1957 was a tough year for the community of Bronkhorstspruit, where Reggie Lazarus stood thoughtfully gazing out across his farm. Noticing that farming could often be more fickle than lucrative, Reggie was casting his entrepreneurial mind across various possible scenarios, deciding which one was a viable means of supplementing his income. Little did he know that within a few short years, he would be known as the Mule King of South Africa for his unique answer to numerous challenges in that time: breeding mules and selling both donkeys and mules to the Bronkhorstspruit community not only provided a much-needed solution to the transport problems of that time, but also provided him with a source of income. Sixty years later, this legacy would take on a beautiful and unique form in what we know today as the Lazarus Motor Company.
Colin Lazarus is the grandson of this creative-thinker, and at sixty years of age, Colin shares his story with us as to how he became the co-owner of a widely respected Motoring Company promoting five incredible brands. As it turns out, Reggie Lazarus planted a seed when he started breeding and selling mules all those years ago, and with the passing on of the baton to his own son Gerald many years later, this seed had started to grow. Gerald sought out ways to improve the existing Mule-business, and with advances in technology and the growing need for cars, Gerald began selling tractors and cars some time later. By 1961, Gerald had launched a Ford Franchise in Bronkhorstspruit, promoting the Ford F100 and F250 as well as a range of tractors; his young son, Colin, was growing up in this family business and developing a passion for cars and the motoring industry in the process. After spending three months at the Ford Factory in Port Elizabeth in 1980, Colin had been vetted and was ready to step into the Dealership with his father when Gerald unexpectedly passed away. As a twenty-two-year-old lad with only a love for cars and an affinity for working with people, young Colin stepped up to the plate in April 1980 to work with his grandfather at their motor company.
As the third-generation owner of this Dealership, Colin has spent the last thirty-nine years following in his father and grandfather’s footsteps. He candidly recalls how he would return home as a young man, exhausted and worried, but putting on a brave face for the sake of his mother. The first few years were hard on him, and he acknowledges that there were many mistakes made during this time, which were mitigated by having a team of incredible, supportive and understanding staff around him. Colin explains how his father had passed on the life lesson of having the right people around you in your business and credits this as his recipe for success.
Taking a moment to share how many successful big names in the motoring industry grew from their origins as family-owned businesses (naming Firestone and Dunlop as examples), Colin firmly believes that the support and care of those around you is paramount to your success. With the unconditional support of his wife Jenny, Colin is proud to witness the 60th year of operation for the Lazarus Motor company this year and is one of the fortunate few who can add that their two sons are also committed to the running of the company.
An inherent understanding of the motoring industry seems to run in the Lazarus bloodline, and Colin’s sons Ross and Dean are both involved in the company as well; with Ross in Finances and Dean in Marketing, both sons clearly share in their father’s creative genes and determined mindset. Colin finds fulfilment in this industry because he feels he has a natural kinship for the industry and the way in which it evolves. For this reason, he is thrilled to have a fourth generation involved, as the advances in technology and changes in the face of Dealerships will bring with it a new set of challenges that the younger generation are better equipped to understand. As no-one knows what the motoring landscape will look like in the future, Colin is eager for the Lazarus Motor company to remain at the forefront of change, in both their products and services. As it is, Lazarus prides itself on their superb backup services available to their customers.
Customers are the heart of their business, and Colin believes that in all their dealings, honesty and straight-down-the-line service is the right way to do things. This philosophy has served the Lazarus family well, and Colin says with a warm smile that to this day he often gets customers in their third or fourth generation buying cars from them, noting that their own father or grandfathers had bought donkeys or tractors from the Lazarus family back in the day. I am hard-pressed to think of a better testimony for good service, than this.
In 1993 Colin met Gerhard Visser, a knowledgeable and enthusiastic peoples-person who had presented a business plan for a Car Dealership to his company, and was afforded the opportunity to open a Mazda-Mitsubishi Franchise in Pretoria two years prior. Hitting it off immediately, Colin and Gerhard were then managing Ford and Mazda Dealerships respectively and in 1996 were able to add Jaguar to their brands-for-sale. Four years later, the now iconic Lazarus building was acquired, and in 2001 the Land Rover brand added to their fold. With a determined and committed partner like Gerhard, Colin notes that they are able to feed off of each other’s strengths to add their unique skills and talents to the business in a complimentary way. Having been partners for 25 years, their relationship is solid and based on a mutual respect and appreciation for each other. Gerhard also relates the story of his daughter’s introduction into the group, detailing how he was away, travelling overseas when his daughter was called in and interviewed by a manager – and subsequently appointed to the Lazarus Dealership. Whilst Gerhard was initially apprehensive about this, he is now a proud dad (and boss) to a daughter he states has become a “sales star” ten years down the line.
Whilst Colin is more passionate about motor cars, Gerhard notes with a smile that his true love lies in working with people; in his forty years of being in the motoring industry, he has met the most incredible and diverse individuals. Based on this, he enjoys taking the time to be involved with the staff throughout the departments around him. In fact, he notes that this is a core belief at Lazarus Motor Company, and as a result, great investments are made into staff training and empowerment in order to promote healthy and productive relationships between everyone. Team building excursions and a family-like environment are characteristics of the Lazarus Dealerships, and subsequently, there is a very low staff turnover figure. Naming people as a priority, just as Colin did, Gerhard adds that their open-door policy also means they are able to be there for their staff and mean something to them too, which he considers to be a great privilege.
Retirement is what both Gerhard and Colin jokingly note they are looking forward to, and perhaps it is just a reflection of how in-tune these two men are, but having listened to their stories it would seem they have both made substantial investments into the lives of those around them. This thread also underscores the values of the Lazarus Motor Company as I am told they are extensively involved in charity work. Most notably providing cars and services to the Reach for a Dream Foundation, Colin explains what an honour it is for them to be able to make the dreams of terminally ill children come true by taking them for a spin around Swartkops Racetrack in one of their vintage vehicles or race cars on a monthly basis. Through their Mazda brand, they also support efforts to protect our Rhinos – with a young rhino recently being named after Colin’s wife in honour of their contributions to this worthy cause. From their Land Rover brand, the Lazarus team have also provided vehicles to the conservation efforts for the African Wild Dogs trust who strive to protect this endangered species. When talking about this, Colin notes how incredibly rewarding it is to be able to do these things and gives credit to his team – and partners such as the Swartkops Racetrack – for their generosity and compassion.
Both men prefer to come to work every day and ensure daily contact with their team right across all the respective dealerships and departments. Colin adds that he also routinely takes a stroll through the motor Museum on their premises, where they house over twenty vintage, collectors, and special edition vehicles that have significant meaning to them as a family and as a team. I’ve had the pleasure of a personal tour of this magnificent museum by these honourable business partners. I was truly in awe and felt like a kid in a candy store. I have highlighted this experience as the best in my career as a motoring journalist thus far. Having started this collection some thirty-five years ago, Colin notes that when times were tough, some of these beautiful vehicles were sold to keep the business afloat – an indication of the trials and tribulations this dealership has been through, as well as their incredible perseverance.
Now proudly representing five stunning brands (Ford, Mazda, Kia, Jaguar and Land Rover), the reputation and respect which this dealership has earned precedes them wherever they go.
Two true gentlemen, both warm and great conversationalist – with a touch of humour and wit to boot – thank you for making this one of the memorable moments in my career thus far. Looking forward to learning more about this team, I am left on the edge of my seat, watching their next move…
Journalist: Desh Bechan
Reporter: Inge Stols
Editor: Belinda Anderson