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My family business going strong four decades later

Limuru-based Auto Springs East Africa, a family business started 40 years ago, is going strong thanks to hard work and passion.

As any entrepreneur would tell you, maintaining the success of a family business is one of the most daunting challenges. Whether you’re providing products or services to other businesses or marketing directly to consumers, times change and buying habits evolve along with them. The few family-owned companies that endure and thrive over long periods of time have to change not only how they do business but also the direction of the business itself. Experts say that maintaining success and continuous growth over the course of 40 years is no small task. Yet that’s exactly what the family of 48-year-old Salil Patel, chief executive officer of Limuru-based Auto Springs East Africa, has done.

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The firm’s family business has undergone through the hands of three generations and its prospects look brighter than ever. The factory with 150 employees produce a wide range of equippment for the Kenyan motor assembly and spare parts for the vehicle industry.The firm manufactures a variety of wiring harness, leaf springs, nuts, bolts and washers for cars, trucks and SUVs.The company has over the years supplied parts to firms suchs as Isuzu Kenya — formerly General Motors– and Mitsubishi through Simba Colt as well as Toyota Kenya in the past. But how does Auto Spring stays grounded at a time when most family-owned businesses including retailers such as Nakumatt, Tuskys among others have faced headwinds, ranging from operational challenges to internal wrangles?Mr Patel says while there is no magic bullet in his firm’s success, hard work and values such as integrity and honesty have come in handy.“The company was started in 1979 in Athi River by my father. My family had been in this kind of business in India. We shifted to Limuru in the last two years,” explains Mr Patel.Like his father Harshad Patel who did not have an engineering background, Mr Patel, a US-trained economist, has built the firm to the current position where it is his family’s pride.His father who did not complete formal education has since retired. His late grandfather started a springs factory in India in 1960s, a remarkable feat considering he did not have formal education. he was only armed with drive and passion to succeed in business.“It’s a long relationship. My grandfather and grandmother came from a very small village called Sarsa. They had nothing, they built from nothing,” he recalls. The automotive industry in Kenya was vibrant in the 1990s and the firm’s staff count rose to over 500 highlighting a booming business.“There was a major shift in policy in Kenya which witnessed a mass importation of secondhand vehicles in Kenya. This saw the industry massively affected,” says Mr Patel.It is around this point when Mr Patel who was away in the UK and US for studies, decided to come back in 1992 to revamp the family business.At this time the business was faced with sagging fortunes as car imports fuelled by a policy to open up Kenya to secondhand cars had hit the business. “There was a major shift in policy in Kenya which witnessed a mass importation of secondhand vehicles. This saw the industry massively affected ,” he notes.Faced with the new realities, Mr Patel decided to re-engineer the direction of the business. He decided to relocate it from its Athi River base to Limuru and upgrade its technology. The move has paid off.The firm is now eyeing expansion, having recently received a huge boost after Ascent Rift Valley Fund (ARVF), a private equity fund signed an investment deal that will see it acquire a majority stake in Auto Springs East Africa. The deal whose financial details Mr Patel did not disclose is expected to boost the firms operations.He says the key to his management is the discipline and honour that his father taught him. These attributes, he adds continue to play a fundamental role in the success of his business today.“I come from a long line of family members who essentially have achieved everything through honesty; never ever breaking their word and always being transparent in everything they do.”

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