Thomas Schaefer, the 49-year-old CEO of Volkswagen Group South Africa, loves golf, running and wine, and says he would put his money into waste-to-energy projects, and horses.
What has your focus been for business recently?
Volkswagen in South Africa started over 65 years ago and has been a part of South African history with iconic models like the Beetle, Citi Golf and Kombi. Volkswagen has been the passenger car market leader for the past eight years and had 23% market share in 2019. The factory in Uitenhage will produce 162,000 Polos and Polo Vivos as well as 97,000 engines.
In the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, we have unfortunately not been as successful. But then again, no other manufacturer was really successful, as 95% of all vehicles sold are used vehicles and not new.
In 2016, Volkswagen decided to change that by reaching out to those African countries that have the political will to make the required changes that will bring industrialization and jobs. We have started assembly operations in Rwanda, Kenya and Nigeria. Ghana is next and then hopefully, Ethiopia.
Those are small beginnings, but when Volkswagen started in China in 1984, nobody expected it would be producing more than four million vehicles per year in 22 factories today.
If you had to invest capital into any venture, what would it be and why?
I would invest in waste-to-energy projects. Apart from being feasible, they tick some more boxes like job creation, conserving the environment, reducing the need to dump waste in landfills and providing a source of carbon neutral energy.
Your biggest investment blunder yet?
It My biggest was buying German Telekom shares after privatization.
What is your most prized investment, and why?
My house in Stuttgart [Germany]. It is rented out to an American couple.
When we were about to move to Hannover with my change over to Volkswagen, the American Army decided to increase its presence in the Stuttgart region and build up the Africa Corps. Since then, rental has gone through the roof.
What do you spend your money on mostly?
My wife’s passion is horses. We own a smallholding and I can say without a doubt that this has taken number one spending position. Other than that, mainly food and wine. I can’t really spend much on cars.
Your most recent expensive acquisition?
Our smallholding for the horses, plus all the equipment that one needs such as quad bikes for the riding arena.
What is your dream car?
A Porsche 356.
Which is your favorite Volkswagen vehicle, and why?
The Polo GTI. It is an unbelievable car that ticks all the boxes – looks, feel, finish, power, handling and of course, value for money.
You cannot travel without your…?
German wax earplugs. I need them to sleep on the plane. The normal earplugs you get are all useless and hurt your ears.
– Interviewed by Gypseenia Lion