Book follows the life of Ivan Clark who put the Grindrod Group, then a small company, on the international stage
Durban - A new book was recently launched at a Durban bookshop. Written by former Mercury journalist Greg Ardé, it tells the life story of one of Durban’s most successful businessmen, Ivan Clark, the former chief executive and now retired chairman of the Grindrod Group.

Not coincidentally, it was during this time that Grindrod rose from what might be described as the doldrums to become one of KZN’s most successful ever companies that now features prominently among shipping and logistics companies on the world stage.

The book, The Bricklayer’s Son, is an inspiration to anyone born of humble beginnings but with a determination to succeed in life in all respects, be it at school, in sport - where he earned a number of silver medals for finishing the Comrades Marathon - in recreation and living life to the full and, importantly, in business.

Clark’s rise to the top of a company that he joined while still a young man was neither meteoric nor fully anticipated - and it followed several years of “hustling”, as the author expresses it, with his fingers in several ventures ranging from bookselling to insurance.

Having read the book and having had the opportunity of interviewing Clark and seeing him in action on a number of occasions over the years, I can venture to say that Clark didn’t find the shipping industry, it surely found him at a time when it needed just such a man.

Clark’s rise to the top came at a time when both the maritime sector and Grindrod in particular were not experiencing fruitful times. His ascension may have been a surprise to some but not to the late Murray Grindrod who chose him to lead the company into safer and more prosperous waters.

It was the end of a century and it coincided with Clark meeting the late Tim McClure of Island View Shipping, then owned by Tiger Brands. Together they brought IVS into the Grindrod fold and, soon afterwards embarked - rather bravely, some felt, while others said foolishly - on a spree of buying and chartering a fleet of bulk ships.

They correctly read the markets by buying during a global downturn and when the cycle turned and conditions improved it marked the change of fortunes for Grindrod. Within a matter of years the small Durban shipping firm had won the Top 100 Company on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, a feat it repeated the following year. It then won the International Listed Shipping Company of the Year Award for the first time in New York.

Grindrod had arrived on the world shipping stage and it was the son of a humble bricklayer who took it there.

Today Clark is retired from Grindrod but keeps his hand in with his own financial investment company. He lives in Mount Edgecombe, still enjoys a party, extended lunches and a game of golf (he has his own golf course in the Midlands), but what is not well known is his involvement in what the author of the book describes as “quiet philanthropy but he keeps his magnanimity to himself”.

If you have an interest in shipping, especially when it involves Durban and South Africa, and are encouraged by a story of someone successfully rising from an ordinary working-class background to becoming one of the wealthiest men in the country, while remaining humble and friendly to all, then The Bricklayer’s Son is for you. It is available at Ikes Bookstore.

The Mercury