(Photo : Summerhill Stud)
“Mayor of Mooi River”
One division at Summerhill you hear very little about, is the trading store. The reason is, it’s tied with Goss & Co Insurance brokers as the least trouble! Those that remember the days when Vuma feeds were manufactured exclusively at Summerhill, will tell you that the trading store is tucked in between the loading ramps and the Vuma factory, convenient to everyone as they come and go to and from work. It’s the social gathering ground of everyone on the farm, and it’s the place where the bulk of our people first learnt to open and manage a credit account. You want to know what’s happening on the farm, formally or informally, how we’re managing the holidays, when the next shop bonus is going to be paid out, where the next party is, births, deaths, marriages and “scraps”, you’ll know it from a visit to the store.
The man in charge is Welcome Mbatha, whose name is already inscribed on the roll of honour of those who’ve received long service awards. He grew up the son of a labourer at Weston Agricultural College on the outskirts of our village, and joined us as a driver his first career job. As Group Business Manager, Ferdi Heinen puts it, Welcome made the job his own, and made it his business to know everyone and everything about the components of the group, as well as each and everyone of our suppliers. It wasn’t long, and he’d earned his nickname “Mayor of Mooi River”. His enterprise, his willingness and his decency compelled us to keep looking in his direction whenever a new position of suitable seniority opened itself, and when Ferdi’s late wife, Cathy, passed on, it was time to give Welcome a go. Shopkeeping was completely strange to him, but here was an entrepreneur, a trader from his toes to the top of his head, and it wasn’t long before he’d become the buyer, the merchandiser, the marketer and the salesman.
In a wink he’d become the administrator too, calculating his own mark-ups, reconciling debtors and the banking, tracking his stock holdings, signing off and settling creditors. Turnovers, budgets, GPs, net profits, you name it, Welcome has it in hand, and the Group Financial Manager, Kevin Fyvie, will tell you that when it comes to his monthly meeting with the money people, Mr Mbatha has all the answers.
Summerhill Trading has given Welcome an appetite for opportunity, and his entrepreneurial verve has helped him to spot the gaps. For many years, we’ve transported those that don’t live on the farm in and out of the village on a daily basis in the old Mercedes Benz five tonner, acquired in 1987 as a “rebuild”. Heaven knows how long it had been on the road before then, but it’s still going, though slowly. And that’s where the gap lay. Welcome noticed that a single vehicle made staff logistics cumbersome, without the flexibility of second and third shifts. He approached management with a proposal that he be contracted to provide a taxi service, for which purpose he would use his personal Toyota LDV. It wasn’t long, and he’d acquired a Hi Ace minibus, to which he’s since added a 16 seater Quantum and a 23 seater VW buss to his fleet. We know not the bounds of where he’s headed, but what we do know, he’s the same old Welcome we took on as a driver 11 years ago.