Ian van der Walt is the Chief Executive Officer of DCM Chrome, one of the world’s leading producers of chrome and manganese, which has recently become one of the biggest sponsors of mountain biking in South Africa.
It’s more than a business decision, this mountain biking sponsorship, it’s driven by Van der Walt’s passion to take the sport to a new level of professionalism and, in the process, give talented South African mountain bike racers new opportunities to achieve their potential.
DCM Chrome sponsors one of the top professional mountain bike racing teams in South Africa, is a personal sponsor of current cross-country world champion, Christoph Sauser and recently became the main sponsor of the Nissan UCI World Cup, presented by Shimano, to be held in Pietermaritzburg this week and the UCI BMX Supercross World Cup, to be held in Pietermaritzburg in August.
With just days until the start of the Pietermaritzburg round of the Nissan UCI MTB World Cup, presented by Shimano and sponsored by DCM Chrome, we managed to catch up with Van der Walt long enough to find about a bit more about the man that’s helping change the landscape of mountain biking in Africa.
Q: Why mountain biking, Ian, why not swimming?
A: Swimming is not fast enough! I have been involved in sports for many years both personally and professionally and more recently have taken on the role of team owner in the mountain biking scene. I understand the challenges that young athletes face and I can see area where mountain biking needs support. Besides, there is just not enough space on a Speedo for branding.
Q: Are you a mountain biker yourself? Are you competitive?
A: I am a mountain biker and I am competitive. Competitiveness is in my blood and it drives me and my business. Being competitive is a like having a natural high and when you are the one everybody is trying to beat it makes it so much more fun. However it is not about me, we all want our teams to be the best and win all the races, for me it is more about the development of the sport and the athletes.
Q: Obviously you don’t sell chrome and manganese directly to the end consumer, so what exactly is DCM Chrome’s strategy as a sponsor?
A: As with any sponsor, the brand association benefits my business. I have been in countless business meetings and 9 out 10 times someone somewhere is involved in sport and more than likely is a cyclist. We have successful athletes that are willing to risk it all to advance in the sport. Our company mission statement mirrors this attitude. I get personal satisfaction in seeing all athletes succeed, not only mountain bikers. It’s also really fulfilling seeing the company name represented by individuals that share my dream.
Q: Do you have a long-term goal over say 3-5 years like other corporate sponsors of sport?
A: Yes, we will raise the level of mountain bikers in the country so that they are able to represent South Africa at all levels of competition. This doesn’t happen in one month or even one year. The harvesting and development of young riders over the next 3-5 years is what is needed. We trust that our more senior riders will become role models to the young racers and will inspire them to achieve greatness.
Q: Christoph Sauser is probably the most high profile mountain bike racer in the world. What does the DCM Chrome sponsorship of him involve and is he obligated to offer something in return?
A: He is indeed. With his experience, he offers guidance to our younger riders and opens avenues and secures relationships both locally and abroad. This all helps to ensure that my vision of developing world-class athletes in South Africa will become a reality. All the athletes are like family to me and I am proud to be associated with such a world-class athlete like Christoph.
Q: The UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in Pietermaritzburg will be the highest profile cycling event to be held in South Africa. As the main sponsor, what is your strategy with this event?
A: We are here for development of the sport and to expose the sport to the communities that have never seen anything like this. The event needed a sponsor and we were able to assist. We will measure the return on investment and confirm our commitment to the sport by getting involved.
Q: You have a very talented mountain bike team, who are among the best racers in South Africa. What are your plans for this team this year?
A: The team will race both locally and abroad and my only wish is that they continue with the successes that they have had over the last six months. I only want the best for them and where possible I will support and guide them on their path to success.
Q: DCM Chrome is also the main sponsor of the UCI BMX Supercross World Cup in Pietermaritzburg this August. Do you agree that BMX is the most practical way to find new cycling talent, especially among the rural communities?
A: Most definitely! Being in the mining industry, we are often in rural communities where exposure to the sport is limited if non-existent. We have a social and corporate responsibility to uplift the communities where we are involved and the BMX tracks that we have built over the last few years are testament to that. We are likely to find the next big BMX talent jumping and having fun on one of the BMX tracks that we have built. I am proud to be associated with and involved in the communities and will strive to support young upcoming athletes where I can.
Q: Finally, back to mountain biking, what is your personal dream for mountain biking in South Africa? What would make you sit back and feel completely satisfied with your involvement in this sport?
A: I would love to see the sport becoming all about the athletes and for local clubs, teams and corporates to support them. Any sponsorship should be run as a business. No hidden agendas and with a common goal for all involved. To see our country represented by the best of the best with all the opportunities and appropriate equipment at their disposal. Our motto is a simple one: Turn today’s ambition into tomorrow success. If all parties involved in sport of any kind in South Africa could adopt this way of thinking I would be a very happy man.