Brand Pretorius is one of the elder statesmen of the SA auto industry, having made a career from his passion. He turned around McCarthy, and he now mentors and lectures on business leadership. John Fraser caught up with him for The Cape Messenger.
CM: What was your first car, and why did you choose it?
BP: I inherited from my brother, who inherited from his elder brother, who in turn had received it from his mother. I was 21, and it was a 1961 Renault Dauphine. It was such an exciting event for me. A powerful 845cc engine. A rear engine. Today, one can only be amused and marvel at the fact it induced so much gratitude and excitement at the time. The first car bought with my own money was a 1964 Renault Caravelle, a 2-seater sports coupé, when I was 23, for the princely sum of R200. I washed it at least three times a week – even the inside of the mudguards. It was my pride and joy.
CM: Do you still get a thrill when you try out a new model (of car!)?
BP: I am a car enthusiast to the core and have been since the age of seven or eight. They have played such a special role in my life. I am privileged because my hobby became my job. It didn’t happen by accident. I had a specific plan.
CM: How would you assess the local market, in terms of choice and affordability? How has it changed since the days of Apartheid?
BP: It has changed in a very fundamental manner. Local customers ae spoiled for choice. It is one of the most competitive markets in the world. It only represents 0.6% of global vehicle market, but there are so many makes and models. Due primarily to the weak currency, affordability remains a problem – it is the key inhibitor.
CM: Does it impress or sadden you that with the advent of Uber, some people who would have bought their own cars won’t ever do so?
BP: Having access to mobility, driving a car yourself, is an exciting privilege. It necessitates skill, and you have to be absolutely alert. I have no desire to become just a passenger. My driving skills are an important part of my life skills. It is a way of expressing oneself. If you drive properly and safely and can control a car properly it is an important component of your skill set. And I love it.
CM: Do you think the SA automotive manufacturing industry has a future?
BP: Yes. The big picture looks grim because of the lack of high integrity, competent, focused political leadership. Hope is in short supply. There is a huge trust deficit and low levels of confidence. We shouldn’t allow the current political regime to define the country. We have a vibrant motor manufacturing industry, and tangible evidence of this is the fact we export in excess of 300 000 vehicles a year to over 150 countries. Local manufacturers receive numerous quality awards. A major reason is a stable and favourable policy environment for the industry. It is an inspirational case study. It’s one sector where industry and government developed a common vision. It is working
CM: Have you ever had a chauffeur? If so, did you enjoy it?
BP: Absolutely not!
CM: You now spend a lot of time mentoring and lecturing about leadership. What was it about your time in the automotive industry which developed your leadership skills?
BP: I learned from failure. I had the task to try and turn around a retail company that was insolvent and had more than 10 000 employees at the time. The share price fell from R21 to a low of 18c. Very few people gave us a chance. I knew from the start that without the help of the 10 000 McCarthy team members we wouldn’t have stood a chance to save the company. I had to develop my leadership skills, because that is the only way one can unlock intelligence, energy, contribution, and commitment.
CM: Is there a road law/restriction which really annoys you?
BP: I recently had to travel to the Drakensberg on the N3. The speed limit on the toll road is 120kph, then they drop it to 100kph for no apparent reason. That inevitably is where they have all the speed traps. I just think there are other priorities, such as unroadworthy vehicles, and people who overtake despite solid lines in the road. They should concentrate on these more important safety issues.
CM: When you are behind the wheel, what annoys you most about other road users?
BP: I was recently driving from Johannesburg to the ORT International Airport. About three 3km from Gillooly’s Interchange, there was a slow queue in the left-hand lane. You had people who (illegally) flew past on the left and right-hand sides. Law abiding citizens queued patiently while rascals came along and ignored the rules. That was extremely irritating.