Bravehearted entrepreneur

Not many entrepreneurs are daring enough to take on a business that lacks prospects of turning it into a money-making machine.

This is what owner of Plantation Shutter Co, William Duk, did when he stumbled on to the shutter manufacturing business in 2007.

Plantation Shutter Co specialises in timber and aluminium shutters for doors and windows to either control lighting or elegantly beefing-up security.

The business handles custom-made designs for clients from first enquiries all the way to manufacturing and installation.

It all started in 2006, following Duk’s return to South Africa after spending seven years in the UK, when this qualified chartered accountant decided to venture into business. He injected his savings into buying property, with specific focus on the industrial and commercial property portfolio.

But little did he know that a year later property would open a new business avenue altogether.

One piece of property in the Cape captured Duk’s interest. It was a building that made plantation shutters.

As part of its due diligence, Plantation Shutter’s silent partner took Duk through what went wrong with the business.

“I was not interested in the shutter business, but I wanted to find out the story behind what led to the business spiralling down,” explains Duk.

His curiosity paid off.

Duk spotted where the problem lay, a classic case of a “poorly executed expansion” had led to the business being on the verge of liquidation.

“My immediate reaction was wow this shouldn’t have happened,” he says.

Duk explains that although the growth of the business may have led to its downfall, there was nothing wrong with the business itself.

“It was symptomatic of mismanagement, a lack of proper financial understanding and control,” he says.

In two moves, weeks apart, the accountant bought the building and with some of the cash injected by the Plantation Shutters property purchase, he bought 50% of the business.

Duk admits the business had no value, but he had a turnaround strategy in place. He knew that with a few tweaks in the enterprise’s structure and operations, it could be resuscitated into a profitable business.

In early 2011, Duk bought out the company and now has majority ownership.

Today the business has a grown tenfold with a national footprint and employs over 100 people, including technical experts.

The business savvy entrepreneur has since been named overall winner of the 2012 Sanlam/Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year, something he regards as a “wonderful acknowledgement” in his “hard journey to turn around the business”.

So what is Duk’s secret? “There’s no secret formula, it’s about doing the right thing repeatedly and not being scared to be innovative,” he says.

According to him, what sets him apart is “absolute focus” on what he wanted to achieve with the business.

Duk says when in business there are a lot of distractions that may come masked as new opportunities, but sometimes these are just “noise”, adding no real value to the direction of the business.

“Choose opportunities that are within your business’s framework. We’ve gone to be the master of one and not the jack of all trades,” he advises.

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