In South Africa’s dynamic and frequently volatile steel sector, succession planning and the creation of robust synergies are often the exception to the rule, but dynamic structural steel company Cousins Steel International (CSI) demonstrates that these can indeed be successful and enduring.

The company – which adeptly blends its decades-old legacy with modern steel technology and insights – is very proud of its roots and track record, and equally, of its current synergies which energise and drive the business forward.

Strong steel relationships

Cousins Steel CC, a 55-year-old fabrication company located in Pietermaritzburg was started by brothers Lynton and Craig Cousins. Highly experienced structural steel fabricators, and well-connected, savvy businesspeople, the brothers grew their business into a respected large-scale fabrication facility with a sound reputation.

Meanwhile in Durban, professional engineer Mike Oldfield had opened his own business on the Berea, specialising in residential, commercial and industrial projects – and building his own very successful civil and structural engineering practice, completing many successful projects.

Oldfield began exporting steel structures into Africa in the early 2000s, and numerous distinctive structural steel projects – from prawn farms to mines – followed, predominantly in Madagascar.

A long-standing relationship with the Cousins brothers saw Oldfield outsource the fabrication of the more than 2 000 steel structures from 2001 onwards – bound mostly for the Madagascan ammonia sulphate mines – to the Pietermaritzburg-based operation.

This mutually beneficial relationship culminated in a joint venture for the Madagascan and other pan-African export projects, known as Cousins Steel International (CSI), in 2001. The latter acted as a design office, with the fabrication taking place at Cousins Steel CC’s Mkondeni facility.

Steel serendipity

In the ensuing years, the volatile political climate in Madagascar meant that CSI shifted its market focus to the local design supply sector, which was gathering momentum. Then Adam Oldfield, who had followed in his father Mike’s structural engineering footsteps, joined CSI and went on to become a company director.

The CSI – Cousins Steel CC relationship and collaboration prospered for a further 20 years, until Lynton and Craig Cousins stopped fabricating in 2021. “As CSI, we had to make some tough decisions. Should we find another fabrication partner or – in a somewhat revolutionary move at the time – should we take on the challenge of fabricating in-house ourselves?” Adam Oldfield recalls.

Backed by all he had learnt from his father’s effectiveness on-site, and practical, inclusive approach to all disciplines involved structural steel projects – but taking into account that he was wanting to retire – the Oldfields had to quickly decide if he had the energy to take over the reins at CSI with a new fabrication arm – and to introduce a whole new element of the business into the mix.

“We decided to go for it – and quickly began making calls, as there was no time to waste! We struck a deal with Lynton and Craig to purchase their surplus steel, vehicles and fabrication equipment, but not the CC itself, as we were effectively going to start fabricating ourselves as CSI,” he adds.

Looking around for larger premises, given that CSI needed to start fabrication at the beginning of 2021, Oldfield found what he describes as the ‘perfect structural steel facility’ in Mount Edgecombe Industrial Park: “We had constructed a number of buildings there, and was told that one of the tenants was in business rescue and would be vacating a facility which was ideal for steel fabrication,” he recalls.

In a case of ‘steel serendipity’, CSI relocated to the facility, and undertook the monumental task of moving all the ex-Cousins Steel CC fabrication equipment to the new facility in Mount Edgecombe, where they currently operate from, having recently signed a second lease.  

Steel succession

Although Cousins Steel CC closed when the brothers’ retired in 2021, its proud steel fabrication legacy lives on in Cousins Steel International, which has innovatively combined design, engineering, fabrication and supply  into a strong steel synergy, while remaining true to its safety, quality and client service ethos.

“In 2021, we worked hard to consolidate fabrication into CSI’s operations, and to proactively market the company and reassure the structural steel sector – which is a small, tightknit community  – that although Lynton and Craig no longer looked after the fabrication side and sold their Mkondeni premises in Pietermaritzburg, Cousins Steel International was very much still in operation – and going from strength to strength,” Oldfield emphasises.

In just three short years, he and his team have built up an enviable track record of structural steel project delivery – including several award-winning projects – extending from Riverhorse Valley to Phoenix and the Dube TradePort, which is expected to grow into the R1 trillion Durban Aerotropolis. Currently, CSI is putting its stamp on Durban’s most recent industrial park, Brickworks, at Avoca. Recently completing a 40 000sqm superstructure that will feature in this year’s SAISC Steel Awards.

Oldfield leads the company with seasoned fabrication and steel industry professionals at his side: CSI’s factory manager, experienced fabricator Lee-Roy Britz, and well-known steel industry stalwart Gordon McNeill, who has been in the sector for over 50 years, starting in Ireland at the age of 16.  

“Lee-Roy was a natural first choice. He is a meticulous fabricator and is doing what he loves. We have a wonderful synergy and blend of competencies, experience and personalities. This is built on a solid foundation of trust and, because of their experience, I am always willing to receive their input and guidance,” says Oldfield.

With this strong management team in place, and his now-retired father available to consult if required, Oldfield is excited about CSI’s prospects, and is confidently looking to the future.

“The multiple synergies and the rich, multi-layered and multi-disciplinary legacy at the core of our business benefit not only CSI itself, but also very importantly, our valued clients and industry partners. We are proud to be a company where engineering and design do not reside in an ‘ivory tower’ – separated from the realities of every day structural steel construction – but rather, prosper at ground- and project-level, alongside fabrication,” Oldfield concludes.  

Cousins Steel International (CSI) steel fabrication facility in Old Mill Industrial Park KZN

By Admin