Ster-Kinekor, the South African international cinema operator, is set to invest £90m across Europe and has plans for 50 multiplex cinemas. It helps if you speak in Zulu or Afrikaans to the boss.
What is Ster-Kinekor? An international cinema operator, originating in South Africa.

Who is the key decision-maker? Mike Ross, managing director.

Who are the key personnel? Selwyn Grimsley, finance director, and Theo Fonternel, development director.

What are its investment plans? Ster-Kinekor is investing £90m in 50 multiplex cinemas in the UK, Ireland, Greece, Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Portugal, Italy, Spain and Slovakia.

In the UK, the Castle Mall cinema in Norwich is on site and set for completion in March 2000. Schemes for Leeds, Romford and Cardiff are in the pipeline.

What types of project does it tackle? Ster-Kinekor cinemas tend to be located in leisure and retail developments that Ross refers to as "destination developments": places a family might go to spend the day shopping before taking in a film.

Most projects are fit-outs of shell-and-core retail developments, or "cold shells", although Ross prefers "hot shells" that are almost completely fitted out, as they tie up less capital. Project spend varies from hundreds of thousands to millions of pounds, depending on the location and the quality of the host development.

What is the firm's preferred procurement route? Projects are generally developer-led and delivered, although Ster-Kinekor is not averse to letting design-and-build contracts. The company prefers to work with developers at an early stage to ensure the total integration of the cinema into the scheme.

How easy is it to get to work with Ster-Kinekor? Architects need not apply – the firm has brought its own practice, Frame International, from South Africa. But quantity surveyors have a chance of work as Ster-Kinekor prefers to use local QSs. The cinema operator is looking for fit-out contractors with a proven track record, although cinema experience is not a prerequisite. It is more interested in commitment to quality and the ability to work to a tight construction programme.

How are contractors chosen? When time allows, Ster-Kinekor prefers to tender work, but often it negotiates contracts with the developer's main contractor.

How long do contracts last? Ster-Kinekor's fit-out period for shell and core is six to seven months. On some projects, it works with the developer's main contractor but under a separate contract. The company believes that this is the easiest and most effective way to stick to a tight programme. On others, it works directly with subcontractors.

How are projects managed? It has its own in-house project manager – it considers up-front planning the crux of its operation. The firm says a contractor that has been given a specification and detailed drawings should be comfortable working to a tight schedule.

Are there significant differences between South African and UK building regulations? As the regulations are primarily concerned with safety (fire escapes and suchlike) there are no significant differences. There are also few differences in structural design and services provision. The only noticeable variation is in the amount of heat from the sun on the building.

How does the UK's planning process compare with Europe's? Ross likes UK planning authorities because they make up their mind and stick to it. "You know where you stand," he says.

Does Ster-Kinekor work to standard design schemes worldwide? No, the footprint of each cinema is unique and relates to the size and shape of the space available in the host centre.

How can you break the ice with Ross? Talk to him in Zulu or Afrikaans – he speaks both fluently. But as he moves around Europe all the time, he will be hard to pin down.