JACQUES RIKHOTSO OUTLINES MAJOR OBJECTIVES FOR TYRE MAKERS IN SA
Jacques Rikhotso took over the reins for Bridgestone South Africa (BSAF), from his predecessor, Jacques Fourie, earlier this year, following Fourie’s promotion within the company, to Vice President and Managing Director of the Middle East & Africa region.
Prior to joining the tyre sector, Rikhotso, a Chemical Engineer, had made his mark across several industries – including Cement and Packaging – in support of local and regional manufacturing. In his role as Manufacturing Director at Nampak Liquids Inland, he provided leadership to all 14 liquid manufacturing plants across the country, focusing on operational excellence, developing leaders and driving liquid’s implementation of Nampak’s strategic goals. In 2018, he joined Bridgestone SA, as Manufacturing Director, responsible for Bridgestone’s plant facilities across South Africa. Next, he was promoted to Operations Director, responsible for Bridgestone Southern Africa’s manufacturing and retreading plants, logistics and supply chain management, as well as the company’s sustainability agenda. Nine months into his current tenure, we caught up with him for an exclusive on what lies ahead for one of the world’s leading tyremakers.
How did your former position as Managing Director of Bridgestone’s Wholesale Business, prepare you for the challenges and responsibilities that come with your appointment as Managing Director of the company?
The Wholesale Business serves as the seat of our local manufacturing, operations and sales organisations, and are part of a new management structure that increases focus on distinct business portfolios that were put in place locally, to enable us to embark on the Bridgestone 3.0 journey: the company’s strategy for realising its 2050 vision of delivering accelerated social and customer value as a sustainable solutions company.
What was your immediate focus, upon taking up your current appointment?
My immediate focus was to create clarity of vision and goals, set up my Executive Leadership Team who, through their diversity and unique functional expertise, would support me in leading our organisation from three years of successful business turnaround to a future of accelerated and sustainable growth as we implement the Bridgestone 3.0 strategy.
Tell us more about Bridgestone’s 3.0 journey toward realising this 2050 global vision and how this filters down to South Africa.
We want to be a Premium Tyre business across every measure: we want to continue to lead the industry with our premium B-BBEE Level 1 certification; we want to continue to be known as a premium employer in our industry, acknowledged by our Top Employer certification over the last two years; we want to continue to offer a premium tyre portfolio that delivers superior quality to our customers and the South African consumer; and, we want to continue to supply our premium OE partners – BMW, Mercedes Benz, Toyota – who are themselves local manufacturers. We will do all this with a resolute focus on delivering our Bridgestone E8 commitment to sustainability.
Does Bridgestone SA continue to enjoy a sizeable share of the South African OEM market?
Yes, local OEMs require a locally manufactured quality brand that would enhance performance as well as support their premium position brands in the markets where they export their vehicles. The Bridgestone brand continues to be trusted and preferred for its quality guarantees and international acclaim.
What do you believe are the major challenges Bridgestone SA – and the industry in general – is currently facing?
Across all industries in South Africa, I can imagine that we face similar major challenges, such as, erratic power supply, the devaluation of the Rand, the rising cost of fuel and shrinking market demand impacted by rising consumer inflation that leads to reduced consumer confidence levels. We can all feel it to some extent. Perhaps unique to us as one of only four local tyre manufacturers has been the influx of budget imported tyres – many of them dumped in our market – which we have seen escalate over the last couple of years.
What are some of the issues you hope to address via your membership of the SATMC?
Through the SATMC, alongside the other local manufacturers, we have already made submissions to the Minister of Trade & Industry on the anti-dumping matter that was recently addressed through a special levy to be incurred across a number of imports. We are also partnering with the SATMC, particularly in this Transport Month, on a number of Road Safety initiatives to bring to the public’s attention the very critical role that tyres play in both their driving experience and their safety. As we, at Bridgestone, believe that “tyres carry life”, and promoting a greater understanding of tyre safety will be our priority heading in to the festive season. The last but not least matter we are addressing is the end-of-life management of used tyres, the industry has been working with Environmental ministry to set up sustainable systems in place to manage the recycling and re-use of tyres.
Tell us about Bridgestone’s involvement in the South African OTR segment, especially the mining sector? Does the company continue to enjoy exclusivity with respect to certain tyre sizes and products?
Bridgestone tyres have been trusted and relied upon by mining companies, both underground and open cast mines for many years, primarily for their performance capabilities and insuring continuous operations of their equipment. For this reason, Bridgestone is a major player in the industry, though not exclusive.
Supa Quick remains your preferred retail channel in the market, but how are you distributing your truck tyre products?
Supa Quick is what we call our Family Channel, meaning the Franchise is owned by the same Holdings Company as Bridgestone Wholesale is. We have a long and proud history with this channel and, as they are the largest retail network in Africa, they will continue to have a strategic significance in how we go to market. However, from 2019 we took the strategic decision to go ‘open channel’, meaning our products are available across all the retail channels (Franchise or Independent) across South Africa.
We are hearing that Bridgestone’s may close its Equity Retail stores in SA. What led to this decision and how will this affect the distribution of your commercial products?
In 2022 the Bridgestone Southern Africa Holdings Group announced that it would consolidate its extensive retail operations under one Supa Quick network in order to maximise its competitive advantage and leading edge. In pursuing this consolidation, and as part of their due diligence, Bridgestone Retail has identified 11 Bridgestone Commercial retail stores that currently operate within a 3km radius of an existing Supa Quick franchise, which is a trade infringement in terms of our Franchise agreement. Furthermore, over the last 3 years, the Bridgestone Commercial retail stores have faced several significant business challenges that are inhibiting sustainable operations at some locations.
Consequently, after lengthy deliberations that have not returned a viable solution to either challenge, the Bridgestone Retail business is considering the closure of 14 of their 27 Bridgestone Commercial retail store branches. This consideration has not been taken likely and it is important to stress that no final decision has yet been made. Serving the Commercial market remains a strategic component of Bridgestone’s value proposition and through our Supa Quick retail network – we remains the largest retail network in Southern Africa – and our Accredited Dealer network, we hope to continue to do so sustainably for many years to come.
Are the country’s long-haul operators continuing to place pressure on pricing and if so, how are you meeting this challenge?
For all our customers, finding efficiencies in their business operations that deliver incremental value to their bottom line, is top of mind. Through Bridgestone’s Solutions offerings, we are able to help our long-haul operators to better manage the life of their tyres across their fleets by alerting them in real time through our Smart applications to changes in tyre pressure, the need to rotate their tyres, and any damage that might have occurred on the road.
By proactively managing the life of their tyres operators can experience a longer lifespan of each tyre, bringing down the cost per kilometre of their purchase. Bridgestone tyres offer superior quality to our customers who are able to re-tread a tyre 2-3 times, reducing the carbon footprint of each tyre whilst reducing costs for the operator. What’s more, through our Case Confidence Pledge we offer piece of mind to our customers that any damage to casing of their tyre will be covered.
What are your thoughts on the waste tyre saga?
We believe used tyres present one of the hidden processing opportunities in the country right now. Bridgestone Technical Centres globally, are hard and work to develop the use of recycled materials from end-of-life tyres, however, many other industries would do well to investigate the use of chemicals and materials that maybe derived from used tyres. At this stage, as a local manufacturer we pay an Environmental Levy on Tyres applicable to all new and re-treaded pneumatic tyres.
This Levy is the industry funding model for tyre waste management from this fund the state is empowered to work with potential processors to establish future treatment solutions.
What, in your opinion, needs to be done, in order to successfully tackle this issue, both in the short, and long term?
As part of our Bridgestone E8 commitment to sustainability, we are investigating how – with our customers in all sectors – we might better address end-of-life tyre management solutions that could have the potential to create additional jobs through tertiary economies in the long term. Globally, the Bridgestone Group is conducting multifaceted research into innovative technologies that will enable the reprocessing of rubber from tyres by applying heat and other methods, so that this recycled material can be more widely used as a material for new tyres In the short term, as part of our Enterprise Development program in South Africa, we are partnering with Nkunzi Tyre/Shoe Polish – the world’s first company to make shoe polish or tyre shine from recycled carbon black that looks to reduce the number of waste tyres that end up in landfill.
Is there any plant investment in the pipeline, and if so, in what areas?
Bridgestone has been a local manufacturer in South Africa for over 80 years. This is a legacy we are tremendously proud of and one we are committed to sustaining well in to the future As part of our Bridgestone 3.0 commitment toward carbon neutrality, our Brits Plant, which celebrated its 50th year of operation last year, will receive additional investment over the next three years focusing on energy security and decarbonisation as we continue our local journey toward a “Green Factory”.
Are you planning to launch any new products into the market?
We are always looking for additional ways to serve the South African market with the superior quality of our latest tyre technologies. Watch this space!
What is the latest on your special relationship with the SA Taxi Association? Have you made further strides towards strengthening this relationship?
Bridgestone is proud of the tyre development work that we did with SA Taxi, the product continues to offer great value to the local taxi industry.
In conclusion, how would you sum up your vision for Bridgestone SA?
My vision for Bridgestone SA is to be the undisputed #1 Premium tyre Brand. I believe that by serving South African society with superior quality, consumers will reward us with their loyalty. I believe by continuing to drive diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace, we will have a competitive advantage in our industry.
Jacques Rikhotso was born and raised in Limpopo by community, on which he places considerable value. For this reason, he continues to invest, and give back to the community as much as he can, alongside his wife and children. As an avid soccer fan, he can be found at the game on most weekends. His second great passion is South African artists and music.