Industry Profile

Warwick van Breda

Thursday, 18 December 2008 ( #391 )
Warwick van Breda has been working in materials handling for over 20 years
Warwick van Breda has been working in materials handling for over 20 years
As a child, SA French's operations director, Warwick van Breda, spent his time playing in the sandpit - not with toy trucks but with skid steer loaders, telehandlers and forklifts. You could say materials handling is in his blood.

Growing up in a family business meant weekends and holidays were spent learning how to pilot and operate these big machines. It also means van Breda, whose family originally founded SA French, has seen many changes in the materials handling industry over the past 20 years.

One of the biggest changes is the move away from manual labour. van Breda says the advent of a democratically elected government in his native South Africa meant that unfair labour practices have been curtailed, making employers "far more cognisant of the cost of labour" and boosting mechanisation of all industries from mining to petrochemical and, in particular, construction.

"I remember delivering the first Merlo telescopic handler to a client in South Africa in 1987 and it was revolutionary. However, in comparison to the 2008 panoramic (model), it looks like the old Model-T Ford."

van Breda has not always worked for SA French. He studied law and politics at university in London and went into legal practice, specialising in corporate finance. "I realised that I enjoyed the commercial aspect of the job far more than the practice of law," he says. "I decided to return to South Africa to pursue a business career."

SA French's Johannesburg office
SA French's Johannesburg office
South African company, SA French was founded in 1982 and became sole distributor for Potain tower cranes in Southern Africa. The company has since focused on lifting and materials handling. It has added Merlo telescopic forklifts and Ausa rough-terrain forklifts to its stable, along with rack-and-pinion materials and passenger hoists from Saltec in Spain.

van Breda has worked on many projects throughout Africa, but working on the stadium projects for the 2010 World Cup has been a highlight. "It has been tremendous," he says. "We have been able to supply Potain tower cranes and Merlo telescopic handlers to a variety of clients on each of the stadium builds and, in many cases, offer advice on the placement and deployment of the equipment.

"This adds value to the customer and has the benefit of making one feel part of the effort to bring this soccer showpiece to Africa."

Like the rest of the world, South Africa has felt the impact of the global credit crunch and SA French has noticed a reduction in capital expenditure. But van Breda says projects that are currently on the go could always benefit from the use of some form of mechanised materials handling and SA French works with companies to help them save money in the current climate.

"If a mine were to be approached and shown, utilising a statistical analysis, that it could actually save money through the use of a fleet of masted forklifts or telescopic handlers instead of a single backhoe loader and a truck, it would make life easier for the purchasing manager or resident engineer to be motivated to purchase," he says.

"The first step is to engage with all of our clients in all sectors and find out how we can save them money. Secondly, many of the purchases will inevitably become rentals in a time of economic uncertainty."

The Merlo fleet
The Merlo fleet
In August, van Breda told Forkliftaction.com News SA French was not concerned about the uncertain market. "The uncertain conditions play into SA French's business strategy going forward," he commented (Forkliftaction.com News #375).

van Breda has big goals for the company with job creation and skills training a priority. "In a country with a 40% unemployment rate, it is extremely important not only to provide a job but to make sure that those employed are given skills with which to enrich themselves as well as the company," he says.

"Continual education and improvement are vital to the success of our business and our country. I would like to see the government invest far more in trade schools and formal apprenticeships," he explains.

He also wants to focus on creating a company culture where innovation is recognised and rewarded and where the industry has set standards. "We are systems-oriented and firmly believe that this is why we are able to provide better service. It would be useful if legislation was in place and policed to raise the standards of the entire industry."
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