P.O. Box 782248
Telephone: (011) 801-9111
Incorporated: August 29, 1918 as Thomas Barlow & Sons (South Africa) Ltd.
Sales: R 14.62 billion (US$ 6.58 billion)
Market Value: R 3.497 billion (US$ 1.573 billion)
Stock Index: Johannesburg London Paris Brussels Antwerp Frankfurt Zurich Basel Geneva
The original South African Barlow company was founded by Major Ernest Barlow, an Englishman who fought with the British against Dutch and Huguenot Boers in South Africa at the turn of the century. Major Barlow returned to South Africa in 1902 and established an engineering supplies company in Durban. The family-owned "import-indent agency" was incorporated in 1918 under the name Thomas Barlow & Sons (South Africa) Ltd. The original Thomas Barlow & Sons was established as a cotton mill in Lancashire, England during the 18th century, and continued to trade in textiles when Major Barlow borrowed its name for his enterprise in South Africa.
Major Barlow died in 1921. In 1927 the company was taken over by his eldest son Charles, who that year received an engineering degree from Cambridge University. That year Barlow became the South African sales agent for the Caterpillar company, an American manufacturer of heavy machinery. Through its connection with Caterpillar, Barlow & Sons gained expertise in construction and agricultural machinery. Over the following years, strong demand for engineering supplies allowed the company to expand its scale of business.
Barlow escaped destruction during World War II because it was located far from the battlefields of Europe, Asia, and north Africa. The war did, however, disrupt the world economy and cause some hardship in South Africa. Barlow took advantage of several opportunities to grow by supplying provisions to allied forces and taking over production of goods which could no longer be imported.
After the war Barlow expanded its operations in Southwest Africa (Namibia) and Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). Southwest Africa was confiscated by South Africa during World War I, and placed under South African mandate by the Treaty of Versailles. It was also extremely rich in mineral deposits, including diamonds, copper, lead, zinc, and uranium. Rhodesia, a self-administered British colony, was also well-endowed with mineral resources, including gold, copper, chrome, nickel, and tin. As a company, Barlow was in a privileged position to supply mining equipment and develop new mining technologies, but did not directly engage in the operation of any mines.
Barlow eliminated "South Africa" from its corporate name in 1956 when the British Thomas Barlow & Sons ceased to exist. After that time there was no longer a need to distinguish the two companies.
In the early 1960's, the White minority government of Ian Smith in Rhodesia came under increasing pressure from Britain and the United States to integrate its society and permit the Black majority to engage in politics. The government's strong resistance resulted in economic sanctions and guerilla warfare against Rhodesia. As conditions deteriorated in Rhodesia, Barlow began to divest itself of certain properties and businesses there. The operations maintained by Barlow in Rhodesia were originally part of the Rhodesian Development Corporation, which Barlow purchased in the mid-1950's. These assets were placed under a new division of Barlow called Thomas Barlow & Sons (Rhodesia) Ltd. Capital raised from the sale of Rhodesian companies was used to purchase shares of businesses in Britain, as part of an overall strategy to diversify the company geographically as well as operationally.
In April of 1966 Thomas Barlow & Sons Ltd. and South African Breweries exchanged 12 million rand worth of stock. As a result, South African Breweries owned 22% of Barlow, and Barlow owned a substantially higher percentage of South African Breweries. As part of an effort to combine their marketing and resource networks, a number of executives from South African Breweries were admitted to the board of directors at Barlow.
Barlow companies which were losing money in Southwest Africa and Rhodesia were reorganised. Generally, however, Barlow subsidiaries in those states and in Britain continued to perform beyond expectations. The well-established tractor company and the fast-growing forestry division, called Federated Timbers, continued to be Barlow's most profitable companies.
Through its association with the Caterpillar company, Barlow gained expertise in corporate finance and product distribution. By the end of the 1960's, Barlow had diversified into several fields, and continued to sell mining equipment and technical expertise to mining companies. In June of 1971 Barlow purchased Rand Mines Ltd., South Africa's oldest mining house. Rand was acquired for 39 million rand in stock, the largest takeover in South African history. At the time, Barlow was primarily a distributor of industrial products; only 10% of its revenue were derived from manufacturing. Rand Mines, on the other hand, was South Africa's oldest mining house, but in recent years had established a strong presence in primary industries. The new company, Barlow Rand Ltd., was a fully integrated manufacturer and distributor of heavy industrial products.
Shortly after Barlow took control of Rand on June 28, it was discovered that the companies in the Rand group had been overvalued. Specifically, the Middleburg Steel and Alloys Group was singled out as being "in a disastrous state." After a thorough investigation of asset valuations, liabilities, and contingencies, 17.9 million rand had been written off from the pre-acquisition price.
Charles Barlow expressed his company's grave concern over social conditions in South Africa. Under the government policy of apartheid, Black (Bantu), "Coloured" (mulatto, quadroon, octoroon, etc.), and Asian (primarily Indian) people were segregated from the White population and politically disenfranchised. They were also limited to dangerous labor-intensive occupations with low pay, and denied education and opportunities for advancement. Poor working conditions for non-Whites at Barlow Rand inhibited the company's performance. Barlow recognized that rising social tension over apartheid could lead to labor strikes and racial violence.
Many industrialists supported social reforms in South Africa. If conditions did not change, they feared that more radical opponents of apartheid would exploit the situation for political gains, incite a civil war and cause a revolution. Barlow Rand initiated an advancement program for non-White South Africans, which included better education, higher wages, and the lifting of restrictions on promotion. The measures were, on the whole, generally regarded as inadequate, but indicative of some reform in light of government restrictions on the advancement of non-Whites.
In a continuing effort to reduce its exposure to the increasingly risky business environment in South Africa, Barlow Rand redoubled its efforts to expand in Europe. The government, however, had strict prohibitions on the transfer of capital out of South Africa. Restrictions on exit capital meant that the Barlow Rand could not divest its holdings in South Africa, consequently its foreign subsidiaries would have to achieve greater growth independently.
Under South African laws, Barlow Rand could only offer shares of its own stock in return for shares in European companies it was interested in purchasing. In order to increase the marketability of its shares in Europe, Barlow Rand stock was listed on the Brussels and Antwerp bourses in February of 1972, and on the Paris bourse the following July.
In July of 1974 Charles Barlow announced his company's intention to purchase the Union Corporation, a mining finance group with substantial British holdings. Over the next two months, however, Gold Fields (of South Africa) and General Mining (now called Gencorp) entered the bidding. Barlow Rand withdrew from the competition when it decided the bidding price for Union shares had exceeded a reasonable value. Shortly afterward, General Mining purchased the Union Corporation.
Social conditions began to deteriorate rapidly in Rhodesia, where the minority government was rapidly losing support. When South Africa stopped supplying the Rhodesians with weapons (particularly helicopters), Prime Minister Ian Smith was forced to initiate a program to bring a Black majority government into power within two years. Because it was a South African company, Barlow Rand's presence in Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) became less welcome, and the company's stock was subsequently delisted from the Harare (Salisbury) stock exchange.
many nations refused to continue trading with South Africa because of the government's racist social policies. South Africa was widely criticized for apartheid, which it claimed was necessary to prevent communists from gaining control of the country. Barlow Rand was not as adversely affected by this development as some smaller, more specialized South African companies. Still, it continued to diversify, in 1978 purchasing a 55% share in the Nampack packaging unit of Reed International, and a 50% share of GEC South Africa. Barlow Rand later sold its wholly-owned packaging division to Nampack. In January of 1980 the company sold Nampak in order to purchase a controlling interest in G.C. Smith, South Africa's largest producer of sugar, as well as a manufacturer of chemicals and flooring.
In 1979 Charles Barlow died. He was succeeded by a highly capable and progressive man name Aanon Michael Rosholt. A protege of Barlow, Rosholt advocated the integration of educational facilities for South Africa's races, and for the eventual elimination of apartheid.
As a result of the Wiehahn reforms of 1979, trades unions for non-Whites grew in both size and influence. Companies such as Ford, the Anglo-American Corporation, Chloride (S.A.), and Barlow Rand generally supported the growth of the trades unions. The unions, however, targeted these and other pragmatic companies as institutions of the White regime, and deliberately opposed them as such. This led Mike Rosholt to complain that Barlow Rand was being "picked on" as an easy target.
Rosholt undertook a reorganization of the company's industrial relations, under increasing fears that the company's labor force (75% Black and 10% Coloured and Asian) was more likely to strike or become violent. Declaring that, "Labor relations are too important to be left to personnel specialists," Barlow Rand reemphasized internal growth by increasing salaries and establishing 45 literacy centers to facilitate the advancement of non-White workers.
In a speech in 1981, Rosholt said that Black trade unions were a fact of life which "must be seen as bodies which can possible defuse labor problems." He expressed his belief that representation was an internal union matter which employers should not try to influence. The employees' unions, however, continued to regard Barlow Rand with skepticism. The company, however, remained relatively free of labor unrest.
Rosholt became more outspoken about the need for reform of apartheid. He told a conference attended by the South African prime minister Pieter Botha, "Business does not believe, as the government appears to, that there us unlimited time for the process of change." Criticism of government policies placed Rosholt in a precarious position, as a member of the English-speaking business establishment, he did not want to be perceived as an enemy by the somewhat suspicious Afrikaans-speaking government establishment. On the other hand, Rosholt recognized that Barlow Rand could not continue to conduct business in an environment of radical tension and uncertainty.
Continuing to expand, Barlow Rand purchased dealerships for Hyster forklifts in Britain and the southeastern United States. In April of 1982, the company acquired one of South Africa's largest food companies, Tiger Oats. In 1985 Barlow Rand launched a takeover of J. Bibby & Sons, a British industrial and agricultural concern, partially owned by Tiger Oats. The company offered three pounds per share, an amount so generous that 97% of Bibby shareholders sold out, leaving so few English shareholders that the company lost its listing on the London bourse.
Today Barlow Rand is the largest company in South Africa, and an international parent company of businesses in southern Africa, Britain, the United States, and Europe. The groups' operations are divided among eight autonomous divisions: mining; cement, lime and paint; electronics and engineering; heavy equipment; building and construction supplies; packaging, paper and appliances; sugar, food and textiles; and group services.
The company remains committed to the elimination of racist social policies in South Africa, and under the leadership of Michael Rosholt has grown in sales from 3.4 billion rand in 1980 to over 14.6 billion rand. All South African companies, however, have recently experienced serious problems directly related to the government's policy of apartheid. Consumer boycotts, difficult economic conditions, and government interference compounded Barlow Rand's problems with its identification as a South African company. Economic sanctions and world political opposition to South Africa, in protest of its society, are certain to have highly adverse effects on Barlow Rand, at least until such time as apartheid is ended.
Principal Subsidiaries: (capitalized at over R 500,000) Marico Fluorspar (Pty) Ltd.; Rand Mines, Ltd.; Rand Mines (Mining Services) Ltd.; Rand Mines Properties, Ltd.; Welgedacht Exploration Co., Ltd.; Witbank Colliery, Ltd.; Kohler Sacks, Ltd.; PPC Lime, Ltd.; Pretoria Portland Cement Co., Ltd.; AEI Henley Africa (Pty) Ltd.; ATC (Pty) Ltd.; Fenner (S.A.) (Pty) Ltd.: GEC South Africa (Pty) Ltd.; KSB Pumps (Pty) Ltd.; Reunert, Ltd.; Barlows Manufacturing Co., Ltd.; Belon Industries (Pty) Ltd.; Brollo Africa (Pty) Ltd.; Federated-Blaikie, Ltd.; Federated Timbers, Ltd.; Firststeel, Ltd.; Plascon-Evans Paints, Ltd.; Robor Industrial Holdings, Ltd.; Thesen & Co. (Pty) Ltd.; W.F. Johnstone & Co., Ltd.; Fibre Spinners & Weavers (Pty) Ltd.; Hextex (Pty) Ltd.; Romatex, Ltd.; Veldspun (Pty) Ltd.; Barlan Forms (Pty) Ltd.; Brown, Davis & McCorquodale (Pty) Ltd.; Hypack (Pty) Ltd.; Keartlands-Nasionale Litho (Pty) Ltd.; Metal Box South Africa, Ltd.; Nampak, Ltd.; Nampak Products, Ltd.; Spicers (Pty) Ltd.; Adcock-Ingram, Ltd.; C.G. Smith Foods, Ltd.; C.G. Smith Sugar, Ltd.; Festive Farms (Pty) Ltd.; Harvestime Corp. (Pty) Ltd.; Imperial Cold Storage & Supply Co., Ltd.; Meadow Feed Mills, Ltd.; Natal Cane By-Products, Ltd.; Radue Weir Holdings, Ltd.; S.A. Sea Products, Ltd..
Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 1. St. James Press, 1988.