Davis & Shirtliff Celebrates its 75th Anniversary

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Davis & Shirtliff Celebrates its 75th Anniversary
Davis and Shirtliff inauguration of the new Distribution Centre at Tatu City.

Davis & Shirtliff, the leading water and energy equipment supplier in East Africa is celebrating its 75th Anniversary, a major milestone in its corporate history. This is a most unusual achievement for any organisation, though especially one that has the same family shareholding and essentially the same market focus since its founding. There are few companies anywhere with this claim and D&S is therefore extremely proud of the achievement with various events being held in celebration.

The company was founded in 1946 by ex-soldiers Eddie Davis and Dick Shirtliff after leaving the army, initially being based at Westlands, in Nairobi, their neighbour being Westlands Motors that rose to prominence with the Toyota franchise.

It grew rapidly as the country recovered after the war focusing on boreholes, water supplies and the coffee industry. One notable early project included the water supply for Karen Estates, the entire initial water supply infrastructure being installed by the company as well as for many other of the residential estates that were developed at that time.

D&S grew with the country and in the mid-1950s the base was moved to new larger premises at the present Dundori Rd location in the industrial area. An added activity was swimming pools, both residential and commercial and many were built that are still in use today. Water Treatment was another diversification, many of the KenGen Tana River stations having D&S designed and built equipment.

In 1970 partner Dick Shirtliff retired and after a period with another partner, Devji Shingadia, the Davis family, then represented by Eddie’s son Alec assumed control. The 70’s and 80’s saw slow but steady growth as the country grappled with various economic and political challenges, though there was a particular focus on building the pump business for which the company is so well known, notably through representation of the Danish manufacturer Grundfos.

1993 was a significant year for both Kenya and D&S due to economic liberalisation which was the catalyst for the company’s rapid growth since. It was also the year that Pedrollo pumps from Italy were first introduced, now the Group’s largest supplier. These two developments enabled a distribution strategy to be developed as supply constraints were removed and the branch network was then established, initially with Kenya branches being opened in Westlands, Eldoret and Kisumu and subsidiaries in Uganda and Tanzania soon followed by establishing activities at the Coast though the merger with partner Butech. The pump business grew hugely with Pedrollo and the now well-established Solar and Power Generation activities were then added.

Since the Millennium growth has greatly accelerated, revenue increasing many times to KShs10 Billion today. Major initiatives have included a complete redevelopment of the Dundori Rd site with expansion into adjacent plots, the opening of subsidiaries and associate companies in Rwanda, Zambia, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Zimbabwe and DRC, considerable growth of the branch network, introduction of the successful Dayliff range of own-brand products and a huge expansion of the product range with Solar being especially successful as the company developed its focus on renewable energy. More recently a major development has been establishment of a massive 10,000m2 Distribution Centre at Tatu City that provides the resource for increased stockholding and has transformed distribution efficiency throughout the region, this facility being completed in 2020. Staffing has also grown correspondingly, the Group now employing over 1000 committed staff operating from over 70 locations.

It is often said that success is transitory and sometimes unsustainable, though D&S has managed to maintain unbroken growth for an exceptional period of time. This has been achieved by commercial focus, manageable ambition, continuous physical and organisational investment and, importantly, living the values established by the founders of Quality, Integrity and ‘Altiora Peto’, which translates to embracing continuous change. D&S is now a widely recognised company in the region and is proud of the contribution it has made, summarised by its slogan ‘Improving Lives’ which is demonstrated both by the important nature of its activities and also by an active programme of community support that focuses on providing water to underprivileged communities, many thousands of people having benefited.

Of course, the 75-year milestone is just a moment in a continuous journey and the Group continues to grow with a number of ongoing initiatives and great plans for the future. Ably led by CEO David Gatende and supported by dedicated and committed executives and staff driving this growth, the company is fortunate that the third generation of Davis’s, Edward and Henry, have joined the business so continuity is assured. The Group continues to expand in product and markets with a particular focus on digital business and looks forward to keep serving the region with essential products that certainly Improve Lives and also to demonstrate that an indigenous African company can compete internationally and be a world-class organisation.