Trendy technophile a trader at heart


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Durban businessman Triveshan Naidoo is the director of TNI Import Export and is the president of the India South Africa Business Forum. PICTURE: DOCTOR NGCOBO

Just about everything in his Morningside flat is operated by remote control and if something isn’t it is on its way to being automated.

Slick leather couches, cool grey accents everywhere and nothing in his fridge – Triveshan Naidoo is living the bachelor life to its extreme.

He’s invited to everything… and he shows up looking dapper and always in good company.

From the outside, life’s a party for the thirtysomething director of Triveshan Naidoo International (TNI), yet he says it’s a case of work hard, play harder.

So what exactly does he do and how does he get on to every VIP list in town?

Naidoo was born in Redhill, Durban, and is one of three sons. His semi-retired dad owns a panel-beating business and his mom is “big” on Rotary.

“What my dad would have done with the opportunities I’ve been given,” he muses, suggesting his go-getter attitude is paternal.

Naidoo matriculated from Northwood Boys’ High in Durban North and completed a BCom in marketing. In his final year, he joined the Australian commodity trading company Gardner Smith.

“Within two weeks I was on a plane to Uganda, followed by Tanzania and other countries in Africa on a market study of edible oil refineries and soap manufacturers. One was at the source of the Nile as part of Nile Breweries, now a South African Breweries company.

“At one location, Kampala, Mukwano Industries, who make everything from edible oil to detergents (and who are said to be Uganda’s largest taxpayer) had their own liquid bulk tank farm on site (few do) as well as locomotives to carry cargo from Mombasa Port. Needless to say, I found life as a junior trader fascinating.”

Naidoo travelled Africa extensively, living out of suitcases.

By the time he was a fully fledged trader Naidoo had three products down: tallow – an Australian animal fat for soap – sunflower and soy bean oil from Brazil, and palm oil and its derivatives from Malaysia.

“We were bringing in 15 to 45 000 tons a vessel at a time. When you’re at the ports there are so many factors to consider. It’s the kind of job where monitoring everything means learning and knowing everything about the product from origin.”

However, after the Asian crisis in the late 1990s dynamics changed.

Naidoo left the Australian company, completed his SA Futures Exchange exams and began trading futures. “I didn’t enjoy it at all,” he confesses. “I missed travelling, but most of all interacting with people.”

And so TNI was born.

Naidoo did what he knew, trading consumable items into Africa. Rice was key among them, and in his tongue-in-cheek manner you’re likely to see a branded version soon: he’s called it Zooma. The tagline is “Fit for a president”.

Not too long ago he chartered his first ship of 10 million kilograms of rice.

On a UK trip he discovered the energy tonic Firefly, which he says is Prince Harry’s favourite hangover cure. The tonic is sold at Harrods, and considering the man has travelled Africa and has not a single carved wooden mask to show for it, it is perfectly aligned to his party lifestyle.

He collects alcohol from all over the world, he says with a smile.

“I am also looking into green technology, but that’s very new.”

His business, it’s safe to say, is not remarkably alluring, but Naidoo himself is easily so. Proof? When he was asked to take care of American rap artist Ludacris while he was in town to film a video, the star took such a liking to Naidoo that he invited him along to Joburg to meet Nelson Mandela. The impression must have been a good one, because he also invited Naidoo on a month-long tour of the US.

“We sat centre-court at Staples in Los Angeles as guests of Magic Johnson, had private dinners with Beyoncé and JZ, and befriended the likes of Gabrielle Union,” he says.

According to Naidoo, the allure is down to open-mindedness.

“We don’t see too much of it in Durban. It’s my pet hate, different people don’t mix here. We work together, but we don’t socialise together. It doesn’t come naturally.”

What has come naturally is the trade exchange between India and SA, with it’s historical connections.

Arranged through the consulate general of India, those companies that are members of the forum include South African Airways, Durban University of Technology, Pierian SA, Jet Airways, Apollo Tyres and the State Bank of India.


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