Rajen Reddy is not afraid to get his hands greasy. It is this “can do” attitude that has seen him become a modern-day oil baron, heading his own oil and fuel distribution company, KZN Oils.

He has tried his hand in the plumbing, construction, takeaway, stationery, motor repair and fuel businesses.

With headquarters in Durban and a turnover of more than R1 billion, KZN Oils supplies lubricants and fuel to Transnet’s port operations. Under Reddy’s fuel and oil core business, he also owns a string of petrol stations and is a major fuel distributor for Chevron/Caltex garages for northern KwaZulu-Natal.

Through his business interests, which also include a fleet of tankers and a property portfolio, Reddy employs more than 200 people. He does not like to boast about his success and it took a bit of convincing from Network to get the inside track on his entrepreneurial history and growth in business.

Even at the Durban Chamber’s Network B2B last week, where he was the keynote speaker, he chose to offer savvy business advice rather than talk about his achievements.

“When I finished school in the Seventies, I joined my father’s plumbing business. I later started my own plumbing and construction company. In the 1980s and 1990s, North Coast Road (now Chris Hani Road) was the hardware store hub of Durban,” he said.

While getting supplies in 1988, he noticed a Shell fuel station site that was set to be expropriated by the municipality. And it was there that his love of the fuel trade began.

“I harassed the municipality for the site and convinced them to give it to me on a month-to-month lease, while they decided on future plans. It was my dream to run my own petrol station. I also ran a tuckshop and motor repair facility from there. Back then, garage shops were not around and I remember getting into trouble with Shell one day when I set up a tent and braaied meat.

“I tried my hand at different businesses and in 1996 my banker told me about new opportunities coming up for black business people to do business with the port, through what is today known as Transnet. I’m a feisty fellow and started canvassing for business from them.

“It was not easy and for a couple of years I earned a living by supplying them with stationery. My first deal was for the princely sum of R980… However, because of my ambitions in the fuel business, I realised there was bigger business to come from them if I had a fuel contact.”

A determined Reddy then began the tough task of trying to get one of the big oil companies to supply him. He knew he would not get the port contract without a supply deal from one of the fuel majors. He was sent from pillar to post, even travelling to Joburg for the first time to meet one of the oil company bosses.“I just got ‘Dear John’ letters turning me down. They did not believe that government empowerment was coming and that new players could get into the industry.

“When I latch on to a good business prospect or idea, it’s hard for me to drop it. I kept at it and in 1998 I got my first contract from the port to supply lubricants. It was my big break and I remember it clearly. It was January 2, 1998, and I got a call from one of the port buyers. With that contract in hand, I went to Total. They supplied me, and the rest as they say is history,” said Reddy.

Today KZN Oils supplies Transnet, other parastatals and private companies such as De Beers with millions of litres of lubricant products and fuel annually. Reddy said last year his company supplied about two million litres of lubricants and more than 16 million litres of fuel.

Last year, KZN Oils also struck a deal with Chevron to supply and operate a string of Caltex stations in northern KZN. Reddy said his company was working with Chevron and had plans to launch its own KZN Oils lubricants brand this year.

Reddy, who is one of the biggest supporters of entrepreneurship development in Durban and backs a range of social causes, said he would not be where he was today without the government’s black empowerment efforts.