The passing of Djordje (George) Gajic, the pioneering entrepreneurial collision repair supplier is a story of an industry giant that makes for impressive reading. Djordje started out as the son of the town flour milling supplier in communist Yugoslavia, now Serbia. They eventually upped sticks after the communist regime sent tanks to destroy their family flour mill as they wanted a sole milling supply run by government to come into force.
He was always interested in cars and engineering from a young age. He moved to Vienna, Austria at 20 years of age to find a better life and qualified as a motor mechanic, specialising in rotary engines. At 24 he married and had a child, Greta.
Djordje arrived in South Africa in the late 1960’s and had become in the meantime an accomplished mechanic. He soon started Rotary Motors based in City and Suburban in Johannesburg. He became an expert at repairing the RO80 NSU motor, which was an absolute dud and the car was doomed to failure, plus the company didn’t have the resources to figure out the new rotary engine technology.
Djordje took full advantage of this and was able to change an engine in just a couple of hours. He then returned the defunct engine to the German NSU company for servicing. The last to find out about the R80 model’s reliability problems were the vehicle owners, as customer service was always at the forefront of Djordje’s mind.
He then went on to import his first, and arguably his most successful agency, the SAICO spray booth range from Italy. The timing was perfect with the development of the two-pack paint revolution and sold them on like hot cakes to the panelbeating trade.
Family problems then hit home as he became a single parent and looked after his daughter Greta and son Richard, on his own. He now had a new balancing act to maintain with both family and the emerging Celette SA business. However, fortune smiled on him at the Celette SA operation as the auto body repair business entered a new phase of vehicle repair with the innovation of the approved Celette Jig system which became an absolute must for many body shops when seeking OEM approvals. Consumed by a type of over-the-top ambition, Djordje moved into a further period of obtaining the very best in automotive repair systems and offered agencies such as Weiländer+Schill Tools, IRT infrared drying packages, Betag Innovation and FAM spray booths, to name just a few.
Djordje was incredibly disciplined in life and achieved so much with a family run business. He changed the entire repair process with advanced technology for over five decades with top quality products introduced to the local market. Socially Djordje maintained very close links with the various agency’s key staff. Whenever they travelled from abroad, they were welcomed into the family home. Djordje, it can be said, could be a particularly difficult man when it came to negotiating prices on products. He always managed to create the best business deals through tough negotiation for the company’s progress.
A key employee in his business was Letitia van der Vyver, who was his right hand. She typed up the deals that Djordje had closed on the back of his cigarette box. Remember too that his first language wasn’t English so this was quite helpful.
In later years, Djordje saw opportunity when he took on a struggling granite processing factory, which he and his team managed to turn into one of South Africa’s major exporters of granite to world markets through sheer hard work. Greta has assisted Djordje with another development business in the last decade, that of DLA Investments SA, a granite quarry which supplied his granite factory. He also built a new factory at one of the quarries to supply granite to the memorial industry and The Granite Warehouse was born.
Richard returned to take over the helm at Celette SA after a spell overseas. He and the Celette SA team continue to offer outstanding service and technology support, complete with the company’s own in-house-state-of-the-art training centre to back-up their unique range of repair equipment on offer.
As men get older their horizons are supposed to close in, but for Djordje it wasn’t the way things got done. He had amazing energy and lived life to the absolute maximum. From humble beginnings he managed to achieve amazing things in the collision repair industry and beyond with his simple value of hard work and honesty. He definitely achieved his ambition with his companies on behalf of his family, friends and customers.
He married Wendy in 2016, after their 10-year relationship and became a father to her son, Thando, who he regarded as his own. He died on 31 May 2021, at 77 years old after becoming ill in hospital.
We will miss his vision and forthright ways but all can be proud of the legacy that he leaves behind him that will still make a huge difference in the years to come to the trade. Our thoughts are with his family at this time.
Cheers to Djordje, a man who changed an industry and more for the better in his lifetime! You were a true pioneer and a giant in your lifetime of achievements.
By Ian Groat