‘Do the best job possible’

The small town of Dundee in KwaZulu-Natal is best known for the annual Dundee July and Boer War history tours, but at the Mortimer Motor Group’s Ford dealership’ branch manager Thokozani Khumalo says the town is now also the place where one can see how to do rural economic upliftment right.

KNZ n6 Thokozani Khumalo

The 36-year-old Khumalo’s journey to become branch manager for MMG Ford dealership started a decade earlier on the lowest step of the auto industry’s career ladder.

“I started working as a cleaner at the BMW dealership in Melrose, Johannesburg. And I was not an office cleaner or a car washer, I cleaned the toilets,” Khumalo told Dealerfloor.

“I decided then that I may not like what I’m doing, but I’ll do it to the best of my ability to create the basis for my next move up. I even told people I was the best sh*t manager ever,” he said.

As soon as he could afford to, he got his license and then applied to become a driver. With his mind set on doing the best job possible, both literally and figuratively, Khumalo applied to work in the parts department. There I started as a packer, before moving to the counter. The position of workshop manager at Mitsubishi in Kokstad came next, before he moved to new car salesman at MMG Ford Kokstad.

Today Khumalo manages the Ford dealership in Dundee. “We are a subbranch in the Mortimer Motor Group, falling under Newcastle, but our team more than holds its own when it comes to sales in the group’s branches,” he says.

Although he was born in Soweto, his family hails from Nqutu, about 50km from Dundee and Khumalo sees himself as a local. After his career began as “the best sh*t manager”, Khumalo is personally invested in uplifting up his community through the economic opportunities that a reliable car brings. Having started with the man in the mirror, he moved the focus to his family.

MMG branch manager Thokozani Khumalo.

“In our rural areas, getting to where you can buy a new car is a very, very big deal. It makes each sale special for us, but I must say, getting my second sister into her first car, driving to Cape Town to deliver a car to my oldest sister and delivering a car to my youngest sister and her husband in Jozi, those were precious moments for us.”

He said economic upliftment in rural areas requires changing mindsets of especially young men. He strives to teach his kids by example that self-belief is the basis of success in everything you do.

“I tell them nothing is impossible, but you have to set your goals, review them regularly and hit the ground running. Nothing comes easy in life, but if you work hard you will get what you deserve, it is that simple.”

He believes that changing the mindset of young men is a first step to bring economic upliftment to rural towns like Dundee, or to two other towns he likes, Port Grosvenor in the Eastern Cape and Groot Marico in the North West.

The team that makes MMG Ford in Dundee hold its own against bigger dealerships in the group.

“I think there’s too much negative thinking within the young men. We must change mindsets by giving young men self-respect and something to aim for in life. This will also help to stop the gender-based violence we have in South Africa.”

He cites the annual Dundee July as a good example of how a project by rural farmers who were involved in traditional trotting races, known as umtelebhelo, has delivered expanding economic opportunities in rural areas as far as Limpopo and Lesotho since its start in 2005.

“In our rural areas, getting to where you can buy a new car is a very, very big deal. It makes each sale special for us.”

Khumalo is currently enrolled for Ford’s junior management programme at Wits Business School as part of his long-term goals, but his immediate goals are to keep his dealership’s doors open after the ravages of lockdown.

“This means pushing numbers high and we are working hard at it.”

Asked which of the Ford models sells best, he said the Ranger is the best truck in town. “I’m not just saying so to punt my own brand. There are no bad cars being made today, it’s only what we offer our customers that sets brands apart,” he says.

“But when it comes to bakkies, the Ranger does have the edge on the competition, including the formidable new Mitsubishi Triton. Ground clearance, towing mass, consumption, the number of aux inputs, even the tyre sidewall height, they all add up to put the Ford’s nose in front of the others.”

Despite his thoroughly modern outlook, Khumalo is old school at heart. His favourite nostalgic cars are the Ford Falcon “for that burbling, straight-six sound”; and the Toyota Corolla Sprinter from the 1980s, “the first new car my dad owned”. As for new cars, he is excited about Ford’s plans to build electric vehicles for the American market.

Talking of America, Kumalo says he plans to make contact with his dealership’s namesake in the USA. “I think Dundee Ford in South Africa is unique in having a twin called Dundee Ford in the state of Illinois, a branch owned by the Bob Loquercio Auto Group. “Both the branch and the group look similar in size to my branch and to the Mortimer Motor Group, so I look forward to getting in touch with them to learn how they operate and exchange ideas, perhaps even visits,” said Khumalo.

“For as we see with the horse fanciers and fashion designers coming from Lesotho and Limpopo for the Dundee July, cultural exchanges are a big part of growing the economy, and we need a lot of that.”

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