“One year ago, today, we got onto a bus and decided to thrash out what we will do with the rest of our lives,” Mr Tekkie CEO Bernard Mostert remembered on August 5th. Now, a year later they are successfully running a new footwear chain, Mr Tekkie, with 27 stores.
When the group boarded the bus between George and Port Elizabeth, six weeks after they had walked out on their comfortable management positions at Tekkie Town, they were divided about the way forward. “Some wanted to go their own way, others wanted to wait, others wanted to start over,” recounts Mostert. “Personally, I thought our legal battles against Steinhoff and its subsidiary Pepkor would consume all my and Braam’s time. Little did I know how much capacity we really have.”
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Bus trips have become metaphors and symbols of events that create close-knit groups that change perceptions. The term being on the bus or off the bus was coined by author Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters during their epic bus trip in 1964 that became symbolic of the hippie generation. A few years earlier the publication of Jack Kerouac’s book On the Road, also describing a pivotal bus journey, launched the jazz and Beat Generation.
It can be assumed that the Eastern Cape bus trip undertaken by the former Tekkie Town team would have been much more orderly and law-abiding than the above two trips. But, its bonding impact and resultant changed perception about individuals challenging corporate power cannot be discounted.
Mostert tells the story in his own words: “That bus trip was seminal. Over two days we crafted our future. How we would walk away from the wreck of Steinhoff and use what we have to make our families, town and country better. How we would leave a legacy of creation and how we would expand our territory.
“Seventy nine days later the first Mr. Tekkie opened its doors (end of October last year). Quite surprisingly, Pepkor tried with all their might to shut us down. We saw the inside of a courtroom more times that we could ever imagine – and we ended up on the high ground of every judgement. We also got a landmark interdict against Pepkor’s parent Steinhoff to protect our interest in our defrauded business.
“In the words of Theodore Parker (an American abolitionist): I do not pretend to understand the moral universe. The arc is a long one. My eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by experience of sight. I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice.”
A year later, Mr Tekkie is “27 stores stronger and growing”, Mostert adds.
“I am forever grateful for those two days on the bus. I am equally grateful for every supplier and landlord who ignored the noise and who backed Braam and a team that they have known for decades. Our bonds run strong and deep. I am equally gratefully for every one of our customers and that we may serve you. That is the one thing that we genuinely love to do.”