplace to be grateful for all they have.
For Peter, success is not measured in terms of money, but in balancing work and his personal and spiritual life. A committed Christian, he attributes his success to God and when he's not spending time with his wife and family, he's a keen cyclist.