A willingness to break stereotypes and relentless curiosity are a couple of the key attributes that help to make a business owner successful. This is according to Arnold February, Regional Investment Manager at Business Partners Limited (BUSINESS/PARTNERS) – one of Africa’s leading business loan and equity providers and 2019 Gold winner: SME bank of the year (Africa) – who points to their client, Christine Geldart, as a great example of this. 

“As the owner of Marven Equipment – a manufacturer of vehicle equipment, accessories, and apparatus – Geldart has held her own in a male-dominated industry, having grown her company to one of South Africa’s top metal vehicle equipment manufacturers. This is mostly due to her insatiable curiosity about science, the world, and how things work; coupled with a restless energy which she claims to have inherited from her father,” says February. 

Today, the 52-year-old business owner runs a 2 100 square metre factory in Benoni, which employs 46 workers and boasts state-of-the-art metal vehicle equipment. Geldart studied IT at the then Wits Tech and went on to work in the corporate world as a data capturer. She gained experience working at the likes of Toyota SA and Ford, leading many IT teams and specialising in enterprise resource planning and material requirement planning applications – a skill which later proved useful for her own company. 

It was due to her in-born restlessness that Geldart decided to join her husband’s factory making catering equipment company in 2004. “I jumped at the opportunity to do my own thing, and I found the freedom of entrepreneurship exhilarating,” she recalls. Soon, Geldart was running her own bakkie canopy-making business to complement her husband’s business, starting with just one employee and some rudimentary welding and grinding equipment. 

Learning everything she could about metal manufacturing materials and techniques, it wasn’t long before Geldart started innovating – introducing square canopy designs which proved much stronger than the rounded canopies that were on the market at the time. She targeted large corporate fleet managers and soon they were building work stations and specialised canopies for fleets of bakkies. 

A further opportunity presented itself in 2007, when a new law required mine vehicles to install protective roll bars and reinforcement against falling objects. Fending off a major international competitor who was ready to sell their existing systems to the local mines, Geldart built no fewer than nine prototypes before building a stronger, more light-weight product: the Ndlovu range.

“One of the highlights of my career was when I presented my rollover protection structures to the board of BHP Billiton – as one of only three women in a hair-raising meeting of more than 40 men – and came out on top,” she says. By 2010, all the big mining companies had approved Marven Equipment’s new Ndlovu design, and the orders came streaming in. 

However, double tragedy struck when Geldart was diagnosed with cancer in 2013, and a SARS audit on her business just a year later resulted in a large tax bill. While other business owners may have been discouraged, Geldart endured. Having no luck with the banks, she decided to approach Business Partners Limited (BUSINESS/PARTNERS) to assist with financing the tax shortfall; which they agreed to. 

“What is great about BUSINESS/PARTNERS is their mentorship. They don’t just support you financially and leave you alone, but they are not in your face all the time either,” says Geldart, who is also making use of BUSINESS/PARTNERS’ Technical Assistance facility the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), where the company links business owners with expert consultants to help diagnose their business challenge and provide customised solutions. Geldart is using the facility to gain ISO accreditation for Marven Equipment.

Ever the tenacious business owner, Geldart’s current goals for the company are to build specialised bodies for working vehicles and to convince the minibus taxi industry to adopt the Ndlovu design, which could potentially save many lives. Even as she spends some time away from her business in order to regain her health, Geldart’s strong team – which includes her daughter – continues to manage the business and keep things moving forward.

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