The formative years
During high school I managed to repair my 50 cc motorbike on numerous occasions. My one attempt at repairing an old record player failed. I then thought that mechanical things are my strength and I enrolled for mechanical engineering at RAU (Rand Afrikaans University, now University of Johannesburg (UJ)) back in 1981.
At that time around 300 students started engineering studies every year and around 40 graduated every year. I still remember being told on my first day in my first class that 1 in 9 (11%) of us will get engineering degrees. This ended up being true and luckily, I ended up being one of the 11%.
At high school I got six C symbols (60 to 69%) for my six subjects in matric. I started my university studies employing a similar level of study effort and got 14% for my first large physics test. I soon realised that engineering at university is 100 times more difficult than matric.
Our mechanical engineering course had one electrical engineering subject which I really enjoyed, and after getting my mechanical degree I continued studying and got my electronic engineering degree as well. For my second engineering degree I got two years’ credit so I managed to get both degrees in six years.
Working for a living
After two years in the army (over time only the good memories remain) I started working at Denel Land Systems (then LIW). My department was responsible for sourcing computer systems used in our tanks and artillery systems. We were six people, all young and inexperienced engineers/technicians mainly doing simple system developments. We used an external company to develop the fire control computer on the tank system. At the time (early 1990s) the fire control computer’s unit price was R400 000 (about the price of four three-bedroom houses) and development took two years.
While working at Denel we had some spare budget remaining on one project, and we decided to make our own version of the fire control computer using an embedded PC. We managed to put a system together for R30 000 (most of the money went towards the military connectors). The project took two months to complete. This opened my eyes to the potential of embedded PCs or embedded computers.
After nine years at Denel I worked for one year at ATE (a French owned company). They did very high-tech military development and I learned a lot there. This was followed by three years at IST working on the development of the cannon system on the Rooivalk helicopter. Both these companies were wonderful to work for.
The birth of Centurion Micro Electronics
I then moved to Denel Aviation where I worked as a sub-contractor. At the time a contractor got nearly 50% more pay but no leave benefits and no job security. This contract work suited me fine since I could keep my salary level constant and have spare time to grow Centurion Micro Electronics (CME – my Embedded PC reseller company).
As CME grew, I spent less and less time at Denel Aviation. This resulted in a smooth scaling down of my salary and a smooth scaling up of my income generated by CME. Our first year’s turnover at CME was R300 000. Now we do R300 000 in a very bad week.
I got tired of office politics and working for a boss and having to obey rules. Working for yourself is hard work but fulfilling, and the freedom to do what I wanted when I wanted still appeals to me today. This pushed me to leave Denel Aviation and focus fully on running CME and I have not looked back since. Yes, we have had our better years and our more challenging years. That is part of doing business.
Embedded computers continue with incremental improvements all the time. They become faster, smaller, more power efficient and cheaper. You now get complete PC motherboards the size of a credit card and embedded motherboards (with CPU) costing under R1300. These days we are selling more embedded systems (firewalls) and more panel PCs, and fewer single board computers. Our largest, most recent projects were in the gambling and transportation fields.
Vision and plans for the future
I think AI (artificial intelligence) is going to grow more prominent in the years to come, and should AI be implemented in the embedded PC field, a whole new range of opportunities will become available.
CME is targeting the consumer electronics field as well. We have started our own brand called IONN and we are promoting commercial PC components under this brand. These items are sourced from suppliers whom we have built good relationships over the years.
I recently developed a new format SA plug with three pins conforming to the new SA plug standard. This required a lot of 3D mechanical design, injection moulding in China and getting the design to pass the relevant safety tests. I’m also working on an adaptor which converts the new plug to the old plug standard. We are marketing the new style plug on Takealot.
Life is not all about work
I like to play tennis and I’m trying to become a triathlete (swimming, cycling and running). This triathlon thing has been a journey and I normally end up somewhere in the middle of the bunch during competitions. Still the sense of achievement is great. I do the shorter 51,5 km events.
I believe in integrity, honesty and hard work, and finding a balance in life. Make a difference to the people around you, do it right the first time, spend time with family and friends. Only worry about the things that really matter.
During December I read a book that my daughter was reading called “The art of not giving a f…”. This book has some great life lessons. Enjoy life and let business (hopefully your own business) be a part of it.
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