Determination, hard work and strong emotions are three traits that best describe Visham Ramsunder and Thokozani Khumalo. Currently holding positions as Dealer Principals at Combined Motor Holdings (CMH) Ford Umhlanga and Halfway Ford in Port Shepstone respectively, their aspirational careers at Ford evolved from very humble beginnings.
Khumalo’s journey from cleaner to Dealer Principal at Halfway Ford in Port Shepstone is truly inspirational, while Ramsunder’s move from junior accountant through to sales and other roles helped him reach his real passion.
Growing up in rural areas, Khumalo strongly believed that he would own a workshop. Building wire cars from a young age and pushing them around helped inspire that goal. After completing a degree in business studies, Khumalo found employment at a kitchen and a gym before entering a vehicle dealership for the first time as a cleaner. His big opportunity came when he was offered a job at the dealership’s parts department. As the team got smaller, Khumalo found himself taking on more responsibility and devising more efficient systems. “I tend to thrive when I’m left on my own,” laughs Khumalo.
Khumalo then accepted a job at another dealership as a service advisor but had a growing desire to move to a smaller town. “That’s when I received a call asking if I wanted to join a dealership in Kokstad as a service advisor,” says Khumalo. “The dealer evolved into a Ford dealership, and this is where I became service manager. Then one day my manager walked into my office and asked if I would be interested in sales. Initially I was reluctant to move, but after a short trial run, with the promise that I could return to my previous position, I never looked back!”
Khumalo has since graduated from a Management Development Programme offered by Ford to the dealer network, and attributes this journey to helping him become no-less than Dealer Principal at Halfway Ford in Port Shepstone!
For Ramsunder, life in the motor industry took hold from a fairly young age. He began his career at First Car Rental in 2006 as an administrative clerk, progressing to Sales Manager at CMH Umhlanga.
“Sales soon became my passion, and it was a great time to move into this side of the business as Ford had an impressive range of products” says Ramsunder. “I am a petrol head at heart and enjoy the interaction with customers, and the element of being measured still appeals to my accounting side. I like seeing different people and their personalities, including our staff, and use these diverse backgrounds to build a strong team.
“Being in sales is not as easy as it sounds and there is a perception that someone from accounting won’t have the right personality for sales. However, those around me saw my confidence and trusted my ability. I spent weekends studying product and, fortunately, the CMH Group has very good training programmes which helped me learn new ways to maximise customer satisfaction and build value in everything we do,” says Ramsunder.
In 2019 Ramsunder was offered the position of Dealer Principal. “As a Dealer Principal you have various departments, but the day-to-day business involves ensuring a high level of customer satisfaction, and providing that extra helping hand wherever it is needed. You do have tough days, but Ford is a great brand to work for, as the products are exciting with a rich heritage. You get to see customers’ loyalty to the brand and how Ford is part of their family. Sometimes customers even bring us photos of their old Fords as sentimental tokens,” says Ramsunder.
Khumalo, who refers to himself as Mr Ford on his personal Twitter page, has advice for the younger generation who aspire to pursue a similar career: “This is a lifestyle. It’s an emotional game because of how attached we are to the product, dealership, customers, and staff.
“Understanding the diversity and personalities within the team is extremely important and often comes before business. I still have contact with the very first customer I sold a car to, and all my sisters drive Fords. It’s those moments which are priceless,” Khumalo says.
“Being a Dealer Principal requires multiple skills,” says Tracey Delate, General Manager for Global Dealer and Consumer Experience at Ford South Africa. “Khumalo’s and Ramsunder’s prior experience across a diverse range of roles and positions brings a powerful dynamic to their respective dealerships. Additional training offered by Ford South Africa, like the Management Development Programme which Khumalo completed through Wits, and CMH’s own Joe Verde online sales training, has been valuable en route to achieving these goals.