Holding(s) ability

Faizal Motlekar, Chairman of Motlekar Holdings
faizal.jpg

The chairman of Motlekar Holdings and main sponsor of the BBQ Awards believes there is no value in the money you make, if you do not give back.

Faizal Motlekar’s entrepreneurial crusade started 25 years ago when he opened the doors of his general dealer store in Koffiefontein, a farming town 91 kilometres southeast of Kimberley. He spent the next two-and-a-half decades building his empire brick by brick, while changing thousands of lives along the way.

Born in Kimberley, as the son of entrepreneurial parents, Motlekar had his first taste of running a business while working in his family’s supermarket. Then one day, he decided he wanted to try it on his own.


“This was in 1989. I decided that it was time to start my own store [the general dealer in Koffiefontein],” he says from his Clifton apartment, overlooking the mighty Atlantic Ocean. After a brief pause, Motlekar explains how a few years later, he realised that he wanted more. “I moved to Bloemfontein in 1994, where I started a flooring business while running a second-hand car dealership at the same time.”

Business went very well indeed, and in 1999 he exchanged the City of Roses for the City of Gold, where he founded Motlekar Investments, which would later become Motlekar Holdings. “The very first company we got involved in was M5 Housing,” he explains. “This was one of the first businesses in South Africa that we dealt with in the construction of RDP houses.”

One of the first housing projects Motlekar Holdings got involved in was Cosmo City, which is South Africa’s first integrated housing project. The construction of the residential area in Gauteng, situated near Kya Sand, started in 2004. Currently, Cosmo City boasts 15 000 units—5 000 social or fully subsidised units and 5 000 bonded residences.

“What makes this housing project different, is that it comprises government-subsidised, affordable homes and bonded houses,” Motlekar explains. “It is the very first development of its kind in this country. The banks were therefore very sceptical, initially. They wondered how we were going to build bank-bonded houses right next door to government-subsidised houses. They were afraid that this particular structure would bring down the value of the bonded property.

“Well, guess what? The opposite happened,” Motlekar says with a smile while he leans back on his sofa, folding his hands on his lap. “This makes us trailblazers of integrated mixed development in South Africa. I am very proud of that.”

Motlekar Holdings’ track record doesn’t stop at Cosmo City, on the contrary. Countless opportunities followed since 2004, which resulted in the purchase of, and the investment in a plethora of businesses, from civil engineering companies to IT firms. Growth of the business therefore was imminent.

“Today, we have some 20 companies in our portfolio,” Motlekar says. “People acknowledge our credibility, and they trust our capabilities to enhance their businesses.”

When it comes to choosing companies to invest in or buy into, Motlekar says he looks at the obvious aspects such as profitability, but also at a company’s modus operandi when it comes to issues like transformation.

“We take transformation very seriously. I won’t be apologetic towards that,” he notes. “That said, we at Motlekar Holdings hire people based on their merit. If you can do the job, you get the job because of what you can do, not just because of the colour of your skin or religious background.”

While having a workforce that represents South Africa’s demographics is important when it comes to eradicating the economic inequalities of the past and making this country most fair, Motlekar says that true transformation starts with companies’ procurement policies. “When we decide to get involved in a company, we look at its procurement policy. In my opinion, change can only happen when larger companies do businesses with smaller black-owned and black-empowered firms.”

While Motlekar Holdings has different types of businesses under its wings, the company undoubtedly leans towards infrastructure and construction. One of the key firms in the Motlekar Holdings portfolio is Group Five Motlekar, which is a joint venture with JSE-listed construction firm, Group Five Limited.

“For us, to have done a deal with Group Five—one of the largest construction companies in the country—means that we have done something right,” Motlekar explains, adding that Group Five Motlekar currently has a turnover of R250 million rand per annum and a signed and sealed order book of 18 000 government-subsidised houses worth R7 billion.

"These houses will be built across South Africa, over the next five years,” he says. “One has to note that the RDP houses Group Five Motlekar is building today, are considerably different from the conventional 26m² homes with which South Africa started off. These units have a surface area of 54m² and feature bedrooms, a lounge, bathroom, plumbing, lights, ceilings and roof tiles. They are very similar to bonded homes.”


What drives the construction side of Motlekar Holdings is innovation and the constant striving to improve both the building process as well as the end result. The company recently started a housing project in Delft, near Cape Town, using the relatively new and much more efficient Vela panel system, the largest such project in Africa which Motlekar purchased from its founding member.

Motlekar explains how 2 000 homes will be built in Delft using this modular building system. “The Vela system comprises structurally insulated panels as a prime building material. They have many advantages over conventional building material,” he explains. “The panels are durable, sustainable and much stronger than bricks and mortar. They insulate well, meaning that Vela panels make a home’s interior warmer in winter, and cooler in summer.”

“While it is a fairly new building system in South Africa, the Vela panels are being used across Europe and the United States, but also increasingly in Africa,” Motlekar says. “That said, in South Africa, the Vela system is increasingly utilised for the construction of housing for mineworkers.”

The Vela housing project in Delft is a pilot project and should be finished in March next year. Motlekar says that the construction of the units is on track: “We have completed 800 of the 2 000 units already. I visit the site regularly to keep an eye on progress: I travel to the Western Cape, from Johannesburg where I am based, every week.”

Motlekar remembers that despite the many advantages of the Vela system, it took a while before the panels were accepted. “There was some scepticism. All people knew was bricks and mortar,” Motlekar says. “Anything else was regarded as cardboard. People have come to accept it, as they have experienced the advantages. Builders, too, have come to like the system. It is easy to work with once you know how. Another advantage of the Vela system is that it has decreased the construction time per house. It takes two days to erect a Vela house, including roof and walls.”

While building homes and other projects is crucial to the viability of Motlekar Holdings as a business, its founder says there is more to life—and his company—than making money. “By building homes, we are building communities,” he explains with determination in his voice. “For me, it is not just about making money. It is about making change and a difference. As long as I will be able to, even if I won’t make money, I will always keep building. By constructing houses and infrastructure, you give people dignity.

“I remember how one day, we handed over houses and one of the recipients was an 80-year-old woman,” Motlekar recalls. “This woman had never lived in a house with a roof and a door and running water. I wanted to hand over the keys to her myself. It was very emotional.”

Coming from a humble background and being aware of the plight of millions of less fortunate South Africans, Motlekar is very much involved in community upliftment work. Take Shout SA, a movement that was launched in 2007 following the murder of musician, Lucky Dube. The foundation’s objective is to make South Africa a safer place for all who live in it. “I sit on the board of Shout SA. I am very passionate about this organisation. Safety is something that concerns us all,” Motlekar told Black Business Quarterly.

Motlekar Holdings is also a supporter of Crime Line and Lead SA, it has built various clinics, and it gets involved when natural disasters strike. Motlekar: “We got involved when the earthquake hit parts of Gauteng earlier this year. When the tornado struck Johannesburg in 2011, which left hundreds of people homeless, we donated R1.5 million to the emergency fund. We have also rebuilt houses that were damaged.”

“Why we do this? I believe that there is no value in the money you make if you can’t or won’t give back to the community,” Motlekar stresses. “You need to reinvest in the community. It is all about creating dignity and respect for those who have less than you.”

The company’s community upliftment drives do not end with Shout SA and the involvement in natural disaster relief. “We are funding 10 university bursaries per year for youngsters from the school I attended, who want to study construction, infrastructure or commerce,” Motlekar says. “We also help out those who want to become pilots. There are a lot of people who can’t afford their final leap into getting their licence. That is where we come in.

“As a youngster, I always dreamt of having my own plane, a small one with a propeller,” he recalls with a smile. “Today, the company owns two jets. This is for work, I must add. Time is of the essence. Sometimes I have to visit three or four different provinces in one day.”

When looking back at the past quarter of a century, Motlekar undoubtedly has much to be proud of. In his opinion, two achievements stand out: “I am very proud of Cosmo City, the first integrated housing development in this country. It was unheard of. The banks back in the days weren’t sure whether they should lend me the money. In the end, it did work.

“I always believed that it would. We were 10 years into our democracy when the Cosmo City construction started and the reconciliation process was well under way. Forgiveness was in the air,” he continues. “In the end, the fact that Cosmo City worked is not something the banks can take credit for. They didn’t take the risk. We did.”

Motlekar’s biggest achievement, however, is of a totally different nature, he says: “That would be the fact that we created 5 000 full-time, direct jobs in the construction sphere of our business. This means that we are providing 5 000 families with an income and food on the table. Taking into account that the average household size in South Africa comprises round about five people, we are reaching a lot of individuals.”

 

The employment creation aspect is Motlekar’s biggest achievement and his strongest driver: “Making sure that these people will be able to feed their families in the future while ensuring they can continue to send their kids to school … it is a huge responsibility. It is truly my biggest burden, and therefore the reason we as a company must continue to thrive.”

Miriam Mannak

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