Bombardier Transportation SA managing director Aubrey Lekwane is positioning the company’s Johannesburg headquarters as a launchpad to expand into the Sub-Saharan Africa.
The businessman was appointed to the position in 2012 to lead the business’s growth strategy, and improving its performance and competitiveness, among others.
Lekwane, who served as chief executive of the South African Mining Development Association in 2010, said the propulsion manufacturing plant located in Isando, would play a big role in their expansion plans into Africa.
He revealed that they were exploring specific opportunities in African countries including Zambia, Tanzania, Angola, Ghana, Botswana and Namibia.
Lekwane, who holds a mechanical engineering diploma from Tshwane University of Technology and an honours degree in political science from Wits University, said the company has had a presence in Morocco and Egypt for a number of years.
He says Bombardier, which is recognised on the 2019 Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World Index, is poised for growth because every country in the Sub-Saharan region needs rail infrastructure development.
“Rolling stock is a big area of growth in the region and we are very proud of how well we have positioned ourselves into the market,” says Lekwane, who served on the National Peace Accord during South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democracy.
He says in the next 5 to 10 years they would like to be part of Gautrain’s growth aspirations and be involved in efforts to upgrade the crucial railway signalling in the country.
Signalling faults were blamed for the Pretoria train crash that killed three people and left 620 injured in January.
Lekwane says trains must be safe and reliable, stressing that it was good that President Cyril Ramaphosa was stuck in a three for three hours recently, as this highlighted the plight of those who used this mode of transport.
“When signalling improves, trains will become more safe,” he says, adding that they are providing railway signalling solutions to six countries in the continent.
Lekwane, who served in executive positions in various ventures including retail giant Massmart, engineering and construction firm Murray & Roberts and train manufacturing company Alstom Ubunye, says the company employs 177 staff at the Johannesburg plant, with 35 percent of staff being youth employees.
He says Bombardier, which also supplies aircraft to SA Express, has a 43 percent staff female representation and a 40 percent representation at executive level.
Lekwane, who started his career as a regional organiser of Lawyers for Human Rights in 1988, says he is passionate about women empowerment.
“Women empowerment is a key thing. It’s a priority,” says Lekwane, who has served as interim director of the Africa Centre for Defence and Security Leadership Programme at Stellenbosch University in Western Cape.
“The railway tradition of men only is going away. With modern tooling you don’t need muscles to work. We are very proud of women’s involvement in the team.”
The managing director says a total of R19 million had been spent to date on training and development of staff on the TRAXX locomotive and its supply chain.
Lekwane, who was a presiding officer in the 1994 and 1999 national elections, describes Bombardier as a global company with more than 100, 000 train cars in services, transporting more than 500 million passengers daily.
The company, which is headquartered in Montreal, Canada, has 61 engineering and production sites in 28 countries, across four business units of transportation, business aircraft, commercial aircraft, and aerostructures and engineering services. Bombardier employs over 40 000 employees worldwide, is listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, and posted revenues of US$16.2 billion for the financial year ended December 31, 2018.