Louis Le Roux is retiring. Steve Jordan caught up with him for a chat to find out why.
It’s close to 40 years since he joined the South African international moving industry, but now Louis Le Roux is retiring. He will be leaving behind the industry that he loves but will now have much more time to spend with his wife, Linda, and to enjoy new pastimes that his dedication to his work has denied him so far. He’s really looking forward to it.
Louis started in the industry in 1976 when, having left university, he felt he should get a job. He answered an advertisement in the newspaper placed by Gerry van Graan of Stuttafords who was looking for an assistant. Although he had other interviews lined up, Louis didn’t even bother going. ”There was just something about it that I liked,” he said.
At that time Stuttafords was very heavily involved with domestic moving but there were only a handful of international specialists in each depot. It was Gerry’s job to manage all those international teams from his base in Johannesburg.
“So from day one I was buying destination and origin services, doing surveys, helping with costing and routing and getting to know the agents,” said Louis. When Gerry left the company only a few years later, Louis took over managing the international division.
14 years ago Louis left the Stuttafords brand and became a member of the Board of the holding company Laser Transport Group that also manages AGS Frasers, Allied Pickfords, Magna Thomson, a relocation company and a records storage brand. Louis’s role was then to provide support, guidance and mentoring to the individual brands in the Group, helping them to prosper. “All four brands compete fiercely,” said Louis. “It’s my job to help develop the strategy for each brand without sharing information or duplicating. I have to develop the separate brands to take advantage of their own strengths.”
He enjoys being involved in the profitability of every branch of every brand. Asked whether this can cause a conflict of interest, he said that the trick has come quite naturally to him. “You have to earn the trust of the people you are managing,” he said. “I never share personal, confidential or cross-brand information, so it’s never been a problem for me.” He admits, however, that it has been a massive challenge.
Asked what he is most proud of in his business life Louis is characteristically modest. “In my career I have remained myself. I have just been me: straightforward, honest, trustworthy. I don’t need to be liked but it’s good to know that you are respected as it’s a way of teaching other people how to do their business. I am proud that people know I will give them my undivided attention and that confidential information will never be shared.”
Louis doesn’t have much in the way of regrets, but he did say that he was disappointed that he had not been able to give the company a ‘less white’ management structure. “It’s still too elitist,” he said. “The challenge is to seek more people of colour to join you and make the industry interesting enough for them to stay. They help you to understand the South African context better, but it seems young people are attracted more to the IT and high tech industries nowadays. I would have liked a fairer spread.”
Louis said he had been meaning to retire for three years, but he’s finally got around to it. He doesn’t really look at it as retiring from something, more retiring to do other things he enjoys. “I want to spend more time with Linda and to travel together,” he said. “But I have a wonderful library, I want to learn to play the piano again, I have enrolled on a portrait painting course, and I have taken up photography.” All that said, he will remain on the Board of Laser as non- executive director and will consult for the Group from time to time in Cape Town and London.
I first met Louis in around 1997 when he was Vice President and later President of OMNI. At that time we worked closely together and I always enjoyed his company and respected his professionalism. His company and the industry as a whole will be deflated without him but, after 40 years of hard work, he’s earned a breather. Have a happy retirement Louis. Good luck with the reading … piano playing … photography …
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