Stephen Nale launched the country’s first black owned motor dealership in 2003. He believes telling more wide-ranging personal stories is a crucial part of turning the sector’s transformation theory into reality...
Although black business owners and senior managers aren’t as rare as they were ten years ago, the automotive sector has struggled to transform as fully as it would have liked. According to one of the sector’s pioneering back businessmen, the challenges are multi-faceted, and meeting them must include an equal focus on bedding down the right development mechanisms and telling more stories of black ownership, leadership and excellence.
Stephen Nale founded the country’s first black owned motor dealership – Joburg City Auto – in 2003, and today stands as one of the industry’s leading black automotive owners, and a businessman with increasingly wide interests, including property.
‘Role models are really important, and stories of black experiences are a big way to make sure our youth to see more leaders they can recognise, relate to and be inspired by,’ he says. ‘Success stories are very important, of course, but young people just entering our industry also need to hear more general stories about the reality of business. This is especially true in the automotive sector, which matters a lot to the South African economy, and where there is a lot to learn and discover.’
The automotive sector contributes 6.4 percent to South Africa's gross domestic product (4 percent manufacturing and 2.4 percent retail) and makes up 30.1 percent of our manufacturing output. It’s our fifth-largest export sector, and accounts for 13.9 percent of total exports, while automotive manufacturing employs over 110 000 people across component manufacturing and vehicle assembly. 
‘I have over 30 years in the industry and I still learn new things every day,’ says Nale. ‘The industry is tough, but it also has a lot of opportunities. If we all tell more stories about our experiences, good and bad, we’ll do our new generations a huge favour by giving them they information they need to make good decisions. Why get involved in the sector? What are the challenges? Where are the opportunities? What does innovation even mean? If we’re going to prepare our new generations to be flexible enough to meet the challenges and position themselves to innovate, it all starts with stories.’
Innovation has been a feature of Nale’s career. He recently rebranded his Newtown based dealership, Joburg City Motors (JCM), into multi-brand franchise after years’ operating as a brand specific operation. JCM Motors now also includes flagship features like the JCM Cafe, a venue which allows car fans to spend time with some of the world’s most expensive luxury vehicles while enjoying top quality coffee.
Equally, Nale founded his property business, Stephen Nale Properties (SNP), in 2013 as a parallel operation able to support his motor dealerships by acquiring and building the best located vehicle showrooms and workshop facilities. SNP has steadily expanded its services to include property management and consulting, positioning it well to achieve independent sustainability while still functioning as a key asset with the Nale commercial ecosystem.
As the country’s pioneering black automotive entrepreneur, Nale has a singular message for those entering the industry for the first time: get familiar with the details as soon as you can.
‘There are mechanisms out there designed to transform the industry and help people enter it,’ he says. ‘It’s crucial that we all know how they work and put ourselves in a position to add value to what they do.’
Nale is referring to the R6-billion Automotive Industry Transformation Fund, designed to support black participation in the automotive industry supply chain, and the South African Automotive Master Plan [SAAM] 2021 – 2035, which aims to grow automotive industry vehicle production from 600,000 to 1.4 million vehicles a year, with a strong focus on localisation.
‘These are strong structures in theory, but as always the key to their success lies in how we as a country utilise them,’ he says. ‘The more information we have at our disposal, the better our chances will be of ensuring that give us the benefits they were designed to deliver. So, let’s get talking.’