WBHO Construction Africa – Reaping What You’ve Sown

When we last spoke to WBHO, they survived the effects of a global recession. Since then, WBHO have weathered a pandemic, have managed to grow and are still succeeding well.

WBHO was founded in 1970 when John Wilson and Brian Holmes established Wilson-Holmes (Pty) Ltd. The company went on to grow and undergo its own mergers and acquisitions, until it became the company known today as WBHO Construction, listed on the Johannesburg Securities Exchange as one of the biggest construction firms in Southern Africa.

“WBHO is an international, multi-disciplinary construction company with a presence in Southern, Central, West and East Africa as well as in Australia and the UK. When we spoke to Deon Robinson back in 2019, he told us that WBHO’s dedicated, hands-on approach to their clients still prevails. Its team players that use their decades of experience to deliver high-end quality products on time and within budget, and projects get delivered to the expectations of WBHO’s clients even in tough market conditions. Robinson also explained how the company had managed to survive some extremely harsh construction market conditions that were experienced across the globe.

Of course, since then, businesses all around the world have had to deal with an entirely new crisis in the form of the Covid-19 pandemic, its aftermath of new rules and regulations, and the strict lockdowns regulations.

“If you look at all the divisions in our company, ranging from Building, Civil engineering, Roads and & earthworks, right up to Specialised projects including EPC, a decline in revenue was experienced,” Robinson points out. “South Africa, including countries world-wide had a complete shutdown for extended periods last year, and then in some regions the entire construction industry grounded to a complete halt. In an instant, there was significantly less production, which in turn created revenue loss for all players in the various markets. Then, once some of the regulations were relaxed or even lifted, we proceeded to slowly restart and open the construction sites again. These start-ups had to take place under strict health and safety conditions and restrictions, which we had to comply with to strive to contain the pandemic, while operating a fully productive construction site.”

Adapting to New Circumstances

Ultimately, WBHO depended on its staff to bring it through the crisis, and looking after its staff was WBHO’s priority.

“On-site, our staff bore the responsibility and took ownership of complying with all of the health and safety restrictions and new protocols. Adapting very quickly to the current demands across all disciplines is what made us stand out among our competitors,” Robinson recalls.

“Looking at all the WBHO divisions locally within South Africa, we are very proud to be able to say that we have adapted very well to these conditions, and both current and future order books look promising for the WBHO Building Africa division”

“It’s a question of looking and planning forward so that 2022 and 2023 will be better years than the past two years. We need to do things better, faster and smarter, thinking outside of the box, because we no longer have the budgets we had previously,” he tells us.

This ability to work in the presence, but focus on the future and quickly change course when necessary, is a core part of the WBHO identity.

“I strongly believe that our company’s culture has always been like that. We can change direction at any given moment in time, and elevate ourselves to the situation at hand and the circumstances required,” Robinson says. “With the third Covid-19 wave now evident in South Africa, which is scary not just for the economy, but for people worried about losing loved ones and friends, our main focus at this stage is to motivate our people and we do have to make sure the staff feels that the company is here for them to give support and guidance when required.”

Fortunately, WBHO can draw on its experience of having navigated through previous crises. One major learning Robinson took away from those experiences is the importance of building trust and relationships with clients and staff.

“It’s about the working relationships with all stakeholders, staff and clients included. In the building industry, we have a big private sector base, which helped us in South Africa, because the South African Government slowed down in releasing projects,” Robinson says. “If we had placed all our eggs in one basket, we would have had a bigger challenge on our hands. Fortunately, we have always maintained that we need to have a proper balance and do more work for private clients, ensuring that those positive relationships are maintained at all times even more so up in Africa.

The Next Phase

Today, Robinson is planning to expand WBHO’s building business into more African regions, mainly in the building construction sector. WBHO are maintaining their current relationships with clients and suppliers, while also looking to forge new networks with clients and suppliers, while remaining highly aware of all the potential challenges in all the sectors of the building construction industry.

“We have reached a point where we’re hoping to be able to put the pandemic behind us in the next few months, while accepting that in some form, Covid 19 will be part of our lives for a while, maybe even years to come. However, the market has changed, it is now different and we need to accept that and carry on. When you work for private clients up in Africa, contract conditions may be different than working for governments, but in both cases, you always need to know where the funding comes from,” Robinson points out. “Without long-standing relationships and track records, it takes major efforts to establish those stable, trustworthy and economically-worthwhile relationships.”

We’ve now started to implement new growth strategies, and as mentioned before, we’re planning to expand into new African countries where we haven’t been before. Based on all our plans, strategies and first feedback, we are confident that 2022 and 2023 will be better for our business than the last two years. It is also vital to focus on the years ahead if one wants to reap the fruits of one’s work.

That future is looking positive for all the WBHO divisions.

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