Behind every successful business, you’ll discover a solid foundation
Back in 1948, two Englishman, Albert J. Todd and Harold Wilson boarded a steam ship at Southampton bound for Cape Town with post-war dreams of finding their fortunes in South Africa. Since dining together a number of times during the voyage, they became good friends and once Harold had established himself in a small office in Bree Street, he invited Albert to share the space with him.
With an ambition to bring the new world to The Union of South Africa, they imported and dabbled in plastics and very soon were upgrading domestic fridges with plastic wall liners that actually prevented the milk from souring and the ice from melting.
The combination of their surnames provided the business with a label and because Albert and Harold were traders at heart, The TodWil Company would take on any work with the simple mantra: “just go out and get the flipping order and we’ll figure out a way to make it”. Naturally this fostered a kind of resourcefulness and inventiveness that would become one of the cornerstones of the business. They survived on making anything from paper envelopes and hotel room numbers to plastic money bowls used in bank safes and literally everything in between- nothing was impossible! Sheratonware became a very popular range of plastic kitchen serving and snack dishes that were sold prolifically via a party-plan scheme to housewives around the country, even although early plastics were brittle! A good number of dishes had to be exchanged as a result and it was during this period that Todwil’s no-nonsense approach to quality was born; another cornerstone.
A friendship was struck with an ambitious young entrepreneur from Stellenbosch who was manufacturing cigarettes and doing quite well at it. Bert and Harold started designing and building plastic displays for The Rembrandt Tobacco Company and within a few short years, the hugely successful Dr. Anton Rupert invited them to help him launch Peter Stuyvesant, which would later become the most popular brand in South Africa. The very clever pay-off line, ‘The international passport to smoking pleasure’ was as iconic as the POP material that helped to drive sales of the brand.
By 1952, Todwil had expanded into bigger factory premises and various family members had been brought into the business to help wherever needed. Typical clients at the time included the likes of Johnson & Johnson, House of Monatic, Bells Whisky and Standard Bank. Vacuum formed stands, ‘Perspex’ fabrications and plastic engraved displays moved steadily up the floors in their 4-storey building with the dispatch department right at the top and an ingenious winch system to get the finished goods down onto street level.
By the time the founders retired, Todwil was a very well established business with the youthful, second-generation Wilson brothers continuing to build the legacy. John Wilson became MD in the early 80’s and this legendary figure was prone to extreme bouts of ‘passion’, regularly throwing tools and telephones around the factory. However, his passion, drive and popularity helped grow the business even further until his retirement as Chairman a few years ago.
In 2007, a very bright entrepreneur had been poached out of premature retirement to take on the role as MD. Wayne Elsom freshened the old ‘family culture’, enthusiastically injecting his style of professionalism, strategic magic, financial wizardry and future-proofing. With unprecedented annual growth in excess of 40% and expansion to match, the company still deals with many of the clients responsible for nudging Bert and Harold 60 years ago!
Today, Wayne Elsom is a major shareholder and CEO of The Todwil Group and I’m guessing that the rest will become history.