Dairy ‘magician’ to retire – again

Cindy Preller

THE last time Hennie Kleynhans retired, he had only just begun sunning himself on a beach in the Bahamas when he received a call offering him a new challenge in his industry.

He could not resist, and the past six years have seen him growing one of the most successful dairies in the country in the Coega Industrial Development Zone.

This time around, the former chief executive of Coega Dairy, who officially retired on Friday, promised his wife, Elna, that he would stay retired.

Kleynhans, 63, retired in 2006 as chief executive of Woodlands Dairy in Humansdorp, where he was part of a six-year turnaround strategy. He started his career at United Dairies in Port Elizabeth (now Parmalat) and has worked for Sasol, Ceres Fruit Juices, South African Breweries as well as all over Africa for a US company.

“I have a shelf life. I fix up a company and then leave at a certain point when the business runs smoothly,” Kleynhans said.

Shortly after his retirement at Woodlands, Kleynhans received a call from a local milk farmer, Jeff Every (now chairman of the Coega Dairy shareholders’ board), who complained that the farmers did not get good prices for their milk and had nowhere to sell it.

“I was asked to do the impossible as the dairy industry is very competitive, with no real space in the market. It has been a rollercoaster ride, but since starting up Coega Dairy in 2010 with the help of the Industrial Development Corporation, the milk farmers and broad-based farming communities as main shareholders have gained great successes. Coega Dairy is currently the biggest supplier of long-life milk in the country,” Kleynhans said.

Coega Dairy also exports 20% of its butter and milk products to the rest of Africa, with some of their biggest clients being the DRC, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

“We started slowly but the company has exploded into a major business. We handle and sell a million litres of milk per day and have a very good relationship with the biggest retailer in South Africa. They saw our potential and have been amazing in their support of our business.”

Kleynhans said Coega Dairy had 40% black shareholders and the fact that most of the employees were young, black and female “just happened”. “We didn’t have to force transformation, it just happened naturally.

“We have a young, dynamic team. I head-hunted my replacement, Victor Korsten, personally, and he will probably be an even better, more patient chief executive than I was,” Kleynhans chuckles.

Coega Dairy also outsourced its distribution, merchandising and transportation of the 400000 tons of milk per year to suitably qualified BEE companies, which were hand-picked by Kleynhans.

The new cheese manufacturing plant at Coega Dairy, which is 51% owned by Famous Brands, started operating in June and focuses on manufacturing mozzarella cheese for domestic and export markets.

“We use 40% less energy and have a third of the wastage. We started out with very old infrastructure but now have a small energy consumption [level] thanks to the high-speed equipment we bought.”

Every said Kleynhans had been the “obvious choice”.

“He had a track record of putting up plants and driving them to success.”

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