History of GBS (Wang)
The South African subsidiary of Wang was purchased in 1978 by GBS "General Business
Systems" through a distribution agreement with Wang Laboratories. But, by 1985,
Wang had pulled out due to the political situation in the country. GBS (Wang), however,
continued to support and sell Wang equipment through third party suppliers.
During this era, Wang was spectacularly successful, world wide, and Southern Africa
was no exception, GBS reportedly increased fourfold between 1982 and 1987 with profits
upwards of 2.3 Million a year.
At its zenith GBS (Wang) was a holding company for several support and sales divisions.
The chairman of the board, Martin Hammerschmidt, kept a tight hold on Sales and
Marking and through his leadership, Wang equipment found its way into many large
corporations and financial institutions throughout Southern Africa.
With such an extensive installation base, Customer Services was tasked with support
and maintenance. It too had several divisions such as Customer Engineering, Helpdesk,
Warehouse, Installations, Electrical and even a Board Repair Center. Of special
mention is Eugène Marais who ran his own special section and made substantial contributions
through research and development and debugging the impossible.
With rapid and emerging technologies, a need soon arose for training and GBS Training
was founded as a registered college. The college also became a haven for innovation
and many custom modifications came out of this center. Training classes were not
only for staff but also for customers.
The company's headquarters’ were located in Bordeaux, a suburb of Randburg, but
quickly established branches in other cities such as Johannesburg, Cape Town and
Durban. GBS sold Wang’s full range of equipment and was an office automation leader
of its time. For instance, the largest Wang networking backbone in the Southern
Hemisphere interconnected several office blocks in the Gold Mining Corporate sector
in downtown Johannesburg. This installation needed an head-end amplifier to power
several buildings' cable trunks, had custom cable routed under roads and even had
dedicated Customer Engineers on site.
When Wang Laboratories went into Chapter 11 protection in the United States, it
severely hampered business at GBS which subsequently also went into liquidation.
The demise of Wang was unfortunate as GBS was already undergoing an intensive conversion
program into the IBM PC compatible and UNIX markets by selling CCI SCO Unix/Xenix
alternatives and other PC networking products. Ironically GBS got it regarding the
future of the PC, but too late, as it followed Wang’s stance on the IBM PC far too
GBS (Wang) as a company had a vibrant and challenging culture with staff that were
dedicated and passionate about their work. The culture was certainly unique and
it does deserve a special mention in the history of computing in Southern Africa
and Wang computers in particular.