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Lesco recognised for employing the disabled and unskilled

  • JordanLESCO
It isn’t easy for disabled people and those without skills and qualifications to find employment. It is for this reason that Akhona Chief Executive Noluthando Gosa, and the former Chief Executive of Exxaro Resources, Sipho Nkosi, are investing heavily in Lesco Manufacturing.
by JORDAN MOSHE | Aug 10, 2018

Lesco, an innovative electrical manufacturer, employs only those with disabilities and no skills or qualifications. Gosa and Nkosi recognise what the company’s father-and-son duo, David and Jonathan Shapiro, are doing for those considered by many to be unemployable, and want to enable them to create more jobs for these sectors.

Together, Gosa and Nkosi have bought 33% of the family-owned company with the goal of turning the maker of switches and plugs into a R1 billion company over the next five years.

In 1957, Natie Shapiro founded the electrical manufacturing company under the name Switch King. His company was successful for forty years until 1993, when Natie became the victim of a sudden stroke, leaving his only son David to take over the family business.

With Mandela’s release from prison, economic barriers were finally being challenged, resulting in labour unease in the workplace. Faced with a distressed labour force demanding the equalisation of rates, Switch King couldn’t meet salary demands, and was ultimately liquidated in 1999.

Not long after that, David felt that he had to bring his father’s legacy back to life. Says his son Jonathan: “My father wanted to develop a business that could survive in South Africa, something that exhibited the same spirit my zaida had. He approached a home for the disabled, and asked, ‘If I was to create a work environment in which you could play a part, would you be willing to be involved?’ They seized the opportunity, and Lesco was created.”

Using loans to fund his new company, Shapiro founded the “light electrical switch company”, or Lesco, making electrical adaptors for the local market not with machinery, but the hands of people from any labour class, even those without any skills.

Today, the company’s 20% mentally disabled and 80% unskilled workforce produces between 350 000 and 500 000 electrical products per month, and supplies JSE-listed companies Massmart and Cashbuild, and South Africa’s largest electrical products distributor Voltex, among others.

Jonathan joined the business in 2010, after completing high school, initially considering it a failed gap year. “I’m a remedial kid, and never got a university entrance,” he says. “But when I joined my dad, I immediately recognised his passion for what he did, and allowed the same to develop in me.” After humble beginnings which involved sweeping floors and carrying boxes at the manufacturing plant, Jonathan is now Chief Operating Officer of the company, and is absolutely stunned by the heights to which it has risen.

“It’s all down to Divine intervention,” he says. “I never thought we’d get the people we have on board, and while we remain a family business, we can make what we have much bigger, and empower even more people.”

Last year, Lesco started working with the Chevrah Kadisha, giving back to the community by offering those with disabilities the opportunity to contribute positively to society. The company has big plans, and says that the involvement of Gosa and Nkosi can only accelerate its growth.

Says Jonathan: “With our unique model, we can open a manufacturing line anywhere without any skilled members of the labour class. Our model has caught on, and we can achieve more, grow more, and do more for the community.”

He says his father continues to inspire him daily, as does the legacy of his late grandfather. “My zaida was a well-known man. Though I never knew him, the people he worked and built relationships with have told me about him. He has given me a legacy to follow, and with the example my dad has set for me, I have the drive to pursue a vision, and keep achieving.”

He stressed that no matter what he achieves, his success should be attributed to the commitment and passion of his father. “The business concept is my dad’s, and his alone. He always works under the radar, avoids the limelight, and keeps himself anonymous, but he deserves to be recognised for the unbelievable contribution he has made.”

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