70 years of CYMOT – success fuelled by camaraderie - Namibia Safari and Lodges - Gondwana Collection

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70 years of CYMOT – success fuelled by camaraderie

Avatar of inke inke - 02. May 2018 - Economics

Inke Stoldt

His memories of CYMOT’s early years? The founder of the family business frowns. “Team spirit, good leadership and innovation”, he says, “that was our recipe for success. We are having a casual breakfast meeting with Claus Theissen, now 78 years old, and two companions who worked at CYMOT for decades. Suddenly the memories start to burst forth, not so much memories of work, however, but rather of the practical application of the CYMOT product range during fishing and camping trips.

Strong ties between CYMOT staff

The emphasis is always on camaraderie. The three friends cherish the memories of the camping excursions on which they took their families on a regular basis. “The CYMOT Tigers were almost notorious in the eighties and nineties. It was the inner circle of the staff and once you were accepted you had to go through a gruelling initiation at the annual fishing trip.” 

After work on Fridays the whole management and staff got together at the CYMOT premises for a game of table tennis and to toast the business week with a drink or two. If that rendered you incapable of driving home safely you simply spent the weekend ‘at work’. Often enough the families joined in, the children romped around the camping department, tried out the tricycles. One Monday morning a strange smell emanated from a three-legged iron pot. It transpired that one of the children had chosen to use it as a substitute toilet. No harm done, no hard feelings!

The early years of CYMOT in Namibia

Most Namibians have known the name CYMOT for as long as they can remember. It is 70 years since commercial traveller Helmut Brass became the first sales representative for CYMOT in South West Africa in 1948. Car batteries were his best line of business. Initially he stored them at home. CYMOT, established as a wholesaler in Cape Town in the early 20th century, expanded to other countries in southern Africa over the years. These days hardly anyone will recall that the company name CYMOT is a combination of ‘cycle’ and ‘motor’. 

The Windhoek branch of CYMOT moved into its business premises in Mandume Ndemufayo Avenue (then called Tal Street) back in 1967. Two years later Claus Theissen was transferred to Windhoek. Originally from Hamburg in Germany, he trained as an import/export merchant before moving to South Africa. While working at CYMOT in Cape Town he meets Namibian-born Carola, who becomes his wife. Together they take over at the Windhoek branch and organise wholesaling in more profitable ways. Theissen successfully insists on closing the weapons and ammunition department and introduces protective workwear to the product range. When the majority shareholding in the parent company in South Africa changes hands on two occasions, he manages to secure 50 percent of the shares in Namibia as well as the legal rights to the name CYMOT. 

CYMOT opens branches all over the country

During the eighties Claus Theissen establishes branches in Swakopmund, Tsumeb, Walvis Bay, Rundu and Oshakati. The wholesale business is flourishing, excellent customer service is the norm, he introduces the Autotique with car components and accessories. He also gains a foothold in the Owamboland market in Namibia’s far north. It soon accounts for well over 60 percent of bicycle sales. “Working there wasn’t always easy”, Theissen recalls. “Before selling anything we had to obtain permission from ENOK, the First National Development Corporation. And sometimes we had to get CYMOT salesmen out of jail when they were arrested for alleged SWAPO membership.” Nevertheless, business is good. On occasion it happens that after work, with 40,000 Rand in his briefcase, his business partners in Owambo invite him for a few rounds of whiskey - after which he has to take all the cash to his hotel room for the night.    

CYMOT Namibia becomes a family business                         

In 1986 Claus Theissen takes advantage of the opportunity to acquire the remaining 50 percent of the shares which are still with CYMOT in South Africa. Now the company is a family business and wholly Namibian. Sales to the public are introduced. A CYMOT float becomes part of the annual carnival festivities. For promotional purposes the company equips the carnival committee with trendy chopper bicycles one year, and the eleven members are pedalling the entire procession route. “Their bottoms are still sore!” Claus Theissen laughs. “Even though CYMOT always strives to offer high-quality products there are failures as well – like Indian-made Humber bicycles, for example.” 

The great team spirit at CYMOT proves a recipe for success which also leaves its mark in society. In the early nineties the ‘Cycle for fun’ initiative calls on the public to join weekend fun excursions. The capital’s first cycling club, Windhoek Pedal Power, emerges from this initiative started by Claus Theissen. In retrospect it actually marks the start of organised cycling in Namibia. 

Start of a new era

CYMOT’s product range is gradually expanded to the current brands: Midas (vehicle accessories), Greensport (camping, fishing, cycling), Tooltech (tools and workshop equipment), NamSafe (protective wear), Colour Perfect (automotive paints and lacquers), Mining and Industrial. In 1997 Axel Theissen joins his father’s business and takes over the reins in 2003. Claus Theissen gradually withdraws from daily operations. It’s a new era with infrastructural changes, digital technology and further branches opening in Namibia as well as Angola. Stimulus invests in CYMOT and currently holds 31.5% of the stock.

After our breakfast meeting we drive to CYMOT’s new headquarters in the Northern Industrial Area to dig through old files. A friendly ‘hello C.T.’ rings out from just about every office. “My initials for signing off documents are firmly established”, says Claus Theissen, “and Carola, my wife, is still CaT, despite all the innovations.”

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