By Benjamin Brits
Embassy Air and Zuid HVAC & Process Engineering announce incorporation and celebrate 30-year operational milestone.
Roger Venn founded Embassy Air in 1991. The company was originally a maintenance-based operation working out of a garage in Maitland with just six employees and two bakkies. Their first successful tender and formal contract was the HVAC of Maitland Crematorium. “Nobody else wanted the job as the crematorium remained operational during the contract. To make things worse, the appointed builder went bankrupt, and the job was a loss”, recalled Venn.
The following year, in 1992, the company took the decision to purchase their own premises consisting of an old house and some shipping containers. This structure was later demolished and rebuilt, turning that property into the current premises where the business still operates from today.
Their first “large contract” was awarded via PWD – and consisted of a VRV system for Pathology Labs in Portswood. Their bid was the lowest of 21 tenders (which was a notable concern for them at the time), but still resulted in being a successfully delivered project.
Neville Bezuidenhout, currently managing director of the group – who is also a refrigeration mechanic by trade – began working for Embassy Air in 2004 where he quickly moved up the ranks to become a project manager. He successfully completed numerous large projects during his four-year tenure at the company. After leaving, Bezuidenhout continued to consult as a project manager for two years during the busy time leading up to the 2010 world cup.
“The company peaked in size during that build up to the 2010 World Cup, putting some major projects under the belt. These included work at Eskom’s gas turbines in Atlantis, the Cape Town Stadium, various hotels, and shopping centres. At that point the company was home to approximately 200 employees and a fleet of 45 vehicles between the contract teams and service department”, says Venn.
In 2013, Jacques Claassen, who had already been with Embassy Air for several years, was appointed as a company director and shareholder. Adding to the company’s directorship was Dewald Rautenbach, who was appointed a director and shareholder of the company later, in 2017.
“Coinciding with the happenings at Embassy Air, Zuid HVAC & Process Engineering was formed in 2013 with a diverse focus into the processing industry. Between 2013 and 2022, ZUID has completed numerous projects throughout South Africa – and into Africa with a footprint extending to Zambia, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Nigeria and Angola. Zuid’s strategy to diversify into the food processing industry has essentially been key to its success”, says Bezuidenhout.
Venn and Bezuidenhout had maintained contact and a good relationship over the years, often calling on each other to discuss the challenges that the industry presented. It was during the Covid lockdown that Venn had come to the conclusion to act on his objective of retirement, and so after much consideration it was decided to group the two companies and operate Embassy Air and Zuid under one roof, thus making the team one of the largest HVAC companies in the Western Cape.
The objective of this incorporation, that officially happened in 2021, was to consolidate expenses, workload and skillsets – which would also provide the company an exceptional competitive advantage in the market. Venn, who was effectively the mentor of Bezuidenhout and the whole management team, now leaves his 30-year legacy intact for the next generation to take forward.
Claassen, who has a total of 23 years of service with Embassy Air, and who has been responsible for the running of that business for the last few years, has taken up the challenge of operations director for the incorporated businesses with Rautenbach (who has been with Embassy Air for 19 years) having taken on the role as contracts director.
Camilla Bezuidenhout, who successfully ran the service department at Zuid, was tasked to build a team to manage a combined service department of 14 technical crews which has been a notable challenge, however hugely successful.
Over the last 30 years Embassy Air has built up a team with a huge amount of experience in all aspects of HVAC&R that is backed by the required number of resources, and efficient administration staff.
“Our success since the company’s founding can be attributed to employing the right people and earning a great track record that results in a loyal client base – some of which we have served continually from the start three decades ago. We have, of course, had some tough times and projects over the last 30 years, but with an enthusiastic team we have always come through in the end which now stands us in good stead for success over the next 30 years”, says Venn.
Considering how the business environment has changed over the years, Bezuidenhout notes that air conditioning contracting has become, in some part “commoditised”, making it a very difficult market segment to operate in, but with good management in all aspects, construction projects can still yield profits.
The forward plans of the business in terms of focus areas and staying relevant, “Ever-changing is the key word and it’s important that seasoned companies don’t lose sight of the importance to adapt to the times. Diversification will also mitigate the risks of the volatile sectors. There will forever be a demand for air-conditioning in South Africa. Many years ago, having an aircon was almost ‘taboo’ but today it’s hardly even an option to not have air conditioning. It is therefore a positive prediction for the future of air conditioning and at the same time unfortunate with the resulting negative impact on the environment and the demand for more energy. That is why it’s critical for the industry to innovate and explore solutions out of our comfort zone – to provide solutions that integrate better with renewable energy”, concludes Bezuidenhout.