Face to face with Jacques Fourie

Face to face with Jacques Fourie

Bridgestone SA recently announced the appointment of a new man at its helm, Jacques Fourie. LIANA SHAW caught up with the company’s new CEO and asked him about his impressions of the market and future hopes for the company

South African-born Fourie has spent a significant part of his working life overseas, heading up Cummins’s OTR and Commercial Division. Although new to the tyre industry, Fourie has accumulated valuable experience in the automotive sector, both domestically and abroad.

For how long has Bridgestone been manufacturing tyres in South Africa?

September 17, 2019 marked 83 years of tyre manufacture at our Port Elizabeth plant and we are therefore extremely proud of Bridgestone’s heritage in the domestic market. The company employs thousands of people, directly and indirectly, thereby enabling them to support their families and communities.

What are some of your impressions of the South African tyre sector thus far?

My initial focus was on getting to know our channel partners and I can safely say that building a relationship with them has been my personal focus. My aim is to work in collaboration with our business partners to arrive at a workable solution in areas that have been identified as needing improvement.

I am meeting with the National Council regularly to establish what the road ahead looks like.

Speaking of family channels, will Bridgestone SA continue along the lines of an open channel to market? We understand that this development was not altogether well received by the SupaQuick franchises in particular?

I believe that dissatisfaction may have crept in, not necessarily because of the message, itself, but perhaps because of the way in which it was delivered, or at least this is my perception. We cannot afford to be telling each other what to do. Instead, we need to collaborate on all matters. Regardless of what the “fixing” looks like, from here on it will be through a joint effort.

Interestingly, the vast majority of SupaQuick franchises actually derived huge benefit from our open channel strategy, in that it allowed them to take on additional brands and affiliated products and services.

Bear in mind, too, that the open channel strategy serves specific market niches, which we were not covering in our traditional way of doing business, and is there purely to supplement what we already have.

That said, we accept that this has been a difficult road to navigate. Change is hard for any business, but we must not read into this that Bridgestone SA is not committed to its family channel. Just the opposite is true. We are investing more heavily into our SupaQuick franchises than ever before, and building on these relationships is paramount, irrespective of the challenges.

So, to answer your initial question: our open channel strategy will continue for the passenger market. This is in line with the way Bridgestone conducts business across the world. Customers must have access to our product, so we cannot operate in a closed market environment in this market segment.

What are some of the immediate areas you wish to address?

The expectation of Bridgestone global is to retain its coveted number one position in all the markets in which we compete. What does this mean for us from a South African perspective? We are recognised leaders in some spaces, such as OTR, but not so much in others, which begs the question: where do we want to be in those spaces and where do we want to play?

The South African business has undergone significant strategy changes in the last year, but some of these have not benefited us, or the industry as a whole. Retaking our rightful place is our main focus.

In short, my style of business is one of “change only where change is needed”. If things are going well in certain areas, leave well alone. Focus instead on making them stronger.

In other areas where work needs to be done, we want to be laser-focused in our efforts to enact change. A haphazard approach will not result in meaningful, lasting results.

We are looking to stabilise the business and explore other possible partnerships should we see strategic value in them.

Recently you concluded a major partnership with the taxi industry, with the introduction of a tyre designed exclusively to meet the stringent requirements of the Ses’fikile Toyota Quantum minibus taxis and the original equipment manufacturer requirements. This deal is specific to the Bridgestone 613V 195/R15C sized tyre, which will be known in the market as the Bridgestone Taxi R15. It marks the beginning of what promises be a long and mutually beneficial partnership between a South African tyre manufacturer and the South African taxi industry. What feelings did the official signing of the deal conjure up?

It was an important day for the two parties involved, but also for me in my own personal capacity. One of the reasons I chose to return to South Africa and to take up my new appointment with Bridgestone SA was my desire to work for a company that actually makes a difference locally.

The agreement reached by the two parties was two years in the making. I came in one month before its official disclosure to market, just in time to sign the deal. Suffice to say we are all very excited and could barely wait out the 30 days to make the announcement. Imparting my focus and energy on its realisation and implementation is a dream come true for me.

This kind of partnership is unique. Does it signify a new approach to the way Bridgestone SA conducts its business?

It does. Entering into partnerships with parties outside of the industry is not a traditional method of doing business for Bridgestone. However, the company is evolving. Our stakeholding changed four years ago with all European, Middle East and African operations now running out of Brussels, Belgium, and this injected a new global perspective into the business as well as to the people it attracts.
In South Africa, Bridgestone is also evolving into more of a local enterprise in order to service a unique market.

That being said, we do not want to lose sight of our heritage and legacy. Bridgestone, currently ranked number one in the world, remains a respected Japanese tyre maker and this is something of which we are very proud.

• This article was originally published on SATreads, the international tyre portal. For more tyre-related news, go to www.satreads.com.

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