From Madiba’s kitchen to the showroom floor

We all have interesting stories to tell about the strange and happy coincidences that have led to where we are today, but few of us will be able to top Leon Viviers’ story.

22 Nissan Silverton1

Prior to entering the auto industry, Leon, then called Petty Officer Viviers, spent twelve years in the South African Navy. During this time, and specifically between 1997 and 2002, Leon served as the executive chef for South Africa’s first democratic elected president, Nelson Mandela.

His duties as chef extended into the presidency of President Thabo Mbeko, at which time he also acted as Flag Leading Seaman for the Chief of the SA Navy.

It is, however, his career as chef to President Nelson Mandela that left Leon with memories he cherishes up to this day. And no, he never dreamt he would trade the kitchen for a successful career in the motor retail sector.

BB Silverton Nissan, award-winning Nissan dealership in Pretoria.

“I now understand my time as chef for Nelson Mandela prepared me in so many ways for the motoring industry. To work with people – my own staff, colleagues in the trade, friends and probably the most important, our customers – requires a certain approach and human connection.

“Selling cars is a people business, and during my time with the late President, I was privileged to meet people from all walks of life across the world. In a way it prepared me for what I am doing now. I find it easy to chat to people to connect to them at all levels, which is important when selling vehicles.

“Some of the interesting people I met during my time as chef include the likes of Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh, Muhammad Ali and even Muammar Gaddafi to mention a few. I bought the _President’s groceries, oversaw the kitchen and cooked for him and his family at their homes in Houghton in Gauteng and the one in the Eastern Cape, in Qunu Village,” Leon tells Dealerfloor.

The late South African President, Nelson Mandela, and his wife, the former First Lady, Graça Machel, enjoyed Leon’s cooking tremendously.

In 2005, Leon says he decided to try his hand at something different. “A friend of my wife was the F&I at a dealership, and I started off as a newcomer salesperson at a Volkswagen dealership in Church Street in Pretoria. Not long after that, I was promoted to the second in command at the new car department.

“My wife had a good career in the IT industry and was transferred to Durban. I got a job with the same company at their Volkswagen dealership in Umhlanga and not long after that she was transferred back to Pretoria. We packed up and went back. I was back at the VW dealership in Church Street and got promoted as a manager at the VW dealership in Constantia Kloof in Roodepoort.

“Almost four years later, my path crossed with that of the BB Group and after nine years with my previous employer I accepted a position at BB’s Ford dealership in Menlyn, with five years as Dealer Principal. I then got to BB Silverton Nissan in the same position about five years ago and we now have the dealership in tip top condition,” Leon says.

BB Silverton Nissan has in the past won the Dealer of the Year award in its category from Nissan but most recently was awarded the winner in the category for the best Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI). The dealership also achieved a third place in the category for large dealerships during the Absa Golden Partner awards this year.

Another feather in the dealership’s cap is that it won the last Dealer of the Year award from Datsun, for three consecutive years. Datsun is winding down its business and soon the global company will only focus on the Nissan brand.

“There is no doubt that we have some complex challenges in this industry, all of which culminate in a shortage of stock. We are thankful that locally manufactured products like the Navara and NP200, Nissan’s best seller, are now coming off the production line at a more consistent rate.

“Some imported products remain limited, but some of these will soon be replaced by new models,” says Leon.

“The BB group has 18 OEMs in its fold and they all assist one another, sometimes with finding the right car for a customer and often with used vehicles.

“When it comes to the running of the dealership, I believe that all our team members should be on the same page. Good communication ensures that we all have the same goal, that we have a sound knowledge of all the aspects of our business, that we know our products and that we keep our customers happy. This all translates into a strong bottom line,” says Leon.

When not on the showroom floor, Leon farms. He spends almost all his free time, especially his weekends, on the farm.

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