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AT THE WHEEL

Dream catcher “B

ig dreamers never sleep,” says a smiling Ciko Thomas. The bustling Volkswagen Joburg City Dealership bears testimony to this statement. For Ciko it proves that dreams, backed by guts, passion and, according to him, a good dose of naïvety, can come true. Through Akenton Investments, a company owned by Ciko, his business partner Litha Nkombisa and three black female partners, Volkswagen Joburg City was launched

in Johannesburg’s city centre at the end of 2006. Self-made entrepreneurs, Ciko and Litha put their houses and other assets on the line to realise their dream of owning and running a BMW Dealership. Ciko even waved farewell to his job as General Manager of Retail Bank Marketing at Absa and Litha handed in his resignation as Assistant General Manager at Nedbank. “We had two opportunities available at that stage. We could buy a 10% stake in a

big successful Dealership in the suburbs, or buy one of the poorer performers in the network. The first option wasn’t our dream; it wasn’t what we believed in, so we went with the alternative. We didn’t have a cent in equity. We battled to raise finance. We didn’t have any motor industry experience, but we are risk takers and decided to go hell for leather.” Their hard work and sacrifices paid off. The successful Dealership has cemented their

From left: Richard Longe (General Manger, Franchise Management at Volkswagen), Ciko Thomas, Mike Glendinning (Sales and Marketing Director of Volkswagen of South Africa) and Litha Nkombisa 46 Volkswagen


Success has everything to do with relentlessly pursuing your dreams, says Ciko Thomas, head of one of Volkswagen’s completely blackowned and operated Dealerships By Netanja van der Westhuizen

reputation as dedicated, hands-on business people, and has lead to their Volkswagen Dealership acquisition. “It took a while for us to get into Volkswagen, but we persevered. We have always aspired to the Volkswagen brand; it has always been close to our hearts. I’m a Port Elizabeth boy with at least six family members working at the Volkswagen factory in Uitenhage. Litha, who hails from this town, has many more relatives working at the Volkswagen plant. I have always

been a Volkswagen driver and have owned every generation of GTI ever made,” laughs Ciko, who manages the Volkswagen Dealership. Ciko and Litha’s business ambitions took shape in 2002. “We were on holiday in Mozambique and spoke about doing what entrepreneurs do. We were young, energetic and hungry for success. We talked about being directly involved and not just shareholders in the businesses we wanted to invest in.” On their return, Ciko and Litha started seeking ways to turn these intentions into reality. With another partner, they bought Enterprise Connection, an IT company from the Connection group, owners of Incredible Connection. Enterprise Connection recently merged with a listed entity and this new business is now valued at 10 times its original asking price. However, the motor industry beckoned. “It was crazy that there were no pure black-owned African Dealerships in 2003, despite the huge number of black people buying cars. Especially in Gauteng where the majority of all vehicles in South Africa are sold. We liked the motor industry and believed that we could make a difference. We’re naïve enough to understand that every business is about customers. If you offer customers an attractive proposition and support that with your service effort, they will buy from you, irrespective of where or who you are.” Ciko is constantly on the lookout for growth opportunities in which they can invest their competence, energy and passion. “I’m restless. I’m ambitious. I have big dreams and big plans. I’m constantly pursuing something. Passion is very important to us. It drives us.”

It’s this passion that attracted Volkswagen to Ciko and his partners, mentions Gregg Hiscock, Volkswagen’s Franchise Planning Manager. “Transformation in the Volkswagen Dealership network is extremely important to us. I get many calls from people who want to start or own Dealerships, but it’s not often that you find people like Ciko and Litha with motor retail expertise, funding and importantly, excitement about our industry. The Dealership that they bought was not performing, but thanks to Ciko and Litha’s drive and enthusiasm, I’m sure we are going to see a success story in the making.” Says Ciko, “We entered this industry because we believe the landscape of business in this country will drastically change, and the motor industry won’t be unaffected by that. So for every Imperial, Barloworld and Supergroup there will be a big motoring group that is black owned. Our dream is to become that group. The Volkswagen Dealership, like any other business, has its challenges, but operating in town is not one of them. We believe it can be the number one in sales, profitability and corporate social involvement. If we didn’t believe it, we wouldn’t have bought this Dealership.” When he isn’t working, Ciko spends time with his wife and one-year-old baby, friends and family. He is also devoted to many social activities, mostly focused on the youth. “I really believe in what young people can do for this country. There’s a groundswell of movement; a new wave of business people emerging from our youth,” he says. These young people will one day look at people like Ciko and say that they inspired them to live their dreams.

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