Meet the man who is revolutionising the motor-car salvage industry and a Blue Bulls fan to boot.
Traps (T): Tell me a bit about Ludewikus Bester.
Lood (L): I matriculated at Lichtenburg High, having spent most of my school days at boarding schools in Pretoria. I’m 36 years old, married to a wonderful girl, Aldurette, and we have two kids, Luan and Rozanne. [On my bank manager’s life, that’s his wife’s name.]
T: Did you go to university?
L: No, after school I joined the navy and was a submariner for a year. They made me a steward but I landed up peeling a lot of potatoes, washing dishes and that sort of thing.
T: If you could do anything tonight, what would that be?
L: I would spend it with my wife and kids on our farm. We live on a game farm in George and I fly up from Monday morning to Thursday evening. But I’m an Afrikaans [who speaks immaculate English, by the way] seuntjie who enjoys the simple things. I love to braai and spend time with the family. My favourite drink is Klippies and Coke. [Phone him and check — met eish!]
T: And when you left the navy?
L: I did three months of a general management course at Pretoria Technikon before deciding it wasn’t for me. I left and spent the next 10 years at Auto & General.
T: Now this was an important step in what was to follow.
L: Undoubtedly. I started in filing, then telesales and finished as general manager, motor claims, Johannesburg. While I was there I developed the model for motor-car salvage that
evolved into what you see today.
T: Tell us about the early days of Salvage Management & Disposal (SMD).
L: I started SMD in January 2000 believing that it would progress to what you see today. But it was a hard slog. I basically threw everything I had at building the company, but it took a couple of years before it started to show the potential I had always believed this concept had.
T: That’s when the large insurers started to use your services.
L: Correct. In October 2001, Outsurance started to send their vehicles to us. We would then begin the process of either auctioning or selling their salvage vehicles out of hand. The interest was phenomenal.
T: What you basically do is get cars from insurers that are considered salvage and then auction or sell them by private treaty to the public.
L: What the public basically do is visit our website or read the newspapers to see which vehicles are available and then come to our branches to bid on the vehicles. Because there is no reserve, the vehicles are sold at whatever they fetch, which brings many people into the market who would otherwise be unable to buy cars.
T: This also includes guys looking for bargains in the luxury-car department.
L: Absolutely! But my pride and joy is seeing the ordinary guy who arrives in a taxi and drives off beaming because he could not believe he could actually afford to buy a car. Cars can go for as little as R1 000.
T: How do you see the future of South Africa?
L: Vibrant, best country in the world to live in, wonderful opportunities for the future. My only major concern is crime. Particularly violent crime; we have to bring that under control.
T: Have you thought of leaving?
L: No, my future is here, I’ve had offers from abroad, but this is my home.
T: Who else runs SMD?
L: We’ve got Strubel Hoffmeyer, Gerrie Gouws and Gerrie de Klerk, and our BEE partner is the Kagiso Trust. The chairman of Kagiso Trust is JJ Njeke and he was chairman of the Council for Chartered Accountants, among other things.
T: Why do you think SMD has taken off like this? In the 2008 Topco ratings, you guys are listed in the top 300 companies?
L: I think we offer the man in the street a chance to buy a vehicle. The credit legislation makes it very difficult for buyers. In addition, insurers can see a stable company run by highly qualified people. That’s why Regent, Auto & General, Multinet, Hollard, Dial Direct and First for Women also use us now.
T: How many people do you currently employ?
L: We employ well over 100, through our branches in Cape Town, Boksburg, Durban, PE, Bloem, Pretoria, Nelspruit and Pietersburg. We also like to think that in making vehicles available to most people we are creating work for people who might otherwise be unemployable.
T: You obviously sell a lot of cars.
L: We sell around 2 200 cars per month nationwide. Our slogan is: “You can afford our cars.”
T: Where does SMD see its business future?
L: In January we start constructing a motor city near the Olifantsfontein offramp. Insurance companies will be able to warehouse their cars; there will be assessment centres and panel beaters. A one-stop shop. The first phase will be completed in July 2008 and the first parties will start to move in. We’re looking at 40ha. We are also interested in listing as well as doubling our current vehicle sales.
T: So we’re looking at substantial expansion.
L: We are. One area we’d like to access is Soweto. We have a huge base coming from there so we believe we should take the cars to the people. Oh, and we have a new company that deals with recycled spares. I’ve just returned from a conference in the US dealing with this kind of business.
T: What is your most vital asset?
L: In business it’s people; at home it’s my family. As you have seen on our tour, the staff are enthusiastic and friendly.
T: Your most vital staff member?
L: Peter — the ou who knows which key fits which car. (There’s a room with a gazillion keys; I vloek everyone when I lose my car keys.)
T: Whose your favourite Blue Bull? [No sniggering; this is important.]
L: It was Naas (all time) but from the current squad it must be Habana.
T: What’s your favourite book?
L: Johan Rupert’s autobiography.
T: Do you have brothers and sisters? [I had to say something while we were walking.]
L: My brother, Christo, is in construction and my sister, Tertia, is in insurance.
T: Lood thank you for taking the time.
L: It was my pleasure.
The important thing for me in conducting this interview was the fact that the company is proudly South African, looking to grow and employ people, while making vehicles available to people who previously could only dream about owning cars.
Lood and Gerrie, whom I met at the Boksburg branch, are friendly and unassuming. When you walk in the place is covered with South African flags and rugby paraphernalia. There’s no hubris or bitterness among any of the staff I encountered.
I met Leandra Wright, manager of direct sales. We spoke on top of a staircase in the warehouse even though she’s terrified of heights (I may have mentioned that it felt like it was collapsing … but no more than that). Her enthusiasm and pride is mirrored throughout the Boksburg branch.
If South Africa is to emerge from apartheid, then this is the kind of optimism and drive that needs to bristle throughout the country.