Looking back, the signs were there early on that life would lead me to an entrepreneurial role in the electronics industry: I took an interest in electronics from a very early age, which culminated in a Technikon qualification in electronic engineering. In parallel with that path, the appeal of entrepreneurship and ‘the business world’ was ingrained in me as I grew up, resulting in my involvement in business development in various industries from the outset of my career.
Growing strong roots
Other than a one-year stint completing the first year of my tertiary studies in Durban, my home base was always the suburb of Laudium in Pretoria, which remains the case to this day. My childhood was spent there, as were my primary and secondary education, as well as the remainder of my tertiary education at Pretoria Technikon, now known as Tshwane University of Technology.
After qualifying, I joined the well-known electronics component distributor, Communica, as my first professional place of employment. During the four years I spent there, I was exposed to one of the largest selections of electronic components, which equipped me with a broad knowledge base and experience covering hobbyists, engineers and everything in between, over and above many existing projects I was involved with at the company.
Following that, I joined Electronic Building Elements (EBE), a division of the Altech Group, spending five years working on first- and second-generation digital satellite decoders. Working at EBE gave me exposure to the world’s largest semiconductor companies and I took a particular shine to working with Intel, the world’s largest computer processor manufacturer.
Branching out on my own
I entered the military and aerospace (Mil/Aero) field in 1996 when I was offered a position as a sales engineer at the specialist interconnect supplier, Hiconnex. Certain that I had found a business venture I could stand behind, I acquired the company shortly afterwards, in 1998.
In Hiconnex I had finally found ‘the treasure at the end of the rainbow’ where those converging paths of entrepreneurship and electronics met, smack dab in the middle of the Mil/Aero sector.
The thrill of spring, proceeded by a bleak winter
In 2004/5, the South African government announced it was to take a stronger interest in Mil/Aero. This was a major boon for the industry and those associated with it, opening up a series of investments and catalysing an explosion (of the metaphorical kind) in the form of the Strategic Defence Package, colloquially known as ‘the Arms Deal’.
It is no exaggeration to say that the South African aerospace, maritime and defence landscape was transformed between 2004 and 2015, with many international companies opening offices in the country. This exposed South African companies to the highest standards for modern Mil/Aero design and manufacturing and opened my mind to some amazing new technologies.
Sadly, the good times didn’t roll very long, as Denel succumbed to the same demise that has befallen all of our state-owned enterprises, prompting the biggest downturn the South African defence industry has seen to date.
Winds of change
Not only in the environment in which Hiconnex operates, but across the electronic engineering board, there is a growing trend toward an ecosystem in which the established ‘customer’ and ‘supplier’ roles will become obsolete. The new way of doing business is based on relationships, with customers looking to partner with companies that have the wherewithal to partake in the creation of full turnkey solutions.
Especially in light of the Mil/Aero industry’s aforementioned downturn, it is disappointing that the South African electronics industry is sorely lacking government support for our younger generation to enter apprentice learning programmes, in large part due to the collapse of Denel and all those industries and companies that are inextricably intertwined with its fate. This generation of youngsters simply cannot acquire the on-the-job training needed to sustain these industries.
Smelling the roses
My advice to youngsters who are drawn to the field of electronics is, first of all, to not be discouraged or distracted by all this ‘noise’ over which they have no control. Perhaps my own career can serve as an example that following your passions will lead you to whatever home awaits you – but passion only takes you so far. A long and prosperous career must be grounded in a disciplined and studious approach to learning your trade, a suggestion being to study through a technical college – and the importance of finishing your studies cannot be overstated. Make every effort to join a skills development programme to gain practical experience from the outset, placing you at the front of the employment queue for work-ready graduates without rushing the process of gaining real-world experience.
Dedication and passion for your work and your studies are vital factors for career success, but to be successful in your personal life at the same time means nurturing and enjoying interests and hobbies outside of work – whatever they may be. As for me, I enjoy a good read, being in nature, playing a round of golf and mind development.
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