South Africa’s Tractionel Enterprise is empowering both industry and social mobility across the country. CEO Danie Lubbe discusses the Company’s journey to date
Writer: Tom Wadlow
Project Manager: Eddie Clinton
“What persuaded me to join Tractionel is that in those early years, the family culture, values and norms of the Company really fascinated me. At Tractionel, the culture of respect for others and real concern for the wellbeing of employees grabbed me and is still to this day keeping us humble.”
Danie Lubbe and Tractionel Enterprise have firmly kept their feet on the ground.
Despite becoming a railway electrification go-to company across South Africa and diversifying significantly into other industrial sectors since it founded in 1982, the same core values and culture underpin its operations today.
Lubbe, CEO since December 2015, joined Tractionel as a Finance Manager in 2006 before being promoted to Financial Director in 2011, his personal rise occurring in tandem with the Company’s wider success story.
“The Company has a bright future,” he adds. “Despite the current economic climate in our country and the difficulties this has brought to the construction industry, we are really positive about what the future holds for Tractionel.
“Part of our medium-term strategy is to go beyond the borders of South Africa as the opportunities and pipeline are attractive. Our business development and estimating departments are working non-stop to make this a reality.”
When entering new markets, Lubbe and his team will be able to carry with them a portfolio of successfully completed projects that showcase the Company’s wide-reaching knowhow.
The latest landmark development completed by Tractionel can be found in Mpumalanga, South Africa, where it has completed an electrified railway line connecting Majuba Power Station to a freight line managed by Transnet.
This involved the supply, installation, testing and commissioning of the 25kV AC and 3kV DC railway electrification network totalling 77 track kilometres. It also included the supply, installation, testing and commissioning of the 11kV AC electrical network for the signalling system as well as the 11kV/400V step down points.
“We have also recently completed a train assembling and testing facility for Gibela in Nigel, Gauteng,” says Lubbe. “The purpose of this project was to develop a train assembling and testing facility for PRASA’s new train sets. Our client, Gibela Rail Transport Consortium (RF), had high praise for the manner in which Tractionel executed this project.”
Lubbe’s proudest project to date, however, involved readying Johannesburg for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
“The Gautrain project was the largest railway project in Africa at the time,” he adds. “The contract covered the design, supply, installation, testing and commissioning of the 25kV AC overhead contact distribution system (OCDS) on the open routes as well as the tunnels, and covered a total track distance of approximately 170 kilometres.”
It was the first of its kind in Africa, with a conductor rail system supplied by Furrer & Frey, a Swiss company represented in South Africa by Tractionel Enterprise, installed in the tunnels.
Installation of the OCDS system commenced in August 2008, and the section which runs between the OR Tambo Airport, Midrand and Sandton was completed in time for the tournament. The Company fought off competition from four competitors to secure the R250 million Gautrain contract and continues to provide maintenance services today.
This impressive pipeline of completed projects can be attributed in part to why Lubbe joined Tractionel in the first place – a culture of teamwork and striving towards a common goal.
“All employees understand that it takes teamwork to make a dream work, which is also our unofficial company slogan,” he says.
Another contributing factor is continual investment in the tools to do the job, both on the frontline and in the back office.
“We are the proud owners of a very specialised fleet of rail road vehicles (RRVs),” Lubbe continues. “These RRVs enable us to perform construction and maintenance work on the railway network in South Africa. We invest in these vehicles on a yearly basis to ensure our uptime and availability is of a high standard.”
Internally, Tractionel has recently invested in new video conferencing facilities, greatly simplifying communication between company branches across the regions in South Africa and abroad. Lubbe also points to a successful migration to a new ISO 9001:2015 quality management system as a key continuous improvement milestone.
All of this investment is helping Tractionel to deliver on its core mission to ‘create wealth for stakeholders, add value and strive for excellence whilst enjoying the experience’.
Such stakeholders, crucially, include the surrounding communities where the organisation operates, and Lubbe highlights the importance of empowerment as a company value.
“Tractionel Enterprise aims to be one of the incubators of our country by empowering the youth through education, both formal and informal,” he explains. “Many resources have been committed by the Company to developing the youth with skills within the rail sector.
“We have invested in a programme, recognised by TETA and SAQA, to train rail linesmen and, to date, more than 40 linesmen have been trained with the assistance of Tractionel.”
This empowerment extends to youth with disabilities, who have been supported by the firm in the form of sponsored training and development at a number of recognised institutions across South Africa. Tractionel also assists with MERSETA accredited administrative learnership programmes.
In terms of procurement, local is also championed strongly. “We are supporting the South African government’s Preferential Procurement Policy Framework Act of 2017, which requires subcontracting of 30 percent of work to developing EME and QSE companies,” Lubbe says.
“The Company also adheres to supplier development, enterprise development, skills development and localisation initiatives in line with this framework.”
By investing in its own people and those in the wider community, Lubbe is optimistic that Tractionel can continue to journey from strength to strength and solidify its already strong market position.
He concludes: “I want us to be in a position to provide a turnkey solution to meet all the requirements of our clients.
“I am confident that we will continue to successfully complete various railway and electrical infrastructure projects across the continent whilst maintaining our leading presence in South Africa.”