Name: Tim Driman
Business Name: I started the TLD Group of companies in 1981 and then we also started the Interlogix Group of companies in 1999.
Business Description: The TLD Group was essentially a transport company where we owned trucks. We also had a warehouse depot in the middle of Durban Harbour and we did a lot of abnormal freight project work in and around South Africa and the surrounding states.

1. How long has each of them been operating?
I’ve sold TLD but it went for 25 years to the day.  I started on the 1st of August 1981 and sold it on the 31st of July 2006. Interlogix we started in 1999. It is still going but I sold my shares in the South African Interlogix companies in 2015.

2. How did you start your business?
TLD: I had reached my zenith at the company where I worked, and had my own ideas about running the business, which didn’t align with those of the shareholders, so before I punched someone’s lights out or got fired, I moved on to do my own thing in business, for better or for worse. Lots of hard work and doing things the right way paid off.

Interlogix: Renfreight (the largest shipping group in SA in 1999) was taken over by the Bidvest Group and during the course of rationalisation a number of divisions of Renfreight (Manica Transborder – Durban) were culled and staff retrenched. I saw value in people and offered the Manica Transborder – Durban manager, and a few key staff, the opportunity to start our own Clearing and Forwarding division and Interlogix was born.

3. How old where you when you started the TLD Group?
33

4. What can you tell us to show the scale of your business?
It’s very difficult. In those days we were a 100 million a year turnover, which is difficult to equate in today’s terms but when I sold, diesel was R4.00 a litre and today it’s nearly R13.00 a litre. So, you can work out the inflation.

5. What were the best and worst parts of your job?
I think the best part was getting a project, loading it in, escorting it, delivering it and having everybody very happy. The lowest part was dealing with the unfortunate incidents. During the 25 years, we had one fatality and we had about three bad vehicle accidents. As transport companies go, that average was very, very low because we employed very highly trained drivers.

6. What was the hardest lesson you had to learn in business?
I think the hardest lesson came very early in the trucking division when I made a decision to go with a special type of tyre. We called them fabrics. They were not steel belt. They were the forerunner to steel belt. The reason why I chose fabric tyres was because we ran quite a lot into Zimbabwe and you couldn’t get steel belted tyres in Zimbabwe in those years. After a few years, the whole fashion of the industry changed and you couldn’t get fabrics any longer and in those days it cost me a quarter of a million in cold blood to buy new tyres, otherwise I had to stop operating. That was in the early 80’s.

That was hard but you just carry on. You put your head down and you learn from your mistakes. What that mistake did teach me was – and I think it’s very valid even today – if you’re going to do something, do it the right way. Don’t penny pinch on cheap rubbish. Get the right stuff the first time and that’s always the cheapest stuff.

7. Did you ever want to quit and, if so, what did you do to overcome it?
I don’t know that I ever wanted to quit. I got very scared on occasion. When you’ve got a government department trying to make your life difficult… In those days we had to apply for road transportation permits to run. In the old apartheid days, there were the chosen people who managed to get their permits, and other little guys like myself just had to make do with what we could get. That was tough. Government was making rules that were very difficult to work around, but we always made a plan. I suppose that influenced me to do stuff which other people were too scared to do or didn’t know how to do – it was a challenge to me. Most of my life I’ve taken my challenges and tough times and turned them into something because I’ve overcome those challenges.

8. What were you most grateful for while running your business?
I suppose Yvonne, my wife, and I were a team right from day one. We were 18 and 19 respectively. I’m a year older than she is. We always worked as a team and I’ve always joked that I made the money and she spent it. In reality, I generated the income and she looked after the financial side and we trusted each other implicitly. It allowed me to get my head around the actual operational stuff and it allowed her to get her head around the financial stuff. We’re still, to this day. a wonderful team.

9. When you were running your business, what had the potential to keep you up at night?
Drivers in those days never had cellphones. One of the owners of Alex Carriers was a guy called Sandy Cutter. Alex Carriers was a very big organisation – they had over 100 carriers in their fleet. Sandy summed it up in a nutshell. He said “why is it all my trucks break down opposite a payphone?”. In reality, drivers would wake you up at any time, day or night, to tell you that they had a problem. The point Sandy made was that they would drive a sick truck until they got to a phone, which made that truck even more sick, which was annoying. I must say, cellular phones really changed a lot of that but they still woke us up all hours of the night, weekends… Our life was never our own.

10. Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs starting out?
I do a lot of mentoring of young people and when I ask “what do you need to start a business”, most of them immediately want capital. Personally, I think that’s the wrong way to go about things. I think you should find an opportunity and then your challenge is to make enough capital to start that.

If you start small, you don’t need a lot of capital. You can build little things into bigger things. A whole human body starts off as two cells and they grow into a most ugly looking thing (laughs) – a big thing with billions and billions of cells. Businesses go exactly the same way. People try to start too big, too quickly. I’d rather them start much smaller with low capital requirements and build from there. By doing that, I find that they learn a lot more about the intricacies and the simplicity and the difficulties of running a business in small chunks. In the beginning, you can overcome little things easily but, if you’ve started off with a big amount of capital that you borrowed, the problems that you have to resolve straight away are usually big problems. Most of those people who start up businesses are not up to being able to solve these problems when they are big. You’ve got to grow and learn how to solve problems from little.

I think South Africa today is a huge challenge but it’s a huge opportunity. I think there are certain risks in Africa but if you’re prepared to take calculated risks, not ‘lose your brain’ risks, the rewards are huge. If you’ve got a little bit of chutzpah, I think you can survive and you can prosper.