Bafotech (Pty) Limited: Luck of the draw

From its dining room beginnings to serving the global mining business, Bafotech (Pty) Limited continues to write its own chapters on how to succeed in business.

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It would be easy to suggest luck has played its part in the Bafotech story but appearances can be deceptive. True, the company was established in 1981 as Tech- Kraft (Pty) Ltd by two brothers operating out of their dining room in Johannesburg with little more than two chairs, a desk and a computer they won in a raffle.

However Frans and Chris Boone were men with a vision and a strong ethic for an honest open-minded approach to business: “We started off with absolute basics and a SA 10,000 Rand overdraft,” Chris Boone remembers, “unquestionably our initial success was down to lots of calling and perseverance and we always aimed to give clients what they wanted. We were always very open-minded with our customers and happy to help them to deal with developments.”

Today Boone serves as Marketing Director for a very different looking company called Bafotech. The business has harnessed an excellent reputation for quality and a “can-do” attitude that fits well within an ultra-competitive mining market.

“Back when we started out we simply bought machine products and sold them from our dining room or made use of our private cars,” Boone recalls, “but in 1990 we decided to start our own work shop and bought three machines and as we made more money we reinvested this in more machines. Our brother Pat (who is now the Managing Director) came on-board and we have grown the business from then.”

At the time Tech-Kraft was already forging good relationships with many mining companies but the move to produce its own winch units was driven by the supply chain as Boone explains:

“What we found was that the suppliers were able to put their prices up whenever they wanted and we were having to pass these costs on to our customers so we decided it would be better to manufacture ourselves and that way pricing and our destiny was much more in our own hands.”

Today Bafotech is a thriving manufacturing and reconditioning business that supplies predominately platinum and gold mining companies with complete Joy Sullivan and Hunslett and Taylor Double Drum Scraper Winches, Exdin and TK mono (RC Power) winches.

Manufacturing takes place at three sites: an 8,200 square metre facility in Welkom in the Free State is the location of a manufacturing workshop and a stripping and assembly shop. In Rustenburg the company operates a stripping and assembly shop and significantly runs a similar operation at the Royal Bafokeng Platinum Mine in the North West Province.

Bafotech2From these facilities Bafotech operates over SA 12 million Rand worth of lathe machinery that manufactures a variety of Double Drum winches ranging from 7.5 kilowatts to 100 kilowatts in size and also Mono winches ranging from 5.5 kilowatts up to 37 kilowatts. Boone says that the company is constantly upgrading its machinery and recently purchased its fourteenth CNC vertical border lathe.

“Products are standard and we produce 50 to 60 new units every month and recondition a further 150 bare units during the same period; we are one of four company manufacturing these units and all parts are interchangeable,” he explains.

With headquarters in Welkom Free State Province, Bafotech supplies the whole conventional mining industry in South Africa and increasingly is casting its net further afield. “Export still only accounts for around 10 per cent of our turnover at the moment but there is a big export drive which has been Government-driven and through our existing procurement contacts within the mining organisations we have been able to establish links with overseas operations,” Boone explains.

“We are keen to get our name out there and I have attended a number of shows in countries including Australia Argentina, Peru and Gambia. We would very much like to expand our international commerce but the units weigh as much as 3.5 tonnes and freight costs can be prohibitive,” he continues.

Late in 2005 Mantantabelo Investment Holdings (Pty) Ltd (MIH) acquired 30 per cent of Tech-Kraft (Pty) Limited in a transaction which led to the creation of Bafotech (Pty) Limited. At nearly the same time Palesa Rantsoereng also acquired a 20 per cent holding of Bafotech (Pty) Ltd. MIH is a company wholly owned by members of the Royal Bafokeng Nation, and is led by Lesedi Rakgokong , as its major shareholder and Chairman.

The link to Bafokeng has greatly enhanced Bafotech’s Black Economic Empowerment efforts as the company not only trains and employs black workers, but also uses local black-owned supplier companies, which has made it much easier to do business in compliance with Government and industry standards.

Boone says that the company has focussed very heavily on training staff and this has interlinked with its BEE efforts: “We have a training centre in Welkom from where we provide full tuition on all of our machinery and certificates are awarded to staff that successfully complete our courses. We have one hundred-plus employees and we have been very fortunate as 80 per cent of our staff have been with us for ten years or more.”

Such experience is crucial as the company now works towards internationally-recognised ISO certification; “We have always operated a good quality system but we are now looking to change some of our processes with a view to achieving accreditation by October,” Boone confirms.

So what of the future? Boone says that the present is not an ideal time to work with gold and platinum mining companies given current prices. Further threats come from unions who have in the past encouraged strike action but Bafotech’s foundations offer encouragement for the long term:

“The big thing is labour in our country – and it remains an unstable labour climate. We pay top dollar however and we are able to hire the best people in the market but strikes are always a big concern,” Boone emphasises.

“What has been of enormous benefit has been our relationship with the Royal Bafokeng Nation; one of our clients had put us in touch with them and their help has been immense. We have also maintained our ethos of being honest and open with clients and we have never shifted the blame if things have gone wrong for some reason. Mining companies enjoy working with us because they know that they can talk to us about any problem.”

With such positives outweighing the economic challenges, Bafotech remains a healthy, vibrant organisation with an eye to future design on an automated winch and a busy order book. Indeed Boone does not discount the possibility of the company becoming publicly-listed: “That is something under consideration but right now we don’t know how we will approach that, it could happen through a management buyout.”

All of which is very far removed from that single room in Johannesburg and the winning raffle ticket.