Looking back on 1999, our founding year, I realise that I could not have started this business at a more difficult time. I had quit my contract job as a project manager at eThekwini Water Services (EWS) and we had just bought our first house after renting a flat for 16 years. The house was in dire need of repair – the wooden window frames were completely rotten; the entire roof was leaking, and the plumbing and electrical works needed urgent repairs. After paying for the deposit, there was very little money left for repairs. Whenever it rained, I would have to climb on the roof, often late at night, to cover the leaks with a plastic sheet or tarp.
However, I was still determined to start my own business. It is often said that entrepreneurs are determined, risk takers, disciplined, passionate, confident and hardworking but I believed that you have to be a little crazy and have a single-minded vision. I was extremely fortunate that my wife encouraged and supported all of my decisions from the outset, whilst making many sacrifices just for us to pursue our dream. I started Naidu Consulting in the “study” of our new home – I was the sole employee and my wife would later help me with the administration work. We did not have much money. We maxed out our credit cards and used our Woolworths cards to take loans to make ends meet as I did not have a salary or steady income. The banks did not want to give us an overdraft as we were a start-up with no security of any sort. Using my credit card, I bought an Acer desktop and screen from Makro and we were in business.
As the sole employee, I would meet the clients, do the designs, drawings, rebar detailing, site inspections, site meetings, site meeting minutes, payment certificates and invoices. I was extremely disciplined – I would be in my study very early in the morning and work till very late at night. There was no other option – I wanted to succeed despite the massive effort it took to do so.
The values that drove me then still resonates within our firm now and remains amongst the core values that have contributed to our success over the last twenty years:
- Hard work
- A continuous quest for excellence
- Always remaining humble never forgetting our humble beginnings.
The relationships that I had established in my years of working prior to me starting Naidu Consulting and shortly thereafter, have also played a huge role in our success.
Former colleagues at EWS approached me in the early years and decided to join me. These were people, who had permanent jobs at the Metro in Durban, with good salaries, medical aid and housing subsidies, great leave and many other benefits yet they wanted to leave all of this to join me! To name a few: Nelson Adams, Sharon Marillier (now in Dublin, Ireland) and the late Phineas Ngidi , who tragically passed away in after a taxi accident while travelling to work from Umlazi to my home office in Reservoir Hills. Dinesh Sewraj, Zain Ebrahim, and Marlin Nadasen remain amongst our longest serving staff members and it would take many more pages to name others past and present who have been contributed to our success.
Mahendren Manicum – was a deputy director at the KZN Department of Transport (KZN DoT). He left a secure job at the KZN DoT with many benefits – to join me and now leads this firm sharing the same values that have helped with our success! These people had so much faith and believed in me – the responsibility to succeed was overwhelming and it drove me!
The good relationships that I had developed with other firms that I had worked with prior to starting Naidu Consulting also played an important role in growing the company further:
- Crous Wolff & Associates which later became Letsunyane Associates –took me on as a 10% joint venture (JV) partner on the P100 project withthe KZN DoT because of my experience with preferential procurement andworking with black contractors since 1994 – The roles were laterreversed when Naidu Consulting was made the lead partner and setthe path for our success.
- Knight Piesold, which I had overseen as a project manager when they were consultants for EWS later became our junior JV partner on P100 and I later became a 10% shareholder, director and subsequently chairman of the Board for Knight Piesold. I put together a joint venture with them, and we bid for and won the WA Ph1 and the NA projects.
- Stewart Scott who later became RHDHV, I also worked with at EWS, and at my request, joined us on many successful joint ventures – notably being the Western Aqueduct in a JV I put together with Knight Piesold which we bid for and won.
- Keeve Steyn which became Goba then Hatch Goba, Vke later Vela VKE and later SMEC, are firms which I had established previous relationships with, entered into JVs with us and to this day we still do a lot of work and bids with SMEC.
Suppliers like Kingfisher, Silver Streaks, Soilco, Peter Brokensha, Craig Silva (MHP Geomatics) Geosure and many others have developed as a result of good relationships established which has played an important role and contributed to our success over the years.
These relationships were based on integrity, professionalism, good faith, a healthy respect for quality, hard work, honesty and ensuring that we fairly shoulder our share of the work and responsibility.
We have made significant achievements over the last 20 years which we can be extremely proud of:
- We have grown from one to around 170 people.
- We have moved over the last 20 years from my study to our office in Halpin Avenue to a 1056sqm Head Office and a 400sqm separate Structures office space in Westway Office Park, a successful office in Tshwane, and we have just opened an office in the Eastern Cape and established a presence in the Western Cape.
- From working on projects just in the eThekwini region to working all over KZN, Tshwane, Gauteng, Northern Cape, Eastern Cape, Western Cape, Mpumalanga – we are working throughout South Africa and exploring projects in Africa!
- From working for just one municipality in KZN (eThekwini) to working across all 3 spheres of government (nationally, provincially and municipally) as well as SOE’s and parastatals and for some selected clients in the private sector.
- From being a junior joint venture partner to now being the lead partner, offering many opportunities to emerging consultants and many small businesses and suppliers.
- From having just one registered professional when we started, to over 25 professional engineers, technologists, technicians and project managers.
- From just one desktop computer to each of our 162 people having their own computers and laptops with access to the latest hardware, software and technology accompanied by the training we constantly provide to improve our people’s skills and our firm’s capability.
- To have won numerous national provincial and regional awards in many categories and importantly having been judged by our peers for these awards.
- To have constantly annually achieved a Level 1 BBBEE accreditation even as a large generic enterprise, which is very difficult to do, is a noteworthy achievement and speaks volumes about our consistent commitment to the democracy of our country.
- To have consistently annually obtained 3 ISO accreditations (ISO 9001; 14001; 18001) is a praiseworthy achievement which is an indictment of our ongoing drive for quality and professionalism.
- To consistently have, one of the lowest staff attrition rates in our industry is a tremendous achievement and states loudly that we are doing something right for the people who work with us.
- To have made large and consistent contributions both in monetary and time value to charities, schools and the communities we work in, not because we have to but because we want to try to create a better life for all we can.
- To offer bursaries to our employees to improve their qualifications and careers.
- To have offered yearly salary increases and annual bonuses since founding this firm, when many other firms in our industry could not. We will continue to do so as long as we can.
- To have improved the lives of all our employees, past and present.
Our successes over the last 20 years are founded in our hard work, our ongoing quest for excellence, never forgetting where we have come from and by helping those less fortunate than us. We have touched the lives of so many – our people as well as the people that we do business with and the communities that we work in.
None of this would ever have been possible without the support of my wife and family who always believed in my dream and of course, without each and every one of you. You have made it possible.
It is very fulfilling to see how far we have travelled in the last 20 years, but our journey is far from over and we have a long way to travel yet. I am exceedingly grateful to all of you for the success that Naidu Consulting has enjoyed over the last 20 years and the future that awaits us as we look forward to at least another 20 years.
Selvan Naidu (Executive Chairman)