Positive thinking drives new Unitrans vision
JO GROVÉ, new chief executive of multi-disciplined transport group Unitrans, has to weigh up his love for the bush and his dedication to business. With his almost fanatical belief that one can achieve anything with a positive approach, it is likely he will find the time for both of his passions.
Grové took up his position at Unitrans in September, succeeding Eduardo Gutiérrez-Garcia, fondly known as the father of the freight industry in South Africa. Gutiérrez-Garcia joined United Transport 36 years ago as an accountant and worked his way to the top.
Although now retired from the private transport sector, the energetic Gutiérrez-Garcia, 64, has taken up a position as chief executive of Transnet's road haulier operation, Autonet.
Grové is assuming control of a much larger group. Only nine months ago operations were materially expanded following the acquisition of Malbak Motor Holdings for R227-million through the issue of 15.067-million shares to Sankorp.
Although the figures of MMH were consolidated for only six months, the acquisition increased turnover to R2.4-billion in the year to June from R813.5-million previously and attributable profits to R90-million from R58.5-million.
The increase in earnings was not as marked because of the increased share capital - rising to 144.4c a share from 107.5c - while the dividend was pegged at 61c a share against 53c.
Return on sales more than halved to 7% from 15.3%, almost solely because of the lower return on vehicle retail sales than in the transport business. With the increase in the number of shares, the debt to equity ratio fell to 22% from 46%, while interest cover increased from 5.2 times to 6.8 times.
MMH, with an annual turnover of more than R3.5-billion, is now part of Unitrans Motors and an enthusiastic Grové is convinced, although the vehicle market has been under considerable pressure, "we are through the worst and with the resilience of the motorist, people will start replacing cars if the interest rate trend continues to decline".
The 69 dealerships brought by MMH will provide considerable business for Unitrans Finance (Ufin), a joint operation started in September with Bankfin to finance purchases on new vehicles and provide insurance.
"Although Ufin has only been around for six or seven weeks, it is doing extremely well and we are forecasting good growth for this division," says Grové.
His background equips him ideally for this task. With a grounding in financial services, Grové joined leasing pioneer Lease Plan International in 1971 and remained there until 1976.
He then started his own company, Medical Leasing Services, which he sold to Volkskas Industrial Bank in 1987 and stayed there until 1995.
The next move was to the Imperial Group, where he helped establish the very successful Imperial Bank. He remained there until he joined Unitrans.
Freight operations were affected last year by strikes and unseasonal rains, but the division is "doing very nicely in the first half of the year". The company is negotiating three large freight contracts.
There are also plans to increase the group's operations in the logistics sector, while Greyhound Coach Lines is being totally restructured.
Grové brings to Unitrans a management style which encourages team building.
"I have an enormous belief in people and want to share with them a new vision for the company. I plan to modernise the group by making more use of IT in all our operations.
"With all this, I believe we will show considerable growth in the next five years as it is possible to achieve anything with a positive attitude," adds Grové, who is almost eager for the months to pass to enable him to prove his point.
Grové is married to Mary-Ann, has twin boys Ryan and Guy, 8, and daughters Nicola, 19, and Mirella, 17.