Business Profiles

A bit of nous to combat resourcing challenges. Business Profile – Development Nous

Many professions have struggled with skill shortages in recent years but local land development consultancy business, Development Nous Limited has taken a new approach that works for all parties – the business, their clients and their remote team members based in Sweden and South Africa.

Development Nous, which first started in Hastings in 2016 with six staff and two directors, has since expanded, now with employees working remotely in Whanganui, Palmerston North and Wellington, but continued growth has led to further thinking outside the square when it comes to where team members live and work outside of New Zealand. Development Nous director and Licensed Cadastral Surveyor Karl Carew said the transition to operating internationally was made much easier due to the team members Damon Gibson
– Senior Town Planner and Civil Design Engineer JJ Pretorius both previously living in Hawke’s Bay and working in the Hastings office before relocating offshore.


Damon is born and bred in Hawke’s Bay and studied Town Planning at Waikato University. Years later he would return to Hastings and spend two years working in the office, while JJ and his family lived here in 2019-2020.

“The skill shortage for our professional disciplines within New Zealand is real, and the shortage within regional areas such as Hawke’s Bay is even more so,” Karl says.

“New Zealand is simply not producing enough skilled people fast enough to service the potential of the economy,” he adds. For Development Nous this includes Surveyors, Civil and Structural Engineers, Town Planners, Landscape Architects and other associated professional disciplines.

“When we increase our resources, we increase our outputs, it is that simple.  The demand is there, we simply need to work out how we service it best.” For JJ returning to Cape Town has provided him and his family the best of both worlds.

In late 2020, JJ’s and his wife returned to South Africa to be closer to family. In this short period, he has been able to build a firm dedicated to Development Nous projects in New Zealand, while also picking up some supplementary work in Australia. Currently, 12 staff work in the South African office for Development Nous across Civil and Structural Engineering disciplines.

For the growing SA team, it has provided greater career certainty, overseas travel and unprecedented professional development. For Development Nous, the business effectively operates 24 hours a day. “In effect we have created a 10 day week. We get an email or video call at the end of a working day from the Hastings team, and we pick up the project and it’s ready for them in the morning,” says JJ. Technology has made working remotely much easier.

Both teams share a server, while JJ says the quality of imagery from Google earth and New Zealand’s LIDAR (light detection and ranging) is “next level”, making it incredibly accurate to assist with designing subdivisions. JJ works closely with Karl, who he considers his kiwi brother and they’ll catch up daily to discuss and work on projects.

He also introduced Karl to WhatsApp, something he says Kiwis haven’t adopted as fast as in South Africa and other countries. “It’s (WhatsApp) has made a huge difference to how we communicate. Karl will call me as he drives home, which is when my day is starting and he can pass on any information needed for us to pick up a project.”

JJ can check all internal email conversations about projects, using Mail Manager software and every Tuesday morning (SA time) there’s a full team meeting with those in New Zealand. Damon will jump into a Town Planning meeting on a Wednesday from Sweden.

“Some of my senior team start at 6am, which is 4pm in NZ time, which gives us an hour working together.” JJ also spends three weeks a year in the Hastings office and brings across other team members such as Structural Draughtsman Frikkie van Niekerk, who is staying on for a further three months.

Later in the year, two more senior Civil Engineers from the South African office will spend time working in Hastings.

Damon has just spent two weeks in the Hastings office while catching up with family. Damon’s wife is Swedish and they live in a small town on the outskirts of Stockholm. Although he’s working thousands of kilometres away and can be between 12 and 14 hours behind NZT, his professional expertise as a Town Planner is far from compromised.


“I might not be able to drive out to a property that the client is interested in subdividing but I’m very familiar with Hawke’s Bay and my role is more of a regulatory function preparing the documentation for consenting purposes.

“I rely on the local team as eyes and ears, but it works really well and is quite an efficient way of working as some stuff I can pick up when the team in Hastings has finished for the day. “I think I offer a different perspective as I am not caught up in the day to day noise that can be associated with land and property.

I’m certainly not caught up in the politics of it,” Damon says.

Karl says the remote resources create efficiencies that offer the potential for subdivisions to come to reality quicker, especially due to the teams’ familiarity with the region. “Our remote resources have a very good understanding of our team, environment and associated business requirements.

“We effectively have our services running around the clock in the areas they operate, so certain tasks can be turned around relatively efficiently which allows processes like documentation reviews to be completed across a workday for one of the teams and then the other team picks it up with little delay.”

Karl says they have also found, particularly with our growing team in South Africa there is a skilled resources elsewhere that can be applied to local projects. “When you look further afield than our own backyard and if you have the right setup and develop the necessary relationships and systems, that these skills can be applied locally for some really positive results”.

JJ, Damon and Karl all agree that communication and building a team environment across both the northern and southern hemispheres is important.

“We spend a lot of time communicating with one another.  That is the biggest part of these relationships and ensures we continue to offer the same, if not better service than if we all sat under the same roof”.  “We know each other personally because of the concerted effort from both sides.  We joke a lot which helps and genuinely see them as an extension of the local Development Nous team, just located in different countries,” JJ says.

Karl also recently visited the Cape Town team, spending time observing how they operate.

“I spent two weeks meeting the team face to face and getting to know them all a little better, including observing how they operate in their own environment, as well as experience the way of life in their beautiful part of the world”.

As for the client interface with JJ and his team and Damon from overseas, Karl says there’s initially some trepidation, that’s quickly diffused based on the quality of outcomes and responsiveness.

“We do get some mixed responses.  A natural reaction for some is to assume we are operating some form of ‘sweatshop type‘ arrangement.  This may be the case when you hear of ‘cheap overseas resources’, however it couldn’t be further from the truth in our situation”.

“All of our remote staff are as skilled, if not more skilled than those we may be able to secure locally. They love their country and choose to continue living in South Africa and being close to family and friends.

“Those that truly understand the relationship we have with our teams love the fact we are able to secure quality resources to assist them in delivering their projects, they understand the realities of securing resources in the fields we operate can be difficult and they appreciate the efforts we go to, to ensure the service we provide is the best we are able to offer,” says Karl. With their annual trips back to Hawke’s Bay, JJ loves to catch up with friends from his time living here while Damon stays with his parents and gets to enjoy watching the NRL in daylight hours rather than in the middle of the night.