Established in 1878, Elgin Brown and Hamer (EBH) is a ship repair company with 135 years’ experience, and is justifiably proud of its heritage. A company does not survive the passing years as effectively as EBH without being able to embrace change, and change has been the name of the game in 2013 as the company joined the DCD Marine cluster earlier this year.
CBN caught up with EBH General Manager Rob Deane to find out how the merger has gone, and what is on the horizon for the company.
“135 years old? No, 135 years of experience,” says Deane wryly. “In my own 20 years with the company I have seen many changes in the industry. EBH has become an extremely agile company with a great capacity for change. Remember that this is an industry that constantly has to react to world markets, and grow through the rise and fall of economies, currency fluctuations and technological developments.”
“The merger itself has gone smoothly,” says Deane. “We had planned and put a lot of effort into making sure that the change happened efficiently. The DCD Group have gone through this process before, which helped us a lot. Our biggest concern was the reaction from outside of the company to the news of the merger, but people seem to have accepted the move as a positive thing.”
“We were also mindful of our communications with our staff throughout the process. We have great relationships with our staff and realised that by making sure that we communicated clearly across the board we would prevent undue fear and concerns.”
In a recent interview with DCD Marine Cape Town General Manager Gerry Klos, he was excited by the merger as it offered the DCD Marine cluster more capacity and resources, a point which Deane is also quick to make. “With this merger we now have all these resources under one umbrella. From EBH’s point of view we can take on ever bigger projects and offer our clients wider choice and better options.”
Throughout the merger, EBH has been working hard across South Africa and Namibia. “By the nature of our work, our South African order book generally runs much shorter term projects, but we have been extremely busy this year so far, and it is looking positive for the coming months as well.” With the oil and gas exploration along the east coast of Africa, in Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique, the company is seeing a lot of ships (up to 85m long) coming into Durban for service and repair. This opens up new markets for the company. With DCD Marine Cape Town servicing the rigs themselves, EBH service the support vessels. The company’s Namibian operation runs a much longer-term order book, which balances the South African orders nicely.
When asked what keeps him up at night, Deane enthusiastically says that he is excited by all the opportunities in the industry right now.
“The trick is to identify these opportunities early, and to strategically take advantage of them. This means spending money on the right infrastructure at the right time.” With huge harbour development and a dig out port planned for Durban and development happening in Richard’s Bay, “the company must keep up with this growth.”
Currency fluctuations can also be tricky. “Reaction to the rise and fall of the currency is critical,” says Deane. “We have to make sure we react appropriately and keep our offerings competitive. When the rand drops we have to deal with it and make sure we keep our productivity steady. The secret is to keep our pricing structure and costs flexible.”
On the company’s differentiators, Deane says that there are many ship repairers in the industry that can do the work, but EBH owns four floating docks in addition to the shared facilities. “This gives us more docking capacity around the Southern African coast than our competitors. This translates to being able to offer our customers more choice as to where and when we can do the job.”
EBH takes its ability to stimulate the economy in a region and create jobs very seriously indeed.
“We rely on local businesses and communities for our supply-chain. We work hard with our communities to make sure that this growth is sustainable.” The company has a long tradition of people joining the company and staying for a lifetime.
“This has created a family atmosphere and our customers enjoy the time they spend with us at the docks. It is great that relationships are built and even if we don’t see the client for five years, he sees the same faces again and again over the years. Most of our customers have been on our books for 30+ years.”
By Jenni McCann
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