PS: I read somewhere that you worked as a bouncer in a club, how did this lead you into the industry?
MJ: I was a policeman for my four years of compulsory national service, so I decided to work as a bouncer in a nightclub for extra cash (R50 a night). I always went in early and assisted the guys with setting up lighting and sound equipment and I enjoyed it. Following that, I then worked in a different nightclub as well as for a local event gear supplier in Margate after I left the police force. This is when I then met Kurt Du Preez, who now owns Pan Tilt, and he showed me the ropes of the Lighting industry. He took me under his wing and convinced me to come to Johannesburg and work on a few rigs.
PS: What attracted you to this industry?
MJ: I loved the end product; the guys we worked with were great, like Kurt, JR and Elkie van Zyl. It was a lot of hard work, lots of jolling and awesome job satisfaction. We were being paid R50 a day, so it wasn’t the money that got me hooked.
PS: Did you study after school? Where and what did you study?
MJ: No I didn’t study. I joined the police force for my national service and attended the university of life and work experience – I’m pretty street wise!
PS: Who has been instrumental in your career and why?
MJ: I would say my most thanks goes to Kurt who not only helped me get into this industry but also always looked out for me and truly taught me my trade. JR and Kurt were both gurus at what they did and passed a lot of their knowledge down to myself and Elkie van Zyl. Elkie and I were both ex-cops and we both sold all of our worldly possessions and came to Joburg to work with Kurt and JR.
PS: Tell me a bit about Light Rig, when did you and Neil Russell start it and what business did you do?
MJ: I worked with Neil Russell at Seraph Promotions where we did the “Beyond the Pyramid of Light’ shows, the Moscow State Circus, the Russian Ice Ballet and Laugh America amongst others.
PS: How did Light Rig lead to MJ Lighting?
MJ: We did a lot of dry hiring of the concert rig at the Light Rig because we were doing lots of concerts from 1992 with Sound Corp and Centre Stage lx. Also my son Dylan was born in 1992 and this encouraged me to do what I needed to and began touring on my own for a couple of years, while I still predominantly worked with the same kit. I later found out that Light Rig was up for sale and approached my previous boss and friend Glen Broomberg to help me buy it. He then got his brother Ryan Broomberg involved and MJ Lighting was born, with the three of us as equal shareholders.
PS: How did your trip to Hong Kong in 1995 shape your business?
MJ: That trip really did shape my business. It taught me the importance of good service so I decided to base my business on service, offer the best clean working kit out there with a “yes sir, no sir’ attitude – no one else was doing it then.
PS: Please tell us how MJ Lighting evolved to MJ Event Gear?
MJ: We purely did lighting and a little bit of sound for our corporate clients as MJ Lighting, but we were always “sucking hind tit’ on budgets because lighting was always the last concern while AV, audio and set were the top priority for clients, unless it was TV. My mate Billy Clarkson (owner of AV Works), passed away and I took over that company, which led to the need to incorporate AV into the business and changed the name to MJ Event Gear because now we supplied more than lighting to the events industry. At that stage we had more sound, staging, trussing, motors, some AV, design, and of course lighting to offer our clients.
PS: What is your favourite part of your job?
MJ: I still say that what I enjoy most is seeing the end product and having a happy client. I also enjoy the challenge of getting to what the client actually wants and servicing them. I have a great team of people working with me and everyone knows what they need to do to get the end result. Our pay off line is “the supplier of choice to the events industry’.
PS: Please tell me more about MJ Event Gear and the services you provide and your project highlights?
MJ: We supply lighting, sound, AV, staging, structure, rigging and power to the events industry. Some of our recent events include Transnet Results, Eminem’s Audio for the Rapture tour to SA, the 94.7 Cycle Challenge’s audio, the Neon Fun Walk at Wanderers Stadium, lighting supply to Dreamsets for the 14th annual Metro Awards with the brand new BMFLs.
PS: How do South African rental companies shape up against international service providers?
MJ: Look, we all have the same kit and we do have many skilled and talented guys in this country, I just don’t think we have the budgets to do the GREAT shows that they get to do and with less foreign investment in SA, it will only get more difficult, as corporates are spending less and less each year.
PS: How can our industry players contribute to the growth of the industry?
MJ: By playing by the rules and doing it safely. Safety is and has always been my top concern and I think more companies should invest in training and having their kit certified and employing skilled labour, as well as invest in them to get the needed skills.
PS: What is your take on the technical production services industry now and where do you feel it is headed?
MJ: Not prepared to comment as I have resigned from the board as head of safety.
PS: What are the issues and how do we improve upon the current state of affairs?
MJ: The biggest issues I see is everyone in the industry undercutting each other – yes I know business is business, but we are going backwards – I’m not talking about price fixing but anywhere in England and Europe you will pay a very similar price for a piece of kit anywhere you rent it. Remember when they buy a piece of kit that costs, say R100 000, for us to get it here and pay duties, that same piece of kit becomes about R120 000, about 20% more. There is an economic crisis, but we all need bread on the table and the only one winning here is the client, if it’s direct, or the middle man – it’s about time we stood together and stopped fighting each other.