Maxillaria Logistics

A journey of perseverance to create world-class integrated, fit-for-purpose logistics solutions

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Maxillaria Logistics was established in South Africa by the Lunga family to expand and build on their very successful logistics operation in Zimbabwe. This move has allowed the company to compete in the most sophisticated market on the continent.

Bernard Lunga (Senior), currently Maxillaria’s Executive Director, established Cross Country Containers in Harare, Zimbabwe in 1998.

Years of experience in the industry, together with an early focus on technology, process engineering and skills development, allowed Cross Country Containers to grow from strength to strength. Today, they own a fleet of 160 vehicles and operate in several markets in the Southern African region.

Bernard Lunga (Junior) heads up Maxillaria in Johannesburg. He aims to diversify the company’s service offerings into several market segments in the supply chain logistics sector.

“After completing a Bachelor’s Degree in Commerce in Melbourne, Australia, I joined the family business in 2007, completing a three-year management development programme in 2010. At the time, our Operations Director resigned and I assumed that role. When I first joined the business in 2007, we had about 50 trucks and by the time I was Operations Director in 2010, we had grown it to 100 trucks. And then from 2010 to 2014, when I decided to move to South Africa, it had grown to about 150 trucks,” explains Lunga (Junior)

“Our fleet in Zimbabwe was built on second-hand trucks from America. When the time came to recapitalise the business and renew the fleet we faced challenges obtaining finance to do so. We decided to start a company in South Africa and grow our business in a functional economy such as South Africa. This would allow us access to a strong banking system enabling us to utilise modern equipment.” That’s when we made our way down to South Africa, roughly in late 2015,” he explains.

Maxillaria Logistics was started from scratch with the vision to modernise the operations, put in new systems and get access to new vehicles in order to run a world-class operation. Lunga explains that there were a number of challenges, the main one being obtaining finances to purchase trucks.

“Even with the great asset background and experience that we had, because Zimbabwe is a different jurisdiction to South Africa, we couldn’t offer the banks any comfort in terms of assets that we could garnish if things didn’t go well. We had to purchase our first 15 trucks cash and second hand, but then we were offered a facility for 15 tri-axle flat decks from SA Truck Bodies. SA Truck Bodies had supported us for the 10 years as Cross Country and, in fact, in the last 10 years, we have bought 100 trucks from them, even though we were cross-border—it has grown into a very strong relationship. All of those vehicles were in place by September 2016 when we began operations as Maxillaria Logistics,” he says.

They began working with previous clients, moving commodities of fertiliser and other mixed industrial goods into Zimbabwe and into Zambia, and transporting copper out of Zambia and tobacco and chrome from Zimbabwe. However, to capitalise on the work available from clients and to secure larger contracts, more trucks were needed.

Currently, Maxillaria has a fleet of 25 trucks and has recently signed a new facility with Babcock and SA Truck Body to provide 10 new trucks and 10 site tippers that are going to be moving coal in the Middelburg area.

“While some sectors of the economy are slacking, logistics is one of those services that will always be needed. And coal is going to be a major significant factor driving the power generation for South Africa for the next 10 to 20 years. In addition, the export market for coal in South Africa is also very large. So, for us, this is a market sector with a great growth potential,” says Lunga.

He explains that their endeavour into the site tipper market is the beginning of the company’s diversification. “We’ve always been in the general cross-border cargo market. Thus, becoming local is the diversification part for us and as much as people are very pessimistic about the economy, we think there is more potential in running an efficient service inside South Africa.

“When you start changing the equipment that you use and you go into the site tipper market, you are not limited to just coal, there is also the chrome market and a substantial market to move grain as well as bulk fertilisers. At this stage, what we want is to focus on our road transport operation by providing custom fleet solutions to our clients. There is no need for the client, who has the volume and the work, to be taking on the risk of the capital assets. We will do that for you,” he emphasises.

In terms of further diversification, Lunga says there is a large market in the retail sector, as large retail conglomerates are looking to outsource more of their transportation work, and Maxillaria Logistics has started negotiating in that department.

Having worked in Zimbabwe and South Africa, Lunga says the key difference between the two in terms of the logistics industry is that, within the latter, the regulation is more in touch with the industry.

“One of the problems we found in Zimbabwe is that policy is not in touch with the actual operations on the ground. Now, we also see that there is huge initiative between the government and private industry to improve standards. You’ve got bodies, such as RTMS, which is actually a private organisation that stands between government policy and private operators and tries to get the balance to work,” explains Lunga.

“I feel that the influence of the Road Freight Association and these smaller private organisations representing the transporters has a much better voice in speaking to the government. Thus, I feel that, although there’s a lot of negativity, this is still a functional system. We have a voice. If enough of us stand up together and say that what has been decided by the government doesn’t work and is detrimental to business, they will take notice of what we’re talking about,” he adds.

Concerning business growth, Lunga says the company is very positive about the South African economy. “Having come from Zimbabwe, where we’ve seen major challenges to business, despite the best intentions of policy, I am always mindful to try and sell to my South African counterparts that the South African economy is very far from ruin. There are too many systems in place and the economy is too diverse for the entire economy to fall.

“Every economy goes through troubling times and while some of the issues are domestic, I think the majority is macro, especially considering the trade wars that are happening around the world. We are determined and very convinced that South Africa is the place for us to be for the next 10 to 20 years and we are investing actively in the growth here,” he says.

Regarding the role of technology, Lunga says that it has been a huge factor in business development and efficiency, as it allows better client integration. Maxillaria Logistics employs a number of innovative systems that assist the client’s utilisation of the services offered, productivity, the maximisation of asset utilisation, the cost control of fuel and the security of cargo.

Lunga views the size of Maxillaria Logistics as its competitive advantage, explaining that a smaller operation allows for more direct communication between clients and the decision-makers, allowing for a very personalised service. 

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