Engineering was always an option with a father who is a civil engineer and an older brother who is a chemical engineer (both landed up in commercial management roles). I, however, decided to go the business and finance route, with a B.Comm majoring in accounting and then doing a post-grad Bachelor of Accounting degree.
I completed my articles at an accounting firm but never went on to become a chartered accountant. My objective was to run a business one day, whether my own or someone else’s. I felt that studying a commercial degree would give me the best opportunity to achieve that.
During my articles at the auditing firm I had two periods of being seconded to companies as acting finance manager. The first was in manufacturing, and the second was a reseller and importer of plastics converting equipment. In both instances my role was to fix the problems in their processes, accounting systems and reporting. I eventually joined the plastics business as its finance and admin manager.
Thereafter I spent a short period getting my own business in remote computer training running – which was unsuccessful, however it was a fantastic learning experience. Subsequently I joined RS Components as the finance manager and took over as managing director when the previous incumbent left 22 months later.
After my training business failed I needed to get back into the market and fell back on my qualifications, as well as my experience in fixing systems and processes. The industry was irrelevant, however what excited me was the online presence that RS had back in 2001 already.
The recruitment agent did not brief me accurately about RS, as I was interested in working for a small business. It was only when I went for the interview that I found out that it was part of a London Stock Exchange listed company with a worldwide presence and over 5000 employees. Although by then I liked what I saw during the interview and I also love technology.
Ups and downs
The ups and downs I’ve experienced over my years in this industry have generally been driven by the volatility in exchange rates, changes in regulations both locally and globally, and advances in technology. With a substantial portion of our stock coming from the UK, the volatility of the exchange rate impacts the predictability of pricing which makes it difficult for any manufacturer that uses imported product to manage its costs.
We’ve had major issues with transporting products that contain lithium, as the regulations are unclear. This leads to longer lead times, which can take anything from six to twelve weeks to get to South Africa. Lithium is present in batteries and components used in mobile phones, laptops, digital cameras, clocks and so on. These hold-ups can cause major delays for our customers.
In terms of technology, one of the major ‘ups’ we’ve seen in recent years has been the introduction of single-board computers (SBC). The SBC has fundamentally changed the computer and electronics industries – its affordability and functionality have made it ideal for use in both business and consumer applications. To give you an idea, there have been over 30 million Raspberry Pi boards sold in just eight years.
In general, many sectors are starting to introduce elements of IoT (Internet of Things) and AI (artificial intelligence) into their businesses – not just at a manufacturing level but also at an operational level. There have been recent strides in agriculture, medicine and supply chain management. By creating connected devices with sensors that monitor and capture data, many functions can be automated, and issues can be identified and fixed quickly, saving time and money.
Another trend that has emerged is in 3D printing and the development of innovative printing materials like the anti-bacterial filament from Copper 3D, a Chilean-based company. The filament is being used to print medical devices that prevent infection.
The third trend that has emerged is the integration of virtual reality/augmented reality with computer-aided design which assists in the concept phase and is also used in simulations – to test and modify products/solutions before being developed.
In the next few years we should see a higher uptake in industrial IoT and the use of predictive maintenance in factories and plants. With the progression of the fourth industrial revolution there will be a shift in skillsets and the creation of jobs that haven’t existed before. Virtual/augmented reality will progress to an ‘ambient experience’ – a world where the physical and the digital are so intertwined that we will able to interact and engage with this environment intuitively without being aware of the technology behind the scenes.
The local electronics industry
The electronics sector, albeit on the small side in South Africa, has built a positive reputation globally for our ingenuity and expertise. Like most industries, it seems like this sector has taken a knock during COVID-19, particularly with the lack of access to components and products that are sourced from China and other countries. We’ve seen some companies close their doors and at the same time we’ve seen new entrants emerge to deal with the demands of new requirements post-COVID.
One thing is certain, and that is the value and dependency that we have on technology, which has become more prevalent during COVID. Even though we are playing catch-up, I believe that the electronics sector has the opportunity to evolve and grow.
Advice for the next generation
I would advise a young person entering this field to get involved in some sort of work experience as soon as they can, even while studying. Try and find opportunities to experience and try out different technologies. Electronics involves technical skills that need to be practically applied.
I would also recommend finding a mentor who can assist with professional development. Companies in this sector are looking for people that have good technical knowledge and skills, are problem solvers, can collaborate in a team and are creative and resourceful.
When I’m not working
My main interests revolve around being healthy and fit. I classify myself as a ‘try-athlete’ (swim, bike, run), although more recently because of the lockdown I invested in a rowing machine which I am loving. I am also working on ‘natural movement’ and have installed an adult jungle gym in my garden (just some scaffolding configured for my training).
I’m a middle-of-the-pack type of athlete, but spend lots of my time researching training, eating and general lifestyle hacks to improve my performance and general health. I am known as the ‘Carbinator’ at work due to my ketogenic eating lifestyle.
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