Fan specialists take the risk up front and blow competitors away
A small company facing stiff competition from major multinationals has to do things differently, especially in a niche market where a competitive edge can quickly vanish into thin air.
Air Blow Fans have carved out a nice slice of the African industrial fans business for itself in the past 15 years, but it knows better than to settle into a comfort zone. In fact, there’s nothing like taking risk upfront to keep an enterprise on its toes, says Gavin Ratner, its managing member.
“We go out to the site, find out what the problem is and do
the investigation for free,” he says. “This really means putting our money
where our mouth is, and clients appreciate it that we take the risk upfront.”
The Kempton Park-based company’s clients are usually mining
houses, power plants and manufacturers that use industrial-strength fans for
ventilation and can ill afford the production downtime that goes with faulty or
poorly functioning fans.
Their problems typically revolve around fans that someone
else supplied and installed, so Air Blow Fan’s arrival is a breath of fresh
air; it has a talent for fixing legacy problems.
While the fan concerned might not be brand new, Air Blow
Fans’ approach is stat-of-the-art.
“We are continually improving our skills and solutions, and
are very strong on the engineering side,” says Gavin. Air Blow Fans – which won
no fewer than five tt100 awards in 2018 – has invested heavily in engineering
software for analysis, design and systems monitoring, and is one of a handful
of small South African companies with ISO 9001:2015 accreditation.
It should not come as a complete surprise that
the company is also a fan of the TIPS™ framework. “What I like about TIPS is the way
it ties everything together,” Gavin says. “There is no one component of
business you can focus on in isolation. You have to look at all of it. That’s
what TIPS helps you to do.”
notoriously difficult to make and there aren’t too many companies confident
enough in their forecasting abilities to claim a near-perfect accuracy rate. A
rare exception is SVA Holdings, an asset protection and risk management company
with a track record of being right 99% of the time when forecasting its
clients’ risk problems – months and even years ahead.
“For instance, we can
predict non-compliance issues in a retailer’s stock-take two and a half years
in advance. It’s been tried and tested, with 99% accuracy,” says Derick Deyzel,
chief commercial officer at SVA Holdings.
However, clients need
not wait for any length of time to see the benefits of implementing the
improvements SVA suggests when it detects risk or compliance loopholes in their
systems or processes, from the supply chain to health and safety. “We feed back
to clients in real time so that they are able to make quick decisions about
their risk profiles,” says Derick. “We are constantly hunting to improve
gets it right
The uncanny accuracy
of SVA’s risk-related forecasting is rooted firmly in its Infoman technology
platform, developed in South Africa and patented in 43 countries.
It all starts with
gathering the client’s operational data 24 hours a day and feeding this into
the SVA platform, where it is weighted, rated, prioritised and escalated
according to the client’s risk profile, all in real time and without getting in
the client’s way.
“Infoman tells us
when there is a challenge, where it is, who needs to fix it and when this can
be achieved,” says Derick. “Our competitors may offer comprehensive audits but
they are largely based on historical information. We bring current and more
relevant information, right now.”
The benefit of
real-time analysis is that the client can take immediate action to correct any
non-compliance. If the driver of a logistics company, for instance, deviates
from the approved route, Infoman will pick this up while it is happening and
alert the client, who can deal with this straight away instead of after the
will pick it up immediately if one branch of a 300-store retail chain is
neglecting to do the required daily count of high-value items such as TV sets
What SVA’s technology
also does extremely well is to adjust and align with the client’s risk policies
and procedures as these evolve. “It changes and improves so that it’s as
relevant to the business in five years’ time as it is today,” Derick says.
What likely also
impressed the tt100 adjudicators about SVA Holdings’ management of innovation
capabilities is that its technology is as relevant to small enterprises as it
is to large ones. “The technology platform works just as well with a company of
five vans as it does with a national retailer with 300 to 400 outlets,” he
Perhaps it’s time to
make a bold prediction: this won’t be the last time that SVA Holdings comes up
with innovative technology that changes the face of risk management.
As the Gig economy grows, who knows
what the future holds for corporate payrolls. As more and more people do gigs
rather than full-time jobs, who will pay them – payroll or the accounts
department? Come to think of it, will large corporates and their payroll
departments even exist in the virtual era of nimble newcomers?
These are some of the questions
about the future that Accsys’s leadership team are keeping in their sights
while dealing with today’s dilemmas – of which there are plenty.
When it comes to innovation, for
instance, the following catch-22 comes to mind, says CEO Teryl Schroenn:
“As an IT company, we have got to
be innovative, which means we have got to take risks – and then we have risk.
So how do we innovate while maintaining stability and limiting risk to our
Consider that some of Accsys’s
clients have upwards of 25 000 people on their payrolls and operate right
across Sub-Saharan Africa, from South Africa to Senegal, and it’s clear that
finding the balance between innovation and stability is a real business
In fact, it’s one that Accsys,
which has clients doing business in 19 African countries, is tackling right
“We are busy with a massive update
that we have been preparing for since last October,” says Teryl. “We are always
our own guinea pigs, so we started testing the update in our own payroll. After
two months, we ran it live on two client sites and now we are starting with
some of our bigger clients.”
It sounds so simple but it’s
actually not: with clients operating in 19 countries, the update has to
accommodate 19 different national tax frameworks, not to mention a host of
other country-specific salary and employment details.
This update not only caters for
clients’ current payroll requirements but is part of the evolution towards a
digital future that is unfolding as we speak. “Innovation means making sure you
have a product that people can use now and that works, while also being mindful
of how things are changing and the impact of digital on payroll,” says Teryl.
Talking of change, what does she
think the future holds for large corporates and their payrolls?
“I think people and companies are like countries,” she says. “Some want to be their own country, like Catalan or Scotland, and some want to be centralised, like Russia. In business, there are different models too: some companies want to be small and agile, and some want to be huge. “But one thing is for sure: whatever the future holds, SARS is still going to want their tax.
How to outperform your peers in a listless economy
In today’s grim economic climate, revenue growth of over 60% is an unimaginable feat for most South African companies. “If you innovate constantly, you can outperform the market, despite the economy. Maybe we would have done even better if the economy had been up to speed,” says Alex Roberts, Regional Director: Sales and Operations of Cura Risk Management.
That level of growth in 2018 might be understandable in a
start-up coming off a small revenue base, but Cura is an established company
with a 16-year track record, not a start-up. So how has its South African
business unit managed to buck the trend of flat sales and sluggish growth?
A contributing factor is the nature of its business. Being
in the business of providing Governance, Risk and Compliance (GRC) software solutions,
Cura is in the right place at the right time. “South African companies are
getting a lot more pressure for good governance and we are in that space,” says
But that would only be part of the story – and a small part
at that. The real secret behind Cura Risk Management’s success is its mastery
of innovation. Take its ability to service customers at both ends of the
market, from small to large, as well as everything in between.
“Competitors generally focus on one end of the market or the
other,” says Ross Saunders, Director for Global Technology Services. “We service
both ends, from corporations that require very complex nuances to small clients
that want enterprise-grade software in a hosted environment.”
In the past, enterprise-grade software would have been out
of the reach of most small enterprises but Cura has bridged the gap. “With
SMEs, affordability is the problem and historically, they would only have been
able to afford a lesser product. Now, because our product set is unique and we
use different business models, we can offer small clients a solution similar to
something a massive financial services company would use, yet focused to their
own needs,” says Alex.
As for large companies – Cura’s traditional market – they
too are under pressure to up their Governance, Risk and Compliance game, and
tend to be receptive to Cura-style innovation. Its business model for large
enterprises is integrated and built on a single source of the truth, he says. “We
combine risk management, business continuity, internal audit, SHEQ, incident management,
IT risk management, etc, all as a single, fully integrated solution.”
This differentiation, along with a technology platform that
is constantly evolving, underpins the kind of growth that many South African
companies can only dream of. If you innovate, you can grow.
The local textile is in tatters thanks to cheap imports and
fashion designers are struggling but some are fighting back – and keeping their
sense of humour while they’re at it.
“It’s a whole new ball game,” says Roman of ROMAN HANDT, avant-garde
fashion scientists and textile artisans. This is the tongue-in-cheek slogan for
“Romandies” (pronounced “Rom-undies”), a sleek and comfortable line of men’s
underwear that boxers, cyclists and other sportsmen are snapping up.
It was Romandies in particular that caught the attention of
the tt100 adjudicators. ROMAN HANDT
manufactures them in-house, which is unusual for a small design and textile
house because underwear is difficult to produce, requiring elastication and
various other complicated processes and machinery.
But if you get it right, underwear can be a money spinner.
“Men’s underwear has shown the most growth (in the clothing industry) and they
are reckoning that the market is worth billions,” says Roman, adding that
modern men are “quite happy” to pay for really snug, comfy, aesthetically
“We pay a lot of attention to fit and the cup part of
Romandies sits very snugly so that men never sit on or hurt anything. It really
is a whole new ball game.”
The brand has significant market potential in South Africa,
not to mention profit potential for its originators. In South Africa, the clothing
market is all about price, and underwear is one of the few clothing products
that can be sold with a decent mark-up, says Roman.
“When you produce the product
in-house, you cut out the middleman and can be very competitive in the market.
And with underwear, there is a no return policy!”
To reap the benefits, though, in-house manufacturers need to
invest in the right technology – something that emerging and small enterprises
are often reluctant to do.
“The only way you can compete is by investing in technology,”
says Roman, adding that this need not break a business’s budget. “If you invest
time in doing your research, you can pick up quite inexpensive machines by
going to auctions.”
Once you have the right equipment to manufacture underwear,
it can be used for many other types of garments too, opening up all kind of
future possibilities, not just for the individual entrepreneur but for the
“I want to teach younger generations, entrepreneurs in their
twenties, that if you have a sewing machine and a product, there is a way to be
an entrepreneur and support your family,” says Roman. “Work for yourself –
that’s what I want to show people.”
Winner of the Excellence in the Management of People award for 2017, category for Medium Enterprises
People management: no end in sight
Never be lulled into thinking that your people management practices are as good as they can get. No matter how well they have worked up to now, and how hard you have worked at them, something will invariably come along and upset the apple cart.
“There is never a situation where we can say we’ve arrived. There is always something that needs fixing. People management is about constant fixing,” says Teryl Schroenn, CEO of Accsys, payroll and people management specialists.
Accsys won its first tt100 award for excellence in people management in 2007 and has since won the title several more times, including in 2016 and 2017.
Part of its strength is understanding that excellent people management is a constantly moving target.
Accsys experienced this for itself in late 2017 when Transaction Capital acquired the company from BCX and Telkom, says Teryl. “This caused huge upheaval and a lot of uncertainty among our staff.”
Communication was both the solution and the problem. “No matter how well you communicate, if people have their own particular viewpoint, they do not hear you,” she says.
“This was a huge learning curve for us. We found that doing all the correct things wasn’t enough. We have had to dive deep to make sure we are all on the same page and that the same message filters down and all the way through.”
One change introduced with this in mind is to require every manager to hold formal one-on-one meetings with everyone reporting to them, once a month.
“One-on-ones are critical if you really want to talk to people,” says Teryl. “The moment you lose the connection, they feel disconnected. The employee surveys we have done show that more than anything, people want to be appreciated and seen to be an important part of the company’s success.”
Another recent change has been the up and coming introduction of “Let’s talk” sessions, linked to a revitalised suggestion box system. “People put their suggestions – which can be anonymous – into the suggestion box and then we will sit down and discuss them at a Let’s talk meeting.”
Teryl emphasises that good people management is “about reacting to change as well as being proactive. You have to do both. And you have to be ruthlessly honest with yourself when things are not going well and accept that things do not always go the way you had planned. Then you’ve got to address the issues and fix them.”
Winner of the Management of People award for 2017, category for small enterprises
The art of balance and bringing out the best in people
Everything in life is said to be about balance and for X/procure® Software, managing people means walking a fine line of a particular kind. On the one hand, there must be sufficient structure to provide leadership and direction; on the other, the company’s culture should be quirky enough to allow for some fun and individuality.
Relaxed yet organised. Hardworking yet playful. Open yet coordinated. These contrasts sit comfortably side by side at X/procure®, whose electronic procurement software is used by well over 60% of South African pharmacies to purchase pharmaceutical, surgical and front-shop products.
“Being serious when it matters, and more relaxed when appropriate, works well for us, enabling us to work seamlessly while enjoying our working environment,” says managing director Corne Korb.
Serious people management matters include performance management, training and development, succession planning, the annual climate survey for employees and induction for new recruits.
“We might be a small company of 35 people, but we pay as much attention to people development as much bigger companies do,” says Corne. “When our people are skilled, motivated and fulfilled, the results show up in our relationships with our customers.”
Succession planning is a big deal at X/procure®, which is part of Primedia Unlimited, and all key senior staff members are part of a mentorship programme to groom the next generation of leaders. “We believe in skills transfer and promoting from within,” says Corne, who is himself a product of the company’s grow-your-own timber approach, having started out as a computer technician and worked his way up.
Other crucial people management elements at X/procure® are employee wellness, which includes healthcare screening, the annual climate survey for employees and the strong focus on training and development. “For four weeks every quarter, different divisions attend training on a one-day-a-week basis, linked to their personal development plans and key performance indicators.”
The lighter side of life at X/procure® is its custom of celebrating successes, birthdays and memorable milestones – and its appreciation of good jokes. Humour can be an excellent way to break the ice and take some of the pain out of stressful situations such as job interviews, says Corne.
“For me, interviewing someone for a position isn’t just about asking them the difficult questions but also getting to know the real person, which is easier when they are relaxed rather than all tensed up. For me, it’s all about bringing out the best in people. That’s the essence of our culture.”
Winner of the Department of Science and Technology Director-General Award for Overall Excellence, category for small enterprises
When you put people first, excellence follows, says hearX
When government announced a few years ago that all school learners must be screened for hearing and vision loss in grades 1, 4 and 8, Professor De Wet Swanepoel knew this was an impossible task for South Africa’s approximately 600 audiologists.
Something would have to be done very differently, he realised, and an idea began germinating.
De Wet, who is part of the University of Pretoria’s Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology department, took his idea to a computer engineering colleague, Dr Herman Myburgh. Together, they built the world’s first clinical smartphone hearing test solution.
Knowing they needed the expertise to commercialise their invention, De Wet and Herman knocked on the door of serial entrepreneur and start-up investor Nic Klopper, who has founded seven businesses.
The result of this teamwork was the hearX Group, founded in 2015 with the vision, “healthy hearing for everyone, everywhere”.
hearX has already made a pretty good start with that. In less than three years, the business’s solutions have screened over 150 000 people, many of them in far-flung rural districts.
“From the beginning, our focus has been on bettering the lives of people. We are first and foremost a social impact company, screening for the masses,” says Tanya Boretti, hearX Marketing Manager. “We truly want to have an impact by making hearing care affordable and accessible.”
Putting its money where its mouth is, hearX has built a series of smart digital health solutions that are about 50% cheaper than conventional audiology tests and can reach many more people.
Says Tanya: “It all started with our founders wanting to solve a problem and coming up with an idea that would make a real impact. That sparked an entire business and has disrupted an entire industry. Excellence happens when you put people first.”
Winner of the Excellence in the Management of Innovation award for 2017, category for small enterprises
Hear how hearX has disrupted hearing screening
If there is one industry that has been desperate for disruption, it’s audiology, which deals with hearing and hearing loss. Until the hearX Group came along and disrupted the market, the industry hadn’t experienced much disruption before.
“We come out of an industry that was very traditional and almost stagnant. It was one of the least disrupted industries over the past decade,” says Tanya Boretti, Marketing Manager at hearX, a proudly South African company that is turning the audiology industry on its head.
Traditionally, to test someone’s hearing, the person would have to sit in an audiometric booth wearing headphones attached to a machine called an audiometer while an audiologist conducted hearing tests.
hearX has compressed all of this bulky equipment into hearScreen, a streamlined medical device consisting simply of a calibrated smartphone and headset. Apart from being just as reliable and accurate as a traditional audiometer, hearScreen has all kinds of advantages that conventional systems lack.
For one, it’s significantly more affordable. “Our solution is almost 50% cheaper than the traditional audiometer,” says Tanya.
Second, the hearX device is lightweight and portable – so instead of patients having to travel to clinics or hospitals to have their hearing screened, hearScreen can go to them. That’s critical considering government’s integrated health programme, which requires that all learners in grades 1, 4 and 8 be tested for vision and hearing loss.
“There are only 600 registered audiologists in South Africa and millions of schoolchildren,” says Tanya. “No way can the conventional model of screening ever reach all children at schools.”
hearScreen neatly overcomes the skills gap: it was built for the layperson and the person using it for screening need not be an audiologist.
In fact, hearX trains community members in areas around schools to use the device. “So we create jobs too,” Tanya says, adding: “There is no manual data capturing. The device does that. Once collected, the data is uploaded to a cloud-based management portal, encrypted and protected.”
If the screening results pick up any hearing loss, hearX hands the case over to an audiologist who does the intervention care.
Since 2015 when HearX was registered, hearScreen, which is patented and trademarked and ISO 13485 certified, has screened over 150 000 people across 25 countries. As Tanya puts it: “That speaks volumes about the power and reach of innovative technology.”
I Am Emerge, winner of Innovation Concepts in the category for emerging enterprises
App puts bulk buying power into township enterprises’ hands
Spaza shops do business worth around R9 billion a year and are the backbone of township economies but they face a relentless daily battle for survival. Typically, they lack access to credit, are vulnerable to crime and cannot compete on price with the big retailers unless they cut their margins to the limit. As for the discounts that bigger businesses routinely negotiate with suppliers, spaza shops simply don’t have the bargaining power.
Well, individually they don’t. Collectively, they are a force to be reckoned with, says Brian Makwaiba, MD of I Am Emerge, mass marketing specialists with a talent for bringing emerging enterprises and big businesses together.
Its award-winning Vuleka app taps into the collective buying power of township spaza shop owners, enabling them to order goods directly from the manufacturers and benefit from the discounts that go with bulk buying.
I Am Emerge does the legwork, including negotiating with the manufacturers, warehousing the goods that spaza shops order and delivering their purchases to their doorsteps.
“The goods are cheaper than they would be from wholesalers, so we save them time and money,” says Brian. “Where there are spaza shops who don’t have technology, we have youth marketers to take their orders manually.”
At this stage, I am Emerge’s network of spaza shops with bulk buying power spans three of Gauteng’s biggest townships: Alexandra, with around 500 members, Soweto with over 4 500 and Tembisa with around 2 000.
Vuleka is currently under redevelopment, the aim being to simplify it considerably, says Brian, who was a Gauteng Premier Excellence Award winner in 2017 and was named among South Africa’s top 50 entrepreneurs and Africa’s top 15 in 2016. “We’ve gone back to the drawing board because our users said our solution was too complicated. It had lists and a lot happening, when all users want is a catalogue-type app with pictures and prices.”
This is the essence of doing good business in townships, he says. “It’s about going on the ground and listening to your customers and delivering a product that speaks to their needs. For me, that’s the key to innovation.”
Winner of the Management of Innovation award for 2017, category for medium enterprises
Project overruns need not be the norm
Project overruns are notoriously common in South Africa, where power stations and high-speed trains have been built at significantly higher cost and over longer timeframes than originally planned. But it’s not just in South Africa that infrastructure and construction projects often drag out and cost more. Globally, overruns in costs and time range from 27% to 200%, according to Steven Golding of SSG Consulting.
“The software used is obviously ineffective,” says Steven, a mechanical engineer (and triathlete) who, after observing time and cost overruns on virtually every project he encountered in his 20 years in the construction industry, decided to do something about it.
He founded Pretoria-based SSG Consulting in 2008 – smack-bang in the middle of the global financial crisis – and started developing KEY360.
In a nutshell, KEY360 is a cloud-based and web-enabled platform for managing large-scale projects, on time and within budget, which it does by neatly integrating 140 different business systems and processes, with unlimited global access, data validation and real-time reporting.
It wasn’t long before SSG Consulting was doing well enough to move out of Steven’s Land Rover (“That’s where I started”) into proper offices and later into a Pretoria East property that is also a horse farm.
“We do things very differently from the norm,” he says. “Ever since we started out as an organisation, innovation has been part of what we do. We have a passion for developing new stuff and for helping organisations to develop their own innovation programmes.
“Although we started in project management as a core business, and this indeed still is, KEY360 has so many Enterprise functions that we now service many other industries.”
Recent innovations include the KEY360 app, called KEY30 10X, which provides mobile access to the KEY360 platform from a phone or iPad and speeds up business processes by 10 times. “We have the data to prove it,” Steven says.
He adds that it’s “easy” to innovate in an industry such as project management, precisely because there are so many problems to deal with.
One surprising aspect of SSG Consulting’s approach to innovation is that patenting innovations such as KEY360 and the KEY360 app are not priorities. Steven’s explanation is simple: “We’re not worried about anybody being able to do what we do. Our approach to challenges and to the required tech solutions is so unique and often subtle that it is not necessary to patent – thousands of ideas and innovations are built into the system. We are fundamentally different.”