Leading (S)pringbok (A)tlas

Springbok Atlas is using its fleet – along with Craig Drysdale’s, CEO of the Coach Transport Division, marketing skills – to package South Africa into a top tourism destination.

Craig Drysdale, chief executive officer of the Coach Charter Transport Division at Springbok Atlas, refers to the company as a limb of his body – he knows it so well. JACO DE KLERK finds out why…


Life can certainly be compared to a roller coaster ride that takes us on some surprising twists and dives; that’s been the case for Craig Drysdale, chief executive officer of the Coach Charter Transport Division at Springbok Atlas.

Drysdale’s working life began at the McCarthy Group, straight after university. That’s when the roller coaster took an unexpected dive. “McCarthy was going through a lot of changes at that time, which I unfortunately was a part of,” Drysdale recollects. “I started at the company and four months later didn’t have a position there anymore.” After that he moved to Imperial, which Springbok Atlas is a part of.

That journey started in 1996 at Springbok Atlas’ Durban branch. “I was very young and started in the operations and marketing department – from where I really just grew.” And boy did Drysdale grow. He began as operations manager and from there climbed the corporate ladder. The first step was to branch manager in 2000 and then national general manager in 2006, with his latest ascent to chief executive officer in March last year. “So I’ve got a very long history with Springbok Atlas. In fact, on January 15 I’d been with the company for 16 years. You can say it was my first job and that I just grew with it,” says Drysdale.

“They say you never choose your career, but as soon as I was out of varsity I wanted to join a marketing company. Like all of us, when I finished my studies I needed a job and landed up at Springbok Atlas. At that time I thought it was just a stepping stone until I joined an organisation such as the Coca-Cola marketing company,” says Drysdale with a mischievous smile. “In time I realised that, you know what, tourism is marketing: ultimately, you sell South Africa as a destination.” So Springbok Atlas is now using its fleet – along with Drysdale’s marketing skills – to package South Africa into a top tourism destination. In short, Drysdale’s life took an unplanned turn that landed him with a perfect fit for his marketing background in tourism.

However, life is one constant learning process, especially in the transport and logistics industry. To address that, Drysdale took some impressive diplomas and courses in transport along the way. He also completed an Imperial Executive leadership course at the University of Pretoria’s Gordon Institute of Business Management last year, took a Certified Meetings Professional (CMP) Designation at the Conference Industry Council in the United States in 2010 (the highest designation that can be bestowed on an individual in the conference and events industry) and a postgraduate qualification in Human Resource Management and Training at the Chartered Institute of Business Management in 2000.

With Craig Drysdale, CEO of the Coach Transport Division at Springbok Atlas, in the drivers-seat, the company will certainly soar to new heights.Drysdale has also won some industry awards along the way, including the prestigious “Personality of the Year Award” given by the Southern Africa Association for the Conference Industry (SAACI) in 2005 – given to a person who has made a significant contribution in the business tourism sector in South Africa. In 2007 SKAL awarded him as the Best Coach Operator (Individual) in KwaZulu-Natal and in 2010 he was a finalist and runner up in the HICA (Hospitality Industry) Awards “Mover & Shaker” category.

Furthermore, he’s been the national president of the Southern African Tourism Services Association (SATSA) since last year; national president of the Coach Operators’ Association of Southern Africa (COASA), also last year (plus the period between 2006 and 2008); and a board member  of the South African CMP board since 2011. He also serves on the users’ forum board of the International Convention Centre of Durban (since 2005). That all adds to the many turns Drysdale’s roller coaster ride has taken him on and shows how much he’s grown in the coach and bus charter industry.

The 16-year span of Drysdale’s career hasn’t just seen his own growth but also ongoing growth at Springbok Atlas. “When I first started in 1996 there were only two big competitors in the charter industry,” Drysdale recalls. “Springbok Atlas was by far the dominant company and certainly held 70 to 75 percent of market share.” But with a new democracy came a new Constitution and a new order that opened the market to “all” – resulting in many new entries entering the coach industry. “A lot of businesses have been created – which is great. But they’ve become very much our competitors.”

Despite that extra competition, Springbok Atlas is still a top-notch bus operator, proven by the Lions, Sharks and Stormers – provincial rugby teams – that use the company’s fleet. Springbok Atlas will also be a sponsor/supplier to the Kaizer Chiefs soccer team until 2014 and will provide the same service to the Springboks until 2016. The company has also handled the transportation of official teams and supporters at other major sporting events in South Africa. In 1995, Springbok Atlas transported all the official teams competing in the Rugby World Cup, and in 2003 provided a similar service (including supporters) for the Cricket World Cup. The company also transported all 32 official teams and supporters at the 2010 Soccer World Cup, which, as Drysdale says, “was the biggest event South Africa has ever seen and the biggest event we’ve ever run”, reaffirming Springbok Atlas as one of the largest and most experienced luxury coach operators countrywide.

However, the future holds great uncertainty with a possible looming economic recession. “I think the market is still very depressed. As a luxury coach provider we’re still geared up for the international market, which is bleeding at the moment. So the order of the day is to reinvent – watch this space,” says Drysdale.

But with Springbok Atlas’ astonishing 66 years in the industry – and with Drysdale to lead the way – its future may be compared to a comfortable coach trip instead of an uncontrolled roller coaster ride.

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