An inborn relentlessness and willingness to break stereotypes are two main attributes that drive Christine Geldart – as she has boldly taken the male-dominated world of entrepreneurship by storm. When this mother of two daughters, aged 26 and nine years, joined her husband in his catering equipment manufacturing factory in 2004, she did not confine herself to being just a partner or the furniture in the room, she abandoned ship and went her own way. “I jumped at the opportunity to do my own thing, and I found the freedom of entrepreneurship exhilarating,” she recalls. It wasn’t long before Geldart…
An inborn relentlessness and willingness to break stereotypes are two main attributes that drive Christine Geldart – as she has boldly taken the male-dominated world of entrepreneurship by storm.
When this mother of two daughters, aged 26 and nine years, joined her husband in his catering equipment manufacturing factory in 2004, she did not confine herself to being just a partner or the furniture in the room, she abandoned ship and went her own way.
“I jumped at the opportunity to do my own thing, and I found the freedom of entrepreneurship exhilarating,” she recalls.
It wasn’t long before Geldart was running her own bakkie canopy-making business to complement her husband’s business, starting with just one employee and some rudimentary welding and grinding equipment. Today, the 52-year-old business owner runs a 2,100m2 factory in Benoni, employing 46 workers and boasting state-of-theart equipment.
It was her background in IT that empowered her with knowledge that would be handy in her endeavours. Geldart studied IT at the then Wits Tech and went on to work in the corporate world as a data capturer.
She felt the urge to do what she studied for as she went on to gain experience working at the likes of Toyota SA and Ford, leading many IT teams and specialising in enterprise resource planning and materials requirement planning applications – a skill which later proved useful for her own company.
She dedicated herself to learning as much as she could about metal manufacturing materials and techniques. Geldart started innovating by introducing square canopy designs which proved much stronger than the rounded canopies on the market at the time.
She targeted large corporate fleet managers and soon they were building work stations and specialised canopies for fleets of bakkies.
She proved to be a fearless woman when a further opportunity presented itself in 2007, after a new law required that owners install protective roll bars and reinforcement against falling objects on mine vehicles – bakkies in particular. She grabbed that opportunity with both hands.
Fending off a major international competitor ready to sell its existing systems to local mines, Geldart built no fewer than nine prototypes before building a stronger, more lightweight product – the Ndlovu range.
“One of the highlights of my career was when I presented my roll-over protection structures to the board of BHP Billiton – as one of only three women in a hair-raising meeting of more than 40 men – and came out on top,” she smiles.
By 2010, all the big mining companies had approved Marven Equipment’s new Ndlovu design and the orders came streaming in.
However, double tragedy struck when Geldart was diagnosed with cancer in 2013, and a Sars audit on her business a year later resulted in a huge tax bill. While other business owners may have been discouraged, Geldart endured – demonstrating her inner strength in spite of adversity.
She scoured the banking corridors in search of a loan – but with no luck. Not a person to give up, she approached Business Partners Limited, which assisted in financing the tax shortfall. She managed to keep her head above water and got the business moving forward again, making use of Business Partners’ technical assistance facility, the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, to gain ISO accreditation for Marven Equipment. The facility links business owners with expert consultants to help diagnose their business challenges and provide customised solutions.
According to Arnold February, regional investment manager at Business Partners, Geldart is a great example of someone who combines a willingness to break stereotypes and relentless curiosity as key attributes to succeed in business.
“As the owner of Marven Equipment – a manufacturer of vehicle equipment, accessories and apparatus – Geldart has held her own in a male-dominated industry, having grown her company to one of South Africa’s top metal vehicle equipment manufacturers. This is mostly due to her insatiable curiosity about science, the world and how things work, coupled with restless energy, which she claims to have inherited from her father,” February says.
Ever the tenacious business owner, Geldart’s current goals for the company are to build specialised bodies for working vehicles and to convince the minibus taxi industry to adopt the Ndlovu design, which could potentially save many lives.
Even as she spends some time away from her business to regain her health, Geldart’s strong team, which includes her daughter, continues to manage the business and keep things moving forward.
But the illness had not taken her away from her love of water.
“I love anything relating to water. If I am not on or in the water I enjoy reading and making the most of my time with my family.”
Now forced into being a full-time housewife, she loves most foods, but as she emphasises: “I do have a slight preference for fish and seafood, though.”
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