Terry Annecke and her business partner Gary Turner have put a proudly South African product on the world map
Hollywood movie star Keanu Reeves rides his self-built motorbikes in the latest John Wick film series, using carbon fibre wheels made for him by Joburg-based BlackStone Tek (BST), founded by Terry Annecke and her business partner Gary Turner.
Annecke, tall and model-like, strides around BST’s futuristic looking, hi-tech factory in Joburg, stroking brilliantly coloured motorbike parts and wheels with undiluted pleasure.
She and Turner began producing the world’s first carbon fibre motorcycle wheels 17 years ago.
It was Annecke who took the unique South African technology to world markets when carbon fibre was a relatively new material.
Its advantage over wheels used by the average motorbike is its low weight and high strength, which increase speed, lightness and safety.
“This makes bikes easier to handle and allows for quicker acceleration and much faster braking – attributes beloved by motorbiking fanatics,” explains Annecke.
Carbon fibre is five times stronger than steel but much lighter.
Microscopic threads of carbon, which are a non-metallic chemical element, are woven together, “to create the material”, says Annecke showing me what the material looks like.
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Inspiration: A need to not be conformist.
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BST was the first company in the world to manufacture such wheels in “a repeatable and handmade industrialised process”, she says.
Today, most electric motorcycles in the world are running on BST wheels.
Many land speed-record bikes use them and so does AeroMobil, the Slovak flying car prototype.
It was in the 1990s when Turner, a motorbike enthusiast, began researching the use of carbon fibre to make wheels.
He designed a mould for a monocoque (a single part) “which nobody had done effectively before, and we patented the manufacturing process”, says Annecke.
But, he needed multiples of that wheel and had to work out how to industrialise the process. He also had to start a business to manufacture and sell the wheels.
This is where Annecke was drawn in. She started the business side of BST in her home’s spare room. The machining aspect was outsourced.
“We had many partners but few engineering businesses could work to our specifications, so we pulled them all into our North Riding factory in order to manage and control all the processes.”
A critical component of this is the safety of their wheels. “It keeps me awake at night. We’re obsessive about quality,” says Annecke.
When BST started in 2002, there was a handful of carbon fibre motorcycle wheels in the world.
“Within 18 months of operating we had sold 700 and since then we’ve produced about 30 000.”
The wheels are exported all over the world including [to] Japan and the US.
“We export 97% of our product. We met American motorcycle designer, Gard Hollinger, some years ago and he began using BST wheels for his own custom-made bikes.”
When Reeves launched his own motorcycle manufacturing business, Arch Motorcycle, five years ago with Hollinger, they used only BST wheels from the word go.
“Keanu acknowledges us at every event. He and Gard have done so much for us,” says Annecke. “Arch and BST are a perfect fit – we do both practical and seriously beautiful work for them that extends beyond wheels.”
She adds that BST conducts business on a “trust and common understanding basis”.
“We’ve only signed one contract so far and that’s with Ducati because it is so big.”
Other brands that BST works with include Italian motorcycle manufacturer MV Agusta and UK company Norton Motorcycle.
When Annecke matriculated from Pretoria Girls’ High as head girl and then graduated from the University of Natal with a BA, she had no idea what she wanted to do with her life.
It was while working for a lawyer that she was asked to join IBM where she spent 13 years.
She became a systems engineer and later headed the marketing of PCs and IBM’s personal systems.
A year after Microsoft opened in South Africa in 1993, Annecke moved there, running the major accounts unit, helping it to introduce a licensing model and to start the Microsoft Consulting Business in South Africa.
“We would meet Bill Gates and [former CEO] Steve Ballmer all over the world, to present our future plans to them,” she says.
In 2002, having worked for the two biggest IT giants in the world for 20 years, Annecke, always a non-conformist and “a bit of an adrenaline junkie”, responded to Turner’s challenge to put a relatively unknown material on to a motorcycle and on to the world map. “It had not been done effectively before and I thought, ‘do I know anything about carbon fibre? No!’ But I love a challenge.”
Today, Annecke, who is responsible for building the company and the brand, for raising capital, instilling its culture, taking its product global and educating users, says BST is expanding at a rapid pace.
“We’re also looking at the car wheel market. We need to be ahead of the game and our new tagline is, ‘Simply the BeST’.”
Annecke relaxes by scuba diving, “it’s an exquisite new world for me down there”, and tending to her 150 fish at home.