Prof­itable ‘mis­takes’

En­sur­ing ‘ev­ery­one un­der­stands what we’re do­ing and why we’re do­ing it’

Finweek English Edition - - PEOPLE - SVET­LANA DONEVA svet­lanad@fin­

ONELOGIX was burst­ing with en­thu­si­asm when it listed on the JSE’s main board back in 2000. South Africa’s econ­omy was in a steady growth phase and the com­pany’s di­ver­si­fied lo­gis­tics of­fer­ing seemed per­fectly placed to take ad­van­tage of the im­mi­nent con­sumer boom. How­ever, re­al­ity panned out some­what dif­fer­ently to man­age­ment’s plans. OneLogix – headed by en­tre­pre­neur and founder of Post­Net, Ian Lourens – was a hodge­podge of a va­ri­ety of busi­nesses Lourens and his equally fear­less busi­ness part­ners had bought giv­ing lit­tle thought to how the fi­nal prod­uct would func­tion.

“We started with a bang and ended with a whim­per,” says CEO Lourens, ap­pointed in 2003, who now runs the con­sid­er­ably smaller and hum­bler OneLogix – a rein­car­nated lo­gis­tics com­pany with a pur­pose sig­nif­i­cantly more re­fined than the heady vi­sion circa 2000, which was “to be some­thing for ev­ery­one”.

OneLogix has im­pressed the mar­ket over the past three years with steady growth in earn­ings, thanks to im­pres­sive con­trol of a few niche mar­kets – most no­tably the trans­porta­tion of pas­sen­ger cars through­out south­ern Africa – where bar­ri­ers to en­try are high and mar­gins pleas­ingly wide. Its share price has mir­rored earn­ings, with a 125% in­crease over the past year.

The com­pany is the prod­uct of a bap­tism of fire in­volv­ing a dif­fi­cult down­siz­ing to four core op­er­a­tions and a move to the JSE’s AltX board in 2004. Lourens was one of the found­ing mem­bers of Post­Net, started in 1994 as an al­ter­na­tive to the SA Post Of­fice. Post­Net has since evolved into an SME busi­ness ser­vice cen­tre, with 232 fran­chised out­lets coun­try­wide. Post­Net was al­ways seen as a lo­gis­tics busi­ness and still re­mains part of OneLogix. It was Lourens’s 15th at­tempt at start­ing a busi­ness; 12 of these have been suc­cess­ful and sold off by Lourens af­ter their ini­tial growth stage.

“I’m driven by the ex­cite­ment of start­ing some­thing new. I al­ways sold when I had to start spend­ing time on up­keep­ing them. The fran­chis­ing model of Post­Net was new to me and I ended up stick­ing around.”

That en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit is now the gov­ern­ing prin­ci­ple of OneLogix and a man­age­ment les­son learnt the hard way in the first

A David Livingstone bi­og­ra­phy

Not be­ing de­ci­sive enough when it was needed. four un­suc­cess­ful years of the group’s ex­is­tence. “The ini­tial OneLogix wasn’t prop­erly con­ceived or well man­aged. We now un­der­stand the essence of en­tre­pre­neur­ial ac­tiv­ity and pro­fes­sional bal­ance and how to sus­tain it – but it was all learnt from mak­ing mis­takes.”

All of OneLogix’s busi­ness units are headed by the en­trepreneurs who founded them. In that vein, Lourens spends most of his time at the Post­Net head of­fice in Midrand, where Finweek in­ter­viewed him. His role as CEO is to com­mu­ni­cate the vi­sion and strat­egy to his col­leagues and “let them get on with it”.

The group’s head of­fice is small and in­ten­tion­ally dis­em­pow­ered: it doesn’t of­fer much more than a cen­tralised ad­min­is­tra­tive func­tion for the sep­a­rate units, apart from guid­ance on bet­ter busi­ness pro­cesses. Lourens is prob­a­bly the only CEO of a JSElisted com­pany in­ter­viewed by Finweek who hasn’t ad­mit­ted to worka­holic ten­den­cies, say­ing he’s happy to have a bal­anced life as op­posed to mi­cro­manag­ing ev­ery as­pect of the or­gan­i­sa­tion. He’s re­luc­tant to talk about his per­sonal role in OneLogix’s suc­cesses. “My role here is to make sure ev­ery­one un­der­stands what we’re do­ing and why we’re do­ing it.”

Build­ing and mo­ti­vat­ing teams.

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