Clever engineers unite

Johannesburg - The story of how F&K Engineering and Hlakani Engineering came together is inspirational.

A veteran of 29 years in the engineering industry, F&K is legendary in the Middleburg and greater Mpumalanga area for its workmanship and delivery.

When Hlakani was started in 2009 by media personality turned entrepreneur Quereshini Naidoo and her business partner Gerhard Holtshauzen, F&K offered them office space to launch their new venture. Hlakani was not asked to pay rent, but to rather contribute to a charity of F&K founder Frans Stapelberg’s choice.

Over the next eight years, the young company grew so fast that, when Stapelberg and his business partner Kevin Thring decided to call it a day, there was only one buyer to consider – Hlakani.

The deal to acquire F&K Engineering was finalised in June and was funded by the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), which is now a strategic partner in the expanded company.

The takeover makes perfect sense as the skills of the two companies complement each other. Hlakani is a welding specialist whose clients include Eskom, as well as sizeable construction and manufacturing firms. F&K does fabrications, machining and site services at a number of mines. F&K also brings with it its range of sophisticated machinery, including a large Mimax milling machine, one of only three in the country.

An ecstatic Naidoo said the acquisition of F&K engineering by Hlakani had made them into a formidable company. It has grown from just under 100 employees to 390 workers, including 110 red-seal certified steel artisans.

“We are able to offer turnkey solutions. From start to finish, we can do it in the company; we don’t need to subcontract any service,” she said.

Naidoo said the IDC was immediately interested in the transaction because it involved an industry that it was focusing on. It also had an excellent relationship with Hlakani, having financed two of the company’s expansions.

“Sustainable industrial development and job creation are crucial for us, mainly as [they] ensure our continuation and ability to meet the exacting demands of industrial clients,” she said.

The name Hlakani is a clever play on the words ‘hlakaniphile’ and ‘hlanganani’, which are isiZulu for the words ‘clever’ and ‘unite’, respectively.

Naidoo admits that she knew very little about engineering before entering into a partnership with Holtshauzen and Hermann Brummer. She attributes her success in running this operation to her refusal to take no for an answer.

“I drove 1 000 km a week from power station to power station looking for business. I’m not an engineer. I’m marketing, admin, human resources and client liaison. I went out there and I just knocked on doors and said: ‘Listen, give me a chance.’ It took wearing them down … I said give me something small so we can prove that we can do it.”

Naidoo, who used to host a Sunday morning show on Gauteng-based talk station 702, uses a video recording machine analogy to describe her relationship with her business partners and how their individual strengths work together.

“If a video recorder arrives in Herman’s hands with a manual, he opens the manual, sits for five hours, reads the manual cover to cover and makes the video work.

“If the same video recorder arrives in Gerhard’s hands. He gets it, looks at the manual, tosses the manual away, takes the whole thing apart and makes it work.

“If it arrives in my hands, I look at the machine, I look at the manual, I pick up the phone and say, ‘Darling, I’ll buy you lunch, come show me how the whole thing works.’ That’s how we are, and that’s how we fit,” she said.

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