Taking a back seat
At the end of August, VDL Bus & Coach South Africa said farewell to its managing director, Sam Mansingh, the man who brought the brand to our market. GAVIN MYERS attended the party and got one final interview.
“My decision to retire came from something my father told me many years ago …” Mansingh tells me. “Retire before it’s too late, while you still have the time and money in the bank to enjoy life,” the 61- year-old says.
A well-known figure in the local bus industry, Mansingh has lived his passion for the industry since 1987.
Jan-Cees Santema, managing director of VDL Bus & Coach, recalls: “VDL entered the South African market in 2004. We felt the front-engined product was a good fit for the local market; it had enjoyed success in Ethiopia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, western Africa and Zimbabwe for many years.” The company decided to enter the market with Tyco (then a subsidiary of Imperial) to import VDL chassis. That’s where the company met Mansingh.
“Tyco and Imperial then parted ways,” Santema continues. “Sam was responsible for sales and we asked him to join forces with us in Holland. Together we started the company VDL Bus & Coach SA – the sole importer of the product to South Africa.”
Santema is full of praise for his colleague (not necessarily former colleague, mind you, as, although Mansingh will not be involved in running the business, he still owns a share of the company). “I’m proud that he and the staff have been very dedicated to us, they work very hard and have a lot of fun.”
That sense of fun – palpable among the company’s staff – is clearly a result of Mansingh’s influence. “I’ve always had a philosophy that, when I come to work, I don’t come to work – I come to play,” he explains. “And it’s been excellent, I’ve enjoyed being here. VDL has been so exciting to work with. Yes, we’ve had ups and downs, but we always achieved whatever we set out to achieve. The market has been good to us and the product is respected; I think that is the most important thing.”
Together, Mansingh’s philosophy and VDL’s culture are clearly the drivers of this success. “One of the advantages is that VDL doesn’t have a huge company hierarchy, we can get a decision made immediately. There’s no such thing as us and them. VDL’s motto is ‘strength through cooperation,’ you need harmony and cohesion. It’s important,” Mansingh says of the local concern’s working relationship with its parent company.
“It’s part of our culture. The business is family owned and we see the South African operation as part of the family,” Santema continues, as Mansingh explains that his colleague will take the post of managing director, based in Holland, while Sharon Coopsamy will be responsible for running the local office. “It really will be business as usual,” he assures.
Mansingh is happy that he’ll be able to witness the company’s continual move forward. “But first, my three-month round the world cruise …” he concludes.