How BDSA’s Sabelo Bryson Williams is piloting his company from Ballito to beyond international borders

Ballito-based BDS Airways (BDSA) is an emerging black-owned consumer airline with its sights set on the short-haul domestic travel market. It’s also a futuristic, tech-savvy, 4IR-enabled company that has a diverse, expanding investment portfolio in logistics and hospitality. Unorthodox in its methods, unlimited in the scope of its ambition, BDSA is a reflection of its founder, Sabelo Bryson Williams.

Williams is a vibrant, funny, warm-hearted yet shrewd 34-year-old businessman who was born and raised in Mandeni, KwaZulu-Natal by two strong black women: his grandmother and his aunt. Although he does not have any formal education beyond matric, he knew from the tender age of 10 without even stepping onto a plane that he wanted to go into the aviation space. Achieving this ambition entailed considerable sacrifice, even to the point of forgoing the comfort of his bed. If this dynamic individual could be defined by a single phrase, it would be “started from the bottom, now we here”.

A leap of faith

After matriculating, Williams did a stint as a volunteer at loveLife, described as “South Africa’s largest youth leadership, life skills and sexuality awareness programme”, loveLife “has been at the forefront of promoting healthy lifestyles and social agency among South African teenagers since 1999.” During this period, Williams developed his vision – – “then took a leap of faith into business.”

Right from the start, William’s dreams were big, broad-based and bold – characteristics that are reflected in his personal management and leadership style. “I have an open-door policy, and I believe a leader must be willing to learn and teach simultaneously. However, I emphasise doing things right the first time around. My motto, even in my personal life, is to dream big or go home. I do not believe in starting small.”

True to his beliefs, Williams has led BDSA from humble beginnings to a position of capacity and strength. In its relatively short existence, the company has passed many significant milestones along the way. As William highlights, “We are an aviation, freight and cargo enterprise, with interest in hospitality, water transportation. BDSA is the first black-led company to acquire Zimbali Hotel and 2 hotels, which we would rather not name, in Dubai.”

Be not afraid to break any barrier

As a young black entrepreneur, William is not afraid to speak plainly, nor is he too timid to voice his ambition. Seizing the bull by the horns – and following through – comes as naturally to him as breathing. This is a leader who is not afraid to rock the boat – and one for whom short-term thinking is absent from his vocabulary.

“My passion for aviation was lit after a school trip in primary to the then Durban International Airport (now King Shaka International Airport), and I have never looked back since. Young black people must not be afraid to break barriers and penetrate businesses that are not traditionally believed to be our forte.

If BDSA grew from South African soil, it is in the skies that it is set to flourish.

“I honestly do not have short term goals in business. However, in the long term, I want to see BDSA to have the first black-owned international airline, and become the next Sol Kerzner.”

Responsibly embracing the 4IR advantage while inproving the client’s business experience

Balancing the business advantage that stems from embracing 4IR with the social responsibility incumbent on any mindful player in the South African business environment is a challenge that William is facing head on. “As much as 4IR has been advantageous from a financial perspective, it has also removed the human aspect of the business and taken the bread out of employees’ mouths. This has proved challenging as BDSA seeks to empower the people, in all shapes and forms.”

At the same time, William acknowledges that is imperative for companies such as BDSA to embrace what 4IR has to offer: “4IR leaves less space for error, saves the business money, and maximises profit. 4IR also pushes one to become educated in technology, a field they might have not normally taken interest in.”

To ensure that BDSA continuously develops technology solutions adapted to their clients’ needs, William says, “We have made it possible for prospective clients to communicate with us directly from our website, as opposed to how they would previously have had to visit our offices.”

Some of the more interesting concepts that BDSA brings to the table are smart shipping containers and the company’s #flybdsa portal. William explains that the purpose of such innovations is to enhance clients’ business experience with BDSA. “The containers help identify any challenges encountered while in transit, and they are easy to track and monitor, thus minimising risk (damage) and financial factors (insurance claims). They are also easy to locate upon arrival. The portal enables convenient and faster communication between BDSA and clients, while keeping in line with modern times, without picking up the phone or visiting the office.”

Post-Covid-19: the sky’s the limit

In common with practically every business on the planet, the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted William’s company and industry alike. However, in his case, the pandemic has had a catalytic effect that has helped him to pilot his business in a different manner. In practice, this turned out to mean branching out into another sector entirely. As William explains, “The pandemic is what got us interested in hospitality, as the aviation sector was greatly affected at the beginning of the national lockdown. Going forward, we will continue to venture into other businesses such as casinos, private chartering and commodity trade, while keeping in line with lockdown regulations as well as not losing focus of the crux of the business (being aviation).”

This diversification bodes well for the sustainability of BDSA’s operations in future. It further suggests that William’s notion of becoming a future Kerzner is not the idle talk of a dreamer, but the sober intention of a pragmatic empire builder. William’s unshakeable conviction of his own capability is based on the evidence afforded by personal achievement, while his drive is fuelled by the knowledge that what he has done, others can do too.

“Black child, it is possible. Do not listen to the advice of the naysayers. Grow the

economy, play your role – go big! Believe it or not, you can start a business without a cent in your pocket,” concludes William