On August 4, 1992, Robert Starke and Colin Shapiro made their move from directorships at a publically listed company and founded Civils 2000, the South African Civil Engineering Construction Company, headquartered from Cape Town. It was an exciting yet tentative time as the two experts stood alone and began to build the company which today employs hundreds of people throughout its office in Tokai and supporting offices in Port Elizabeth, George, Plettenberg Bay and Hopefield near Saldanha Bay.
“We established our head office in Tokai which was a small office we shared with another company. We then progressed to a house in Tokai and ultimately we have a double-storey office in Tokai so we’ve stayed in the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town,” Starke tells TABJ.
“Now some years later (we) employ 500 hourly-paid and in excess of 60 monthly-paid personnel.”
Of course, Civils did not spring up overnight and there are a number of company characteristics and business decisions which have facilitated this impressive growth over the last 18 years. A mere glance at the sorts of projects the company is known for reflects quite how great a story Civils has – from the pedestrian bridge to Greenpoint Stadium which people from the world over trod upon during the recent 2010 FIFA World Cup, to the striking pedestrian bridge at Plettenberg Bay and the rebuild of the original road link between Simons Town and Cape Town. TABJ went behind the company headlines to find out first hand from Starke about how Civils is capable of delivering great results on such demanding projects.
Construction and infrastructure – Civils-style
In order to understand how Civils has mastered such feats of engineering, we asked Starke about the company’s approach to growth since he and Shapiro began back in 1992.
“We have a policy of not hiring equipment, but owning equipment, which we have done. We’re not supporting hire companies to the extent that they would like – we prefer to own our equipment,” he says.
“We (later) diversified and joined forces with two other companies to start a specialist surfacing company which (works on) the surfacing of roads, be it tar or whatever is required to surface the roads.”
The company kicked off by doing a lot of projects for private individuals and developments before slowly breaking into a tendering market. It was around this time that fate and timing came into play.
“As the economy took a downturn there (has been) less and less work in the private sector and we’ve now gone for public work,” Starke says.
“Our proudest achievement would be the (road) which stretched from the centre of Cape Town in Adderley Street all the way to Greenpoint Stadium, or Cape Town Stadium as it should be called. All of the fans who walked that route over our pavings and work and we’re very proud of that.
In fact, the World Cup has provided more than one opportunity to shine for Civils, another being the pedestrian bridge over Waterkant Street which Starke says the company is also very proud of.
“We also did a very striking steel bridge over the national road in Plettenberg Bay,” he adds.
“We’re also proud of the Plettenberg Bay main road. In the holiday resort of Plettenberg Bay we did the tarring and refurbishing of the main road.”
There is a hefty and successful project history to consider at Civils, and Starke explains that the company’s ability to constantly add to its service offering and in-house expertise stems from ongoing efforts to branch out, add supporting office locations and deliver whatever a contract asks.
Branching out: Civils today and tomorrow
One marked growth decision for Civils was its entering into the concrete services arm of the industry. The company acquired expertise based in George, Western Cape, South Africa and subsequently established its presence in the area, offering all manner of concrete works. This is one company which has never refrained from expanding geographically to gather business.
“We have established office in Port Elizabeth on the East Coast which is doing quite a lot of work,” Starke says.
“In fact, their turnover for the office this year is our turnover two years ago for the company and that’s just one branch.”
In playing to the company’s strength and expertise, Starke says that Civils is currently working to back into private development slowly but surely.
“There seems to have been a slight turn in the economy and we are getting back into private developments which is what our forte is; design, build and construct,” he explains.
“Before private developers we finance part of (our business) initially until sales get going and then we move on from there. Our long-term goal is to offer a good service at a good price and on time.
The current work in progress for Civils is the total rebuild of the main road which is the original link between Cape Town and Simons Town.
Simons Town has always been a naval base and the road is being rebuilt for the first time ever from scratch – from the sewers, to the storm water, to the ducts, all the house connections and the surfacing. We’re very proud,” Starke says.
“It’s a very difficult job, very difficult conditions because of the public participation and also of historic significance. We have to be very careful and very precise. It’s going well, it’s not without its problems – being so old, the services are destroyed and are being replaced.”
Civils has completed one kilometre of the project and Starke says there is 1.2 kilometres to go.
“We’re getting there,” he says.
And rightly so. The order of each and every day at Civils is measured, firm progression. Whether the focus is one particular project, company structure, strategic goals or any other aspect of growth and achievement, no move is made without the utmost care and concern for delivering quality results. There really is no telling where Civils will spring up next, but if one thing is certain, it is that wherever you see this company, you are bound to see fantastic results.
Source: The African Business Journal
Date: 27 May 2016