My introduction to this industry was by means of studying and ascertaining trade experience in the electrical field. Having established this grounding, from there I developed into a sales role (my very first sales position was at a company called Temperature Controls) and from there into marketing, and eventually evolved into my current position as national sales and marketing manager for Phoenix Contact.
Prior to me joining Phoenix Contact, I worked at a company called Rhomberg Electronics for 10 years. At the time, it was a leading manufacturer of instrumentation and control equipment such as temperature controllers, voltage monitoring relays, etc. – all designed and manufactured in South Africa.
I left Rhomberg Electronics when I was offered a job at Phoenix Contact, which was then looking to develop its market base through distribution channels and OEMs. After serving that role for several years, I subsequently took on the role of product marketing (which in this industry is very much from a technical point of view) and I headed up our product marketing division for a number of years. Later on, I took over the sales management role as well, and was appointed as national sales and marketing manager around six years ago.
Ups and downs
The ups? That’s easy: the fact that Phoenix Contact has developed exceptionally well over the last 10 years, with the company having invested a lot, not only globally but in the South African market. This has resulted in really good solid growth over the last ten years, particularly in high-end technology products. This has been enabled by the number of products we have developed – from both an engineering and a technical point of view, and this has certainly grown in leaps and bounds.
Another positive thing is the people that have come through the company and developed themselves into different positions. We do try and develop people and promote them from within the company, so I savour people’s personal growth that I’ve overseen.
On the downside, the amount of ‘grey’ product coming into the market is a big downer for me. As I mentioned, I came from that background at Rhomberg Electronics where we were making our own products − that’s all being imported now. There is so much componentry coming into the market without going through legitimate, trustworthy channels. It saddens me that the companies profiting have not invested in this country, and they have not employed and developed people over a period of time; they’re just sales channels bringing product into the market. A lot of those products also don’t have the certifications that they should have. But unfortunately, there is a market for them and where there’s a customer who is willing to buy cheap, there will always be somebody willing to sell cheap.
Challenges of the COVID era
Obviously, this year the global downer has been COVID-19. Without a doubt it has been catastrophe, but it has shown us low and high points, to be honest. I think the major low point is what it’s done to our economy, and what it’s done to manufacturing in the country. The initial hard lockdown was especially devastating – no company can simply make up even one lost month of production through the rest of the year.
I don’t think people realise how harsh our lockdown was from a global perspective. As an example, our Italy office (a country that was particularly hard hit in the beginning stages of the outbreak) still had a skeleton staff right through the country’s lockdown, whereas we were forced to close completely, besides a few odd orders for essential services.
Let’s face it, this year has been unprecedented across all industries. But the upside is how people have come together, how we’ve found ways to work through this thing, how we’re are supporting local industry, local companies, and how we’ve banded together to get through this − whether it’s from a freight company to manufacturing, to just supporting each other − it’s been encouraging to see.
COVID has opened all of our eyes to the digitalisation of things and how we can do things better, smarter. We had the systems in place that allowed us to process orders and encouraged our customers to go online and use e-commerce, so we’ve seen a big ramp-up on the path to market. But it has also taught us that we still need to be face to face with customers. As anybody who has done it will know, the process of designing an electronic board, and planning where the connectors should be placed, for example, is really difficult to do remotely.
In the bigger scheme of things, the advent of Industry 4.0 has certainly assisted on the manufacturing side of things, providing the ability to remotely monitor machinery, production output, etc. without being on site. I think a lot of manufacturing plants have realised this, and are going to be investing going forward.
Advice and hobbies
I think it’s essential that any youngster interested in entering this industry must go through a learning curve to establish a broad platform from a technical point of view. Whether it’s a diploma or some other certification, having that piece of paper as well as being able to call on your experience is essential. No matter where you end up – sales, marketing or otherwise – you’ll be able to, and will have to, call upon that experience often.
Having said that, it’s important to have a life outside of work too. As for me, I’m a very sociable animal in general.
I’m wild about the bush, and I go to the Kruger Park as often as I can. I’ve done a couple of overlanding trips through southern Africa, and one day hope to extend that further into the continent.
I also did a Put Foot Rally two years ago. I try and swim as often as I can, and play social water polo and golf.
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