Effective 01 March 2020, Cecil Oates is the new MD of Goscor Lift Truck Company (GLTC), one of the leading forklift and materials handling equipment companies in southern Africa. He takes over from Darryl Shafto, who recently went into semi-retirement.
In his new role, Oates has been tasked to further grow an already thriving business in terms of profitability. GLTC was the most profitable business unit within the Goscor Group last year, and Oates is expected to build on this strong position to further consolidate the business’s leading position in the forklift and materials handling equipment sector in southern Africa.
“GLTC is an established business with reputable brands, and I am looking forward to even growing it further. One of the areas of immediate priority is diversification, looking at more solutions-based business opportunities rather than pure product sales,” he says.
In his new role, Oates has identified a number of key areas of immediate priority. Firstly, safety will be a major focus area. “I regard safety as a big priority. We need to establish safety as a culture, in line with the industry’s quest for Zero Harm,” he says. “We need to grow the business in a safe environment where every one of our employees goes home uninjured every day. To me it’s key and I see it as a gap I have identified in the business.”
A safety culture, he says, is an important foundation for the business, from which every other attribute can develop.
Another key area of focus for Oates is the used equipment market – the market for vehicles coming back from their first life. “We need to make sure that we grow that part of the business,” says Oates. First of all, he says, it’s about identifying suitable applications for these machines, and then push volumes to ensure sustainable growth of the second-hand equipment business, “to ensure that we don’t have it as a liability on our balance sheet”.
Another key area of priority for Oates is transformation. He believes GLTC has already gone down this road, but there is room for improvement. “I think it’s a responsibility towards the country and I would like to see more of that happening here,” he says.
Oates joins GLTC from Babcock, where he held several leadership positions during the past 14 years of his career. He joined the company as a sales director for Babcock’s Engineering business, before he got promoted to become chief operating officer, and later MD of the business. He ran the business for about six years before moving to International Business Development within the Babcock International Group.
In the last three years of his Babcock career, Oates was MD of Babcock’s Transport Solutions business, which is responsible for the importation and distribution of DAF Trucks in southern Africa.
Oates is a mechanical engineering technologist by profession, a qualification he acquired through a bursary from Eskom in 1994. He then joined APV South Africa in 1996 as a product manager, where he furthered his studies and obtained his MBA through Bond University and ultimately ended up as the MD of APV’s South African business for a number of years. He then joined APV’s global team in Germany as a global product manager. In this role, he worked closely with APV’s factory, global marketing and sales teams to make sure that the company’s R&D and product development was in line with market needs.
Oates details some of the key highlights of his career. Firstly, it was during his time at APV where he took charge of a project to build the beer processing plant for a new brewery in Port Elizabeth, which was at the time, and probably is still the most automated brewery in the world. Breweries at the time generally operated with a couple of hundreds of people, but this particular one operated with significantly less people. “A major talking point is that I took over the project in crisis; it was behind schedule and I was tasked with pulling it back on schedule and it eventually was completed on time,” he says.
Another milestone in Oates’ career was during his time at Babcock. He took over as MD of the Engineering business when it was in trouble, not achieving the required profit. He managed to realign the business to refocus on its major customer, Eskom, “making sure that we provided the best service to them”. He also got the company to focus on other key customers and profitable projects. “By the time I left the Engineering business, it was the most profitable business within Babcock,” he says.
Looking ahead, Oates is optimistic of driving GLTC to new heights, even in the face of the current tough economic conditions. He believes a solutions-based approach to the business will broaden the opportunity basket going forward.