ShapeShifter

How I became CEO at 29 (and how I’m conquering Africa with SA-made furniture)

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Back in 1971 five brothers came together to open a store named Bakos Brothers. Today, if you live in Gauteng or Mpumalanga, and you’re in the market for very posh furniture, that’s where you go.

“They didn’t finish school, but they had a knack for business and were great salesmen,” says Bakos of his uncles, the founders of Bakos Brothers.

It’s often said one shouldn’t go into business with family, advice the Bakos’ either never heard or wholly ignored. “They all Moderately respect one another,” says Bakos. “Disagreements don’t ever get bad. We’re very proud of that.”

CEO at age 29

If running and growing the business with five brothers isn’t complicated enough, the five brothers – four of which are still alive and in their 60s and 70s – chose one of the children – Ryan – to become the CEO at the very young age of 29.

“When I became CEO I was one of the youngest people in the entire company,” says Bakos. “It was very difficult. I had to really prove myself and earn the respect of the staff. Eventually I won people over and we got down to doing what we do, and that is to provide Africans with the best furniture we can give them.”

Proudly South African

Bakos Brothers, few people realise, also manufactures some of their sofas in South Africa and has recently bought furniture manufacturer Gordon Fraser in order to vastly expand their manufacturing capacity.

“Production will start early in 2015,” promises Bakos. “There is a 30 percent tax duty when you import from overseas so, when we start running our bulk through that factory, it will be very price competitive. Importing limits your variety and lead times."

Next stop: Cape Town (then Durban, Lagos, Nairobi…)

Profits grew by 21 percent in 2013 and by 48 percent so far this year (2014). “A lot of our profit growth comes from Africa outside of South Africa; from across all of the SADC countries right up to Nigeria and Kenya. The weak rand is helping us get a lot more international business.

“The future of Bakos Brothers is definitely expansion,” says the young CEO. “We’ve got our eyes set on Cape Town and Durban in 2016. And then Lagos. Africa is booming!

“We also aim to manufacture the majority of our furniture ourselves right here in South Africa using South African staff and South African suppliers.”

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