Writer: Emily Jarvis
Project Manager: Tom Cullum
“In our 20th anniversary year, I am pleased to say that we have successfully exceeded our growth strategy, ensuring that our historically consistent growth continues into the future. This is reflected in our current capacities and our ability to operate nationally,” says Tollo Nkosi, Umso Construction’s Chief Operations Officer (COO).
“In advancing the same agenda and our intended business growth – increasing our market share, operational efficiency, nurturing talent, increased focus, managing risk and increasing profitability – we have had to restructure the business to gear-up for targeted opportunities.”
Founded in 1996 with a vision to empower black communities – initially placing emphasis on establishing a footprint in the Eastern Cape – Umso has taken significant steps to alleviate skills shortages and build long-lasting customer and business relations. This vision led to the transformation into a prominent Historically Disadvantaged Company (HDC) by the Company’s stakeholders in 2004.
“Over the past two decades, our management philosophy has inspired the flourishing and sustainment of long-lasting customer and business relations by ensuring that we consistently meet agreed requirements across specification, safety, time and cost,” Nkosi notes.
In an economy where the market is highly saturated and increasingly competitive, Umso has adopted a philosophy of continuous improvement that has allowed the Company to diversify its offering in accordance with the customers’ needs and become a multifaceted organisation that can add value to any project, small or large; in the public or private sector. Today, the Company has developed specific expertise in the construction of roads, water and sewer reticulation, concrete structures, bridges and box culverts.
“We have been fervent in conducting business and executing projects with distinct attention to detail, industry excellence and uncompromised quality in a bid to secure repeat business,” the Chief Operations Officer adds.
Boasting more than 160 construction equipment assets capable of assisting on a wide variety of construction and civil engineering projects, Umso understands the importance of investing in its machinery and the latest technologies in order to grow its market share. Not only are investments in state-of-the-art equipment a core requirement to remain competitive, but with the ever-increasing fleet size comes a similarly increasing need to update safety policies and training procedures.
Complying with the latest agreed and legal requirements, Umso’s recent restructure saw the complete overhaul of its safety, health, environmental and quality (SHEQ) policy. “The management system procedures have been designed to comply with the requirements of ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and OSHAS 18001 which we are targeting. It will be an integrated system that will be available on an ERP system, Microsoft Share point, in the near future,” the Company’s SHEQ & Risk Director, Andre van der Merwe says.
Representing a crucial pillar of its continuous improvement philosophy, the SHEQ system is currently in its infancy as Umso puts all the cogs in place to align staff training procedures with the new policy. “Ongoing research and development in this area will result in more effective and formalised Company management systems; including the principles of ‘right first time’ and ‘zero deviation’ adopted across all levels of the organisation. We hope this will result in better cost-control among other internal improvements,” van der Merwe adds.
Further bolstering this is an equally important emphasis on the creation of a pool of qualified technicians and Umso is proud to help provide “deserving underprivileged individuals with valuable skills”. This led to the recent implementation of an internal training programme and registration of the Company’s workshop with the Manufacturing, Engineering and Related Services (MERSETA) as an approved training facility.
Fleet expansion programme
The sheer size of Umso’s fleet has rapidly generated the need to carry out maintenance and repairs – including scheduled services – in-house. This has resulted in the ongoing training of the Company’s technicians by working closely with all its associated original equipment manufacturers (OEM’s) to keep abreast of the latest technological advancements.
“The standard set by our workshop operations has made it possible for us to be one of only a handful of companies to be accredited as a fully-fledged service centre by Mercedes Benz outside its mainstream dealer network. The benefits of this accreditation are far-reaching, the most notable being the reduced downtime onsite due to a breakdown or a scheduled service,” Nkosi highlights.
Such an uncompromising commitment to quality and adhering to the latest industry standards has enabled Umso to expand geographically and tap into some of South Africa’s projects of national interest; including the world-class Gautrain Project, Gauteng Freeway Improvement Project, the new multipurpose pipeline from Durban to Johannesburg and the Coega Development Corporation Industrial Zone Development which will house the new Port of Nqgurha in Port Elizabeth.
“A significant proportion of our market share remains in development projects that are geared towards upliftment of the poor and these include; water supply projects in which more than 3,000 kilometres of pipe work has been installed throughout the country; sanitation projects; and rural road network improvements that also include the earthworks for imported steel bridges. We intend to grow our participation in construction activities within Southern Africa to a notable size as we continue to expand into other markets previously out of our reach,” the Business Development Director, Malusi Mngxathi explains.
Despite facing industry challenges brought to the fore by the global commodity crisis, Umso continues to consolidate and improve its internal processes, the outcomes of which can be seen in the quality of the final product.
“Our aims remain unimpeded by any challenges and we ensure that every project is executed with minimal environmental impact, on-time and is of a quality finish. As a HDC, we maintain our vision to be a Company whose purpose and sole existence is embedded in its people, advancement and the delivery of projects to a greater portion of the region,” says Nkosi.
“We continue to invest and improve our management systems and tools to enhance business operations to stay relevant in the marketplace. Our success so far would not be possible without our people, business partners and clients for showing their continued commitment and support. This certainly makes our 20th year of business a milestone to be proudly celebrated,” he concludes.