Young Business Leaders
LIFELONG FRIENDS DURAND NAIDOO AND THUSO MHLAMBI, THE DUO BEHIND A REVOLUTIONARY MARITIME ENTERPRISE, HAVE HAD TO STEM THE TIDE TO BREAK INTO THIS WHITE-DOMINATED SECTOR
SA’s staid maritime economic sector has remained resistant to change, with a dearth of diversity in terms of ownership. With this in mind, government introduced a slew of new legislation earlier this year with aim of catalysing transformation in the sector and creating space for the participation of all South Africans, while attracting new and expanded investment and creating much-needed jobs.
This intervention has already borne fruit, with the landmark sale of Grindrod’s bunker division, Unicorn Bunker Services, for an undisclosed amount to new co-owners Women in Oil & Energy SA (Woesa) and Linsen Nambi, creating the first 100% black ship-owners’ group in the country.
Naidoo and Mhlambi (both 33) are the owners of Linsen Nambi, a company they started in 2012. It’s since expanded
its services beyond shipbroking, marine surveying and consulting services to include inland haulage, warehousing, supply chain management and distribution.
“Transformation of the maritime sector has been a key focus of Linsen Nambi for many years. This deal is the first of its kind in SA, but hopefully not the last,” says Mhlambi.
The pair have been bosom buddies since they were in primary school in Durban.
Like other children, they walked home from school every day fantasising about how rich they’d be, the cars they’d drive, the many businesses they’d own and how they’d help other poor children. After matriculating, however, Naidoo and Mhlambi opted for different courses of study at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Naidoo went on to become a qualified shipbroker and was an awardwinning student, while Mhlambi graduated with a BCom Honours in accounting and
completed his articles at KPMG.
As a young professional working for maritime companies, Naidoo observed that there were only a handful of blacks in positions with decision-making authority. “I knew I wouldn’t be able to fulfil my ambitions working for a shipping company. In 2012, I proposed to Thuso that we start our own one,” he recalls.
At the time, Mhlambi was in a corporate environment as a financial manager. “Given my long childhood friendship with Durand, it was a quick decision for me to join him as his accountant,” he smiles.
Having transitioned from a servicefocused, pan-African enterprise to an asset-based venture, Linsen Nambi is now a 100% black youth-owned shipping company with highly skilled maritime professionals, strong customer relationships and, crucially, its own vessel. “Most black people have never considered working at sea because such positions usually aren’t advertised in SA,” says Mhlambi.
Naidoo says Grindrod Industrial Development Company sold its bunker division, Unicorn Bunker Services, for an undisclosed amount to the company earlier this year. It was established in 2006 and operates three modern bunker tankers in the ports of Durban and Cape Town under contract to oil majors BP, Engen and Chevron. In layman’s terms, Linsen Nambi is the petrol attendant of the sea. Financed through the Industrial Development Corporation, it selected Woesa as a partner on this deal because – by dint of both their colour and their gender – black women have been doubly marginalised in the South African economy.
Mhlambi’s proud of their transformation successes. “Seven out of 12 Masters are black, as are all 12 Chief Officers and all 12 Chief Engineers in the company,” he says, adding that it already employs 110 people, a complement it hopes to increase significantly as the business grows.
Both he and Mhlambi admit that their business hasn’t yet made remarkable profits, but they’re focused on a higher purpose: the development of communities where they operate.
“Today our heads are less in the clouds. We know how difficult it is to run a start-up as entrepreneurs and we owe our success
to God’s blessing in our lives. The oceans can feed us and provide us with a livelihood, yet it has high barriers of entry to new entrants in this industry,” says Mhlambi. He explains that efforts are being made to change this, including government initiatives such as Operation Phakisa, aimed at kick-starting the maritime economy. It’s estimated that the oceans could contribute R177 billion to SA’s GDP.
Both Naidoo and Mhlambi believe they’re in a strong position to promote the beneficiation of SA’s long coastline and become the continent’s premier shipping group.
They want to capitalise on the transport opportunities presented by Durban and Richards Bay, the busiest container port in Africa and the busiest coal terminal in the world respectively, while grabbing market share from foreign-owned rivals and making a significant contribution to the country’s GDP.
“Our company’s well placed for strategic acquisitions and organic growth to develop our infrastructure further,” says Mhlambi.
“Most black people have never considered working at sea because such positions usually aren’t advertised in SA.”