Celebrating 115 years of excellence
RMI President, Jeánne Esterhuizen

In a year marked once again by unprecedented economic challenges and worldwide uncertainties, the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI), representing over 8 500 member businesses in the retail automotive aftermarket, has not merely weathered the storm, it has soared to new heights of excellence as it celebrates its 115th  Anniversary this month.

RMI President, Jeánne Esterhuizen,  says through strategic insight, a relentless commitment to its core values, and an unwavering dedication to its members and team, the RMI has shown consistent growth and innovation over the last decade, finishing this financial year in its strongest financial position yet.

“The RMI and its eight associations serve as an inspiring example of how growth and success can be achieved by embracing change and staying deeply connected to the needs and interests of members as well as the South African motoring public,” she says. The organisation’s key focus on regulatory compliance and its high ethical and professional standards have brought it even closer to the consumer over the years living up to its promise of providing motorists with peace of mind and providing compelling value to utilise the services of any one of its eight accredited associations.

Undoubtedly, the past decade has solidified the organization's position as the unequivocal lead voice in the sector, despite facing some hurdles. Esterhuizen says in 2013 the industry was going through tumultuous changes, and the leadership urgently needed to initiate some long-term structural transformation, introducing new and improved governance standards, policies, and procedures. This initiative laid the foundation for a more robust and compliant RMI. The organisation quickly transformed, transitioning from traditional practices to a more progressive approach, encapsulated in its “New Thinking Model”.

She says this injected fresh energy into the organisation, solidifying its position as a standard-bearer for best practices in both formal and informal sectors. The RMI leadership also proactively engaged in critical industry matters for members and consumers while providing expert industrial relations advice.

“In this sector, offering value is key, as is ensuring labour stability.”  In 2000, the RMI achieved a significant victory in wage negotiations, securing a breakthrough one-of-a-kind three-year wage and substantive agreement with a crucial "Peace Clause".  This landmark agreement contributed substantially to labour peace, enhancing the viability and sustainability of businesses in the industry and is still ongoing.

She says, like most industries the Covid pandemic presented challenges, but here again, despite the pandemic's impact, the RMI and its Associations performed exceptionally well financially, accumulating healthy reserves over the years. “It was at this time that the RMI Board provided members a R41 million discount to survive the tough times attributed to Covid between 2021 and 2022,” she says.

Part of the organisation’s success has also been its ability to embrace digital transformation and to be sufficiently flexible to adapt to changing and evolving conditions. Three years ago, through a rigorous consultative process, the organisation was unified from a group of 13 different constituent associations that have developed at different times and in different ways into eight new associations, all consolidated and unified as a family that could live together in a group well into the future under the RMI umbrella. “The branding exercise driven by CEO, Jakkie Olivier, and the shift in associations have been tremendously successful and now represent an identity that reflects the RMI and all its associations as a modern and transforming organisation,” notes Esterhuizen.

The RMI has also invested heavily in training over the years, equipping new entrants with the skills necessary to work on modern, constantly evolving vehicles. It has consistently recognised that access to international trends is invaluable, particularly in a technical environment where artisan skills are valued, providing businesses with a competitive advantage.

As such, close collaboration over two years between the RMI and the Institute of the Motor Industry in the United Kingdom led to the development of the Return-on-Investment calculator funded by MerSETA, which was completed in 2018. It is still in use and recognised by the Department of Higher Education as an invaluable tool for businesses that train apprentices. 

In 2020, the RMI partnered with the Chamber of Crafts Erfurt, more popularly known as Handwerkskammer (HWK) Erfurt, to drive vocational training in the automotive aftermarket. This partnership has progressed well over the last three years. The link with industry and participation from industry specialists has been driven strongly, contributing to the project’s success and nurturing a long-term working relationship agreement with HWK.

Olivier and the training team have passionately driven other initiatives to professionalise and upskill members with the MerSETA and various TVET colleges. The RMI's participation in the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) Centres of Specialisation (CoS) project, initiated in 2017 and concluded in 2022, is one such project. The RMI actively contributed to various aspects of the DHET's pilot project. Subsequently, the DHET elevated the CoS initiative from a pilot programme to a national one. The most recent   achievement of the RMI is the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Tshwane University of Technology’s Department of Marketing, Supply Chain and Sport Management to provide stakeholders within the Automotive Retail Aftermarket with an opportunity to further their studies, by enrolling for a customised Diploma in Retail Business Management.

This first-of-a-kind agreement in South Africa will allow RMI members and their employees to enhance their knowledge and skills by enrolling for a three-year, entirely online qualification specially developed for the Retail Motor Industry.  

Esterhuizen says it has been a significant decade of growth, with membership increasing by 16,6% and surpluses growing by more than 83%, underpinned by financial reserve growth of 86%.  “Special tribute must go to Jakkie Olivier for being an incredible leader, mentor and supporter of the RMI for over 30 years, and in particular, as CEO for the last ten years. Jakkie will be retiring at the end of the year, and we extend our deepest thanks to him for leaving the RMI with such a strong legacy and in such a strong financial position,” she says.

The RMI will be pivoting once again, and the future looks equally bright. “The organisation will focus on achieving its transformation goals, reevaluating its strategic priorities, and charting a path forward that will build on the existing strong legacy and embrace the changing face of the automotive industry. As we start this new era for the RMI, we will introduce a new Co-CEO structure redefining business expectations. We remain committed to ensuring that our organisation is agile, adaptable, and ready to thrive in an ever-changing business landscape,” she concludes.