1892 > The story begins
The origins of the company date back to the 19th century, long before the existence of United Transport. The original core of the business was Thornton’s Transportation, a solid and respectable family transport business founded in 1892 by native Californian Samuel Thornton. Thornton’s steady growth through the acquisition of other transport companies eventually resulted in a major buyout by the United Transportation Company. In turn, the United Transportation Company had started life as a bus operating company in the United Kingdom in 1930. The bus company evolved into a diversified freight and bus business which, prior to the Thornton acquisition and the entry into SA, successfully operated in several other African countries.
1962 > United Transport looks to the future
In this year United Transport was first incorporated in South Africa. In the same year the newly incorporated business acquired the well-known Greyhound passenger bus business, which is to this day a Unitrans company. Greyhound had itself grown from humble origins in 1944 in Port Elizabeth, and matched the United Transport company’s ambitions to develop a passenger side to the business as well as diversified freight transportation.
1971 > A focus on growth
By the early 1970s in South Africa, United Transport had become the country’s largest road transport organisation, with capabilities and major interests in freight haulage, passenger transport, tourism, tanker services, as well as crane and plant hire. The group operated a fleet of some 1 400 buses and commercial vehicles, making it the second largest fleet in the country after the SA Railways. It had also branched out into a car hire business with some 900 vehicles.
1987 > Unitrans is born
United Transport finally listed on the JSE in 1987, with all of its subsidiary businesses assuming the name Unitrans.
1998 > From the late 1990’s onwards, several significant acquisitions expanded the range and geographical reach of the Unitrans business. These included the acquisition of Matthysen Bus Transport, which would be renamed Mega Bus and Coach – still an integral part of the Unitrans passenger transportation business. Malbak Motors, a leading national vehicle distributor at the time, was acquired and renamed Unitrans Motors. This was followed by the launch of Unitrans Finance to provide consumer credit to the burgeoning motor vehicle market. Unitrans Motors’ subsequently acquired the balance of shares in Hertz Rent-a-Car. The Unitrans Motors successes were followed by the acquisition of the entire shareholding in Roadway Logistics (Pty) Ltd, which had been a 50/50 JV with Steinhoff Africa.
2000 > The Steinhoff years
Steinhoff first acquired a 10% stake in Unitrans from the construction business Murray and Roberts in this year. A further 68% was acquired in 2005, making Steinhoff International the largest shareholder in the business.
The acquisition of the entire business followed in 2007. Jo Grové, Unitrans CEO at the time, commented, “the Steinhoff transaction enabled Unitrans to expand offshore, using its presence, experience and financing capabilities.”
2006 > A modern restructure
In this year a major restructure of the business saw the creation of Unitrans Supply Chain Solutions. This response to sophisticated changes in the supply chain market saw the existing operations of Unitrans Freight, Fuel and Chemical, Agriculture and Mining Services and Roadway Logistics grouped under the new holding division. An important new function, Unitrans Customer Solution Development, was created to deliver new business to these operational divisions.
2012 > KAP gets involved
KAP Industrial Ltd, the industrial conglomerate, acquired from Steinhoff the entire issued ordinary share capital of Unitrans Holdings, PG Bison Holdings and Steinhoff’s raw materials subsidiaries in exchange for KAP shares. This made Steinhoff a majority shareholder in the KAP group. Unitrans represented a major component of the shares in the deal, and was a major industrial asset for KAP.
2015 > One Unitrans
In the same spirit of constant innovation and sustainable business growth, a new business model was successfully implemented at Unitrans late last year. Unitrans has firmly changed gears, embarking on a new phase of development for the company. Unitrans now operates as one business and function as one team. The key approach is customer first.