My journey into adulthood began at Bedfordview Technical High School, after which I attended what today is known as University of Johannesburg (Technikon Witwatersrand back in the day). There I completed my four-year National Higher Diploma in Electronics, having fulfilled my practical training requirements at Air Traffic and Navigational Services (ATNS) which also provided financial assistance for my studies.
At ATNS I worked on the communication systems and navigation equipment used by the air traffic controllers (ATCs). I also worked on the ground navigation equipment for the aircraft – radar, instrument landing systems, etc.
Launching into the industry
After leaving ATNS I joined a development company called Giga Technology, where I was involved in the design and development of various electronic systems involving telemetry and PLC systems. Here I had the benefit of being involved at all levels of the business, from design to testing to installation, as well as the technical backup. This also involved interfacing with people at positions within a company from procurement all the way up to management.
I joined Avnet in May 1996. This was three months after Avnet had acquired Kopp Electronics, so I was fortunate to join Avnet at the point when it entered the South African market. I had a lot of good mentors at Avnet – some of the legends of the electronics distribution industry. I was employed by Brian Gainsford, who later emigrated to Australia. Derek Walker, who took over from him, had a wealth of knowledge and was probably one of the nicest guys I ever worked with.
After selling part of the business to Avnet, Albert Kopp remained in the business for another good 20 years, during which time I had the privilege of working with him. After holding various management positions in the company, I was appointed as managing director of Avnet in July 2014. From 2014 to 2020 the company doubled in turnover and profitability quadrupled. I had many good years at Avnet and got to know a lot of great people during this time.
Personal change amidst global change
I joined TRX Electronics last year October after 24 years at Avnet, so 2020 was certainly the year for change. I have known Rudi Opperman, Erna Kruger and Duane Jordaan, the directors at TRX, for several years and it was after a game of golf that Duane and I started discussing the possibility of me joining TRX.
TRX represents the two Berkshire Hathaway companies, namely Mouser Electronics and TTI. TRX is all about customer service and that means servicing customers’ needs from development to production. A lot of distribution companies will say they offer this but very few actually deliver on this promise.
I found that we shared the same values and our approach to business is very similar. As TRX we have the flexibility to give customers what they need without having to deal with all the corporate bureaucracy that comes with multinational companies. We have people in Durban and Cape Town with our head office being in Pretoria.
Currently we are seeing the most protracted period of lead-time and delivery turmoil. We have certainly been through a number of supply cycles where we have had product shortages and extended lead-times. The global electronics industry is booming, which is causing massive shortages of electronic components. As a small country on the tip of Africa we don’t get the highest priority in the supply queue. As TRX we are fortunate to get fantastic support from Mouser and TTI with access to their buying power and stockholding.
Thoughts on the local industry
Having previously served a tenure as chairman of AREI (Association of Representatives for the Electronics Industry), I think the association has done a great job over the years to bring all the players in the electronics industry together. The exhibitions and breakfasts were a great way to get like-minded people together to support the electronics industry, but Covid has certainly changed things and I don’t think they will revert back to normal anytime soon. AREI will need to reinvent itself to come up with a different service offering to its members.
I think the South African economy has stagnated over the last couple of years – this was already happening pre-Covid but the pandemic has damaged the economy even further. The electronics industry is no different. There are customers that are doing well and there are other customers closing their doors. Compared to a number of other countries, South Africa is not exactly seen as the easiest country to do business in. Our unstable political situation does not give overseas investors any level of confidence and this has unfortunately scared off a number of international companies.
It excites me to see companies still investing and expanding their operations in South Africa. This is often driven by the entrepreneurial spirit of the owners or founders of the business. The South African market still has a lot of potential and we still have a lot to offer the world when it comes to electronics technology and manufacturing capability. We need things to settle with regard to the pandemic and have the government actually focus on doing something to boost the economy.
Looking to the future of business and our youth
Customers are looking for quick access to electronic components with online systems being available 24 hours a day. They are also looking for distributors to help them make their procurement easier. As TRX we are in the fortunate position to be able to offer customers online access to our inventory and pricing from Mouser and TTI. Engineers can order their development quantities from us at 2 am when they are busy with their design, then when their product goes to production their procurement team can use the same system to order production volumes of products. Access to global inventories is also key, especially now when there is a worldwide shortage of components.
As for youngsters looking to get into this field, electronics is exciting and can be a great career path as modern electronics affects our daily lives at many levels. You need to have energy and the right attitude to succeed – electronics distribution is all about building customer relationships and making sure your customers are taken care of.
We are unfortunately often dependent on a number of factors outside our control. The market goes through cycles where manufacturers can’t keep up with demand and distributors are battling to find products for their customers. When the market turns there is excess inventory and it’s all about price – customers can get products from various sources and it’s all about negotiating for a better deal. Never a dull moment!
Finding a healthy work/life balance is harder these days than ever before, but probably more important than ever too. One has to have ways of getting away from work and I personally find enjoyment in golf, photography and mountain biking. I love the outdoors and there is no better place to practice these hobbies than in South Africa.
© Technews Publishing (Pty) Ltd | All Rights Reserved