How Brian Joffe Turned Bidvest Into A Multibillion Conglomerate

Bidvest Group is a South African multinational conglomerate holding company headquartered in Johannesburg, Houghton, South Africa.

The company operates through 4 divisions: Bidvest South Africa, Bidvest Corporate, Bidvest Foodservice and Bidvest Namibia.

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The company is the leading B2B services, trading and distribution group, operating mostly in the areas of food processing, hospitality, consumer, pharmaceutical and industrial products, outsourced hard and soft services, bakery, poultry, catering, financial services, freight management, banking, office and print solutions, travel services, automotive retailing and many other offerings.

Bidvest headquarters

Bidvest listed on JSE in 1990 and currently has over 132 870 employees on its payroll, making the company one of the largest in the African continent and the world as a whole.

On a yearly basis, Bidvest generates billions upon billions in annual revenue, raking in R88.31billion just this year alone. Bidvest is currently the 7th largest company in South Africa.

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Background

To understand the story of Bidvest, let’s take a closer look at the life of Brian Joffe, its founder.

Born in 1947, to Benny and Tilly, Brian’s foray into the entrepreneurial world started during his growing-up days, when he worked as a birdseed packer for a family grain milling business. He would sometimes help out his pharmacist uncle count tablets.

According to Brian in 2011 interview, he always longed to be a school teacher but his parents didn’t support his teaching ambition and instead, convinced him to enroll for a medicine related degree at the University of Witwatersrand.

Within weeks, Brian decided to switch to accounting(CA) after refusing to dissect a frog. After graduating, he completed his articles at Levitt Kirson Gross and then spent some time in Israel.

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Dog Food Business

His business career came at the age of 30 in 1978, when he borrowed R49 000 from his parents and acquired a 50% stake in a small pet food business. Two years later, he bought out his business partner.

Using largely discarded machinery on a
makeshift production line, he aggressively expanded into the canned dog food segment. At this point, he held over 15% share of the South African dog food market.

Early Retirement

Eventually, Brian sold the company for more than $1 million to a major industrial group. Fresh with cash, he decided to move to the US with his wife, where he retreated to a golf course as part of his early retirement

Fed up with playing golf and missing the adrenaline rush, he returned to South Africa in 1982 and did various jobs including being a consultant for Standard Bank.

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Weil & Ascheim

At that time, Standard Bank owned a company called UNISEC and wanted to sell some its assets to Manny Simchowitz, who said he’ll only buy on the condition that Brian comes and works for him at Weil & Ascheim.

Manny Simchowitz sold Weil & Ascheim to Jeff Liebesmann and when he came in, there was a conflict of vision with Brian about how the company should be ran. Six months later, Brian saw it was best he leaves and start his own thing.

Bidvest Begins…

In 1988, with an initial R8 million start-up loan from former Investec CEO, Stephen Koseff, Brian Joffe launched Bidvest, then called Bid Corporation, with the aim of creating a significant entity by consolidating small and medium companies.

Even though Brian knew he would make Bidvest a success, there was never any thought of the company becoming as big as it has became.

He hit the ground running by putting together a R23 million deal to acquire Chipkins from Mervyn Chipkin, a catering business, which formed the building block upon which the contemporary Bidvest was created.

Acquisitions

From then onwards, Bidvest went on an acquiring spree: Afcom, Steiner Services, Crown Food Holdings, Safcor Freight, Waltons Group, Lithotech, Rennies Group, Crean Foodservice, Island View Storage, I-Fusion, John Lewis Food service, Jacobs Holdings and so many others.

During that time from 1998 – 2000, Bidvest also expanded its services to Australia and New Zealand. As of now, the company can be found in over 110 countries around the world.

In 2016, Bidvest successfully unbundled its food services unit, BidCorp, and listed it in May of the same year.

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Resignation

In early 2017, after a 29 year long career with the company, Brian Joffe announced his shocking resignation from Bidvest with immediate effect.

Lindsay Ralph’s took over from him, followed by Nompumelelo Thembekile Madisa in 2020 and the company still experiences growth under her reign.

After nearly 33 years of operation, Bidvest has remained true to its philosophy of empowering people, building relationships and improving lives.

In Conclusion

Brian Joffe’s entrepreneurial skills catapulted Bidvest into one of the biggest conglomerate in the world, abiding by the philosophy, “if you can dream it, you can do it”……

……and striving to always do his best on a daily basis, staying innovative and recovering from his mistakes. Bidvest will surely continue growing from strength to strength.

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