Andrew Layman, Chief Executive of the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry

Mercury Network, Wednesday, 12 February 2014

New Chamber premises at Old Lion Match factory, Umgeni Road

As I write, I am surrounded by boxes which have been packed in preparation for the Chamber’s big move next weekend. This is a new experience for everyone on the staff, bar the few who were around when the move was made from Field Street to the present site.

It is no coincidence that the company that has designed our new office and is managing our move is the same company, and person, who provided the service in 1999. Nikki McRobbie’s intimate knowledge of the Chamber’s furniture (which is moving with us) and office layout has proved advantageous.

On Monday February 24, the staff will arrive and go to their desks, admiring (hopefully) the fresh and vibrant colours that will surround them for the next five years, at least. Many of them will be able to work in natural light from the large, industrial-style windows at the Lion Match Park in Umgeni Road, which is to be our new home.

The feeling of space and light will be augmented by the fact that the general office will have no ceiling. We have abandoned the heavy drapes and trappings of the traditional chamber offices in favour of a progressive and modern ambience which will be functional and – considering the comparative extravagance of the fittings chosen in 1999 – a good deal less expensive.

In addition, being surrounded by newness will be invigorating. Our current premises are dowdy, to say the least, and poorly maintained. Our new location will have sufficient parking to cater for our visitors. This will be close at hand, either in a parking garage that will be completed in July or in the courtyard immediately outside our offices. This area will be called “Chamber Court” and will enable us to have locational branding prohibited, to some extent, by the protected nature of the Lion Match buildings. Our identity will not be obscured however, as it has been in Stalwart Simelane Street.

The moving project has been a unique experience. The lengthy negotiations, always pleasant and constructive with J.T. Ross, have been complemented by the management of a co-ordinated project, to ensure that this move takes place with military precision.

It was beyond me to manage this in the appropriate way. When I delegated the task to Praneel Nundkumar, the Chamber’s Chief Operations and Financial Officer, I was conscious that he has learnt the skills of project management, whereas I would rely on instinct, which would result in disastrous omissions. As it is, and despite the expertise of Praneel and our service providers, we might still find something to which we have not attended, but we do not expect this, and I am confident we’ll be open for business – better than usual, I believe – on February 24.

The prospect of rejuvenation is a powerful motivator. Organisations, no less than individuals, are often constrained by their own history and usages. I am conscious of the dangers of inertia, but recognise that this, or its alternative, progress and drive, seldom apply across the board.

While there is forward movement in some spheres, driven by planning and intent, there are other aspects which linger in the past and evade the momentum of impetus. Worse still, we are not always able to recognise the rut we are in. The head tells us that we are there, perhaps, but the heart does not. The climb from a comfort zone is too frequently daunting. It is much easier, however when one is faced with such a significant change in environment. Whether we like it or not, we will be forced to confront this new challenge. We have tried to raise enthusiasm of our staff so that they will move with a similar feeling of expectation and pleasure.

Time will tell whether we have been successful in every case, but it is hard to believe that any one of them will hanker after Chamber House in Stalwart Simelane Street. For the information of readers and members, our telephone and post office box numbers will be unchanged and there will be few noticeable changes in our operational procedures, including those involving certificates of origin.