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Brian Joffe receives honorary doctorate from Wits

- Wits University

Bidvest CEO and founder honoured for his contribution to business and society in South Africa.

Bidvest CEO and founder of the JSE-listed Bidvest Group today received an honorary doctorate degree from his alma-mater, Wits University.

Joffe, who graduated from Wits University as a chartered accountant in 1971, received his degree from Wits University Chancellor, Justice Dikgang Moseneke, at the graduation ceremony for the Faculty of Commerce, Law and Management today (Wednesday, 29 March).

Joffe, who started the Bidvest Group from somewhat humble beginnings, into being one of the leading corporations in South Africa, with a turnover of over R204 billion, employing more than 145 000 people, of which over 125 000 are in South Africa, launched his entrepreneurial career in 1978 when he borrowed R49 000 to buy an interest in a small pet food manufacturer.

A year later, he borrowed again, to acquire full ownership and to expand the company. Within six months his business – using largely discarded machinery on a makeshift production line – held 15% of South Africa’s canned dog food market. He subsequently sold this business to a major industrial group.

Joffe launched Bidvest in 1989 and built it to be the company it is today. He looked beyond apartheid to a democratic future in which South Africa would again be integrated into the global economy. He bought businesses that others were eager to sell, consistently expressing his faith in South Africa’s ability to transform and grow. In the process, he developed a uniquely empowered business model driven by autonomous entrepreneurs, each responsible for growing their own operations.

Following acquisition by Bidvest, under-performing operations were often transformed into industry leaders. Countless jobs were saved and the basis established for a diversified group. Joffe also looked beyond the received wisdom of focussing on ‘core strengths’. Instead, he built a diversified company with interests in sectors as spread out as food services, travel services and pharmaceuticals. Rather than focussing on one market, Joffe built his company on consolidating diverse markets.

Joffe sought also to build a strategically diversified company by building an international set of activities. The first international acquisition occurred in 1995 when Manettas Australia (now Bidvest Australia) was acquired. The business had hit hard times and needed a substantial capital injection. Today, the business is Australia’s leading national foodservice supplier.

The business he leads makes a sustained contribution to communities and worthy causes, locally and in all markets where its subsidiaries are active. It is estimated that over the past decade, Bidvest’s social investment has topped R540 million. The contribution of the Johannesburg Corporate office alone tops R120 million. Corporate projects include: Reach For A Dream, QuadPara (to develop the potential of quadriplegics and paraplegics), Sagda (graduate development), Hear For Life, the Chefs Association, Wits University, Hospice, Bethany House, the Nkosi Haven, ORT SA and PinkDrive.

Addressing the grandaunts at the graduation ceremony, Joffe inspired them to strive to make South Africa a better place for their children and grandchildren.

“We need to create South Africa for tomorrow – every one of us. And, if we manage to do that, we would be able to come back and stand up here. And, instead of you listening to me talk, you can do the talking, and tell everybody what you’ve done over the last 45 years,” he said.