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SAB: Hepsy Mkhungo

Hepsy Mkhungo of SAB shares the advice that set her on the road to career success.

Juliet Pitman

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Hepsy-Mkhungo

When I was studying in the United States, I was among a few young African people at the University and I’d often feel sorry for myself. One day, the Dean’s secretary approached me and gave me the following piece of advice, which I’ve never forgotten. She said, “Never assume that your past circumstances need to define your future.

Your future lies in hard work. You’re working hard now to build the future that you want, and in the future you will need to continue to work hard to achieve your goals.”

That really resonated with me. I realised that I could make my life and my future anything I wanted it to be if I developed a strong work ethic and put in the long hours. It was liberating – and it’s something I’ve taken with me throughout my career.

When I graduated there was a large amount still owing on my fees account, so while everyone was getting ready for graduation I was trying to get the money together to pay it. But then the Dean came to me and told me my account had been settled. I suspected that this lady had paid it but when I approached her she never admitted it. She simply said, “Pay it forward, Hepsy.”

That’s what I’ve tried to do. My position at SAB has provided me with a wonderful opportunity to help other young people grow. And I pay her advice forward too. I believe the most important thing for young start-ups is to work hard, and not to look for profits immediately. The profits and reward follow dedication and hard work.

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

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Lessons Learnt

5 Key Areas Pratley Are Using For Current And Future Growth

The aim of most family-run businesses is to stand the test of time, a goal that influences strategy and tends to take the long-term view over short-term gains. Entrepreneur spoke to Kim Pratley and his sons, Andrew and Charles, about growing a business without compromising on quality or price.

Nadine Todd

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pratley-south-africa

Vital Stats

  • Players: Andrew Pratley, Kim Pratley, Charles Pratley
  • Company: Pratley
  • Founder: George ‘Monty’ Pratley
  • Est: 1948
  • Divisions: Electrical division, adhesives division, mining and minerals division; Select Hairdressing Supplies
  • Visit: www.pratley.co.za 

In both B2B and B2C circles, Pratley is a household name. Pratley Putty and Pratley Steel can be found in most home workshops and garages, while cable junction boxes tend to be called ‘Pratley Boxes’ in the electrical world — even if they aren’t Pratley-made.

Building a brand that has cornered the market in many respects is a good foundation for future success, but it does not guarantee it. Sustainable growth takes an ingrained value system that the entire organisation believes and follows, strong cash flow, continuous innovation, an unwavering focus on quality and sacrificing short-term gains for long-term aims.

Pratley has been on a steady growth trajectory over the past 70 years. Many companies reach maturity and stagnate. Pratley has done the opposite. All growth periods are followed by consolidation, but despite numerous challenges and tough market conditions, the line continues to move up.

Here are five key areas that Kim, Andrew and Charles are focusing on to maintain that growth, now and for the future.

1. R&D: As the core – not a small side division

pratley-research-and-development

“Research and development has always been our core, and as a result of that, diversification,” explains Kim Pratley, CEO of the business. “We launched with our electrical division in 1948, followed by the adhesives division.” Before their first product of that division, Pratley Putty, was used by NASA on the moon, it was originally developed to stick electrical terminals into an electrical junction box and insulate them.

“Once it was developed though, we realised that we could productise it outside the electrical sector for the consumer market, and our adhesives division was born.”

Developing new products is in Pratley’s DNA. The company aims to release at least three or four new products into the market each year and is continually looking for new and better ways to do things. “We have to grow somewhere,” says Andrew Pratley, Pratley Group IT Manager and General Manager of Select Hairdressing Supplies. “We need to be simultaneously growing our markets and our product ranges, and that means we need to find better and more cost-effective ways of doing things.”

There is a school of thought that says a smaller, tighter product range keeps costs down and the business focused. In many ways Pratley has done the opposite, with its electrical division offering more than 3 000 products, many of which are patented and based on proprietary technology.

“Like most things in business, our product range follows the 80/20 principle,” agrees Kim. “20% of our product range is responsible for 80% of our revenue. Logic would say why have the rest then? Unfortunately, because of the way the market operates, customers expect us to also provide the niche products that don’t sell well but are occasionally needed. If we chopped off the 80%, we would lose a lot of the customers who make up the 20%, but are responsible for 80% of our revenue.

“It’s a perception — a customer who buys all their products from Pratley expects to be able to get everything from us. If they need to go to a competitor to get a special fitting, they might move all their business.”

That said, there are cost and complexity implications when carrying such a large product range, which means the management team needs to be hyper-focused on the details. “We’re currently looking at rationalising our product range. Products become obsolete and if you’re too focused on new products without paying attention to the entire range you can end up carrying old stock or manufacturing unnecessary items,” says Charles, Engineering Manager: Group Technical Services.

“Our customer base appreciates that we’ve become a problem solver in the market — they come to us with a need, for example, a stainless-steel cable gland for the food industry, and we will design and manufacture it. It must be viable for us as well, but on the whole, because we do everything in-house, we can add value as real problem solvers and as a one-stop shop,” adds Andrew.

Customers want quality, their lives simplified, and good service — exactly what Pratley aims to offer.

R&D’s role in creating diversification for the business has also mitigated Pratley’s risks. “Rubber brushes inside a flame-proof cable gland is what keeps people alive — if they fail, people die. If there’s an explosion inside the apparatus and it gets out and ignites the atmosphere, people die. The technology that goes behind that rubber is polymer technology; adhesives are also based on polymer science. We can bring the same expertise from the one side of our business into the others,” explains Kim.

Related: Kid Entrepreneurs Who Have Already Built Successful Businesses (And How You Can Too)

A sister company of Pratley, Select Hairdressing Supplies, was first bought from Kim’s father-in-law when he retired, but the business has since been expanded to bring manufacturing in-house and to develop proprietary products. “We asked our R&D team what they knew about hair products,” says Kim. “They went away, did some research and came back and said we could definitely do this. We also import some products. It’s a profitable business in its own right that diversifies our risk.”

“It’s a high-end product,” adds Andrew. “Our market is professional hairdressing salons, and they cater to clients who demand quality, high-end hair products. We don’t compete with cheap imports at the lower end of the market. The focus is on quality at a reasonable price.”

On the whole, Pratley’s R&D follows a two-pronged approach. Charles, Andrew and Kim all love R&D. If they find something cool, they want to mess with it until they find a real-life application for it.

A strong R&D mindset means the team is always open to finding solutions to problems.

Pratliperl, a lightweight, thermally insulating cement aggregate that was originally developed for low-cost housing, is now used as a fire-proof plaster that doubles the thermal insulation of a building. It’s very lightweight and is ideal as a screed where additional floors to buildings are required. Pratliperl has been used at Loftus Versfeld Stadium and the Sandton City parking lot.

2. Finding market fit

pratley-south-africa

A strong R&D component works hand in hand with the ability to shelve products that aren’t working in the market, and Pratley has had a few of those. Sometimes even the best products don’t find product-market fit — in one memorable case it was because the product worked too well.

“We launched a product called Wham a few years ago because customers kept requesting an ultra-quick super-glue,” says Andrew. “We wanted to design the fastest adhesive in the world — and we did — but it ended up being practically unusable. It was just too quick for the end user.”

It was an interesting lesson for the team on giving customers what they need, and not necessarily what they ask for.

“We also brought out a palm cleaner that I love, but which the market hated,” says Kim. “We wanted a solution for dirty palms after you’ve changed a tyre, for example. Palm Cleaner was essentially a glue that stuck to the dirt and then rolled off the hands in little balls. It was extremely effective.”

Consumers didn’t read the instructions and thought it was a hand cleaner. The result was Palm Cleaner getting stuck in the hairs on the back of people’s hands.

Related: 30 Top Influential SA Business Leaders

“We try to stay away from ‘me too’ type products. We look for problems that haven’t been solved or where we can do it better. That involves a lot of trial and error, and we won’t always get it right,” says Charles. “That’s the cost of R&D. You can’t let your ego or personal feelings get in the way of what your market research is telling you.

“We have a department that tests everything in every way the market could use it. Interestingly, we often find that we test a product for one thing, and end up finding a whole host of other applications for it. Sometimes the larger market is the one we didn’t originally develop the product for.”

It’s an interesting process. You can’t make assumptions about any market, even one you know well, and if you aren’t looking at solutions from every angle, you could miss a huge opportunity. This thinking has become ingrained at Pratley.

3. Quality first

successful-south-african-companies

In a world where one industry after the next is becoming commoditised and businesses are competing on price (particularly against low-cost imports), Pratley’s strategy has remained the same, with a strong focus on quality, in-house manufacturing and R&D.

How do they maintain this from a cost perspective, particularly when so many companies are turning to outsourcing to keep costs as low as possible?

“We have two main drivers,” says Kim. “Every pack of Pratley carries a statement signed by me that our products must outperform any other on the world market. It’s a big statement, and we mean it. It’s so big that we’ve found in some cases people actually don’t take it seriously because of its magnitude.”

Over the years Kim has performed a number of stunts proving his confidence in Pratley’s products, including filming a TV commercial standing below a 13 tonne bulldozer suspended by a joint bonded together with Pratley Wondafix.

“We don’t believe the statement itself necessarily leads to sales, but it does have a big impact internally,” he says. “Inherent in our core values is the ideal that we need to be producing the best — it’s expected from every person in the organisation, at all times.

“From an external customer point of view, the fact that the product works is important. How we ensure that quality is a result of what we do internally.” A product that consistently works fosters trust and brand loyalty, which results in repeat customers.

Because the company’s focus is on quality, this is a non-negotiable, but there is a cost to quality as well. From a sales perspective, this means Pratley’s sales force needs to concentrate on educating the market about purchasing a slightly higher priced product for the long-term gains that are achieved from peace of mind and the risk mitigation of operating in a safer environment.

“We manufacture cable junction boxes, cable glands and the rubber shrouds that protect those glands for hazardous locations. If something goes wrong and there’s a fire or an explosion because a cheap inferior product was chosen and used, people can lose their lives,” says Charles.

“In some cases, it’s relatively easy to convince the customer as they have either had a  costly experience with a cheaper product or have seen UV-damaged rubber shrouds from a cheaper brand. It’s up to our team to educate our customers. There is also always a segment of the market that will buy cheap, no matter what, and we accept that and don’t waste resources trying to convert them. There is also a segment that recognises and always chooses quality, and that’s our ideal market.”

To mitigate higher costs associated with quality, R&D and local manufacturing, Kim and his directors work tirelessly to control costs. Every line item is scrutinised, but never at the expense of quality.

“Our sales arm plays a key role in the business for this reason and we emphasise training to ensure the team is equipped to engage with customers and understand their needs and the risks they face, balancing those risks with the costs of investing in quality.”

In line with a strong quality proposition are high exstore service levels that ensure Pratley can offer high-quality customer service. “We measure this according to the value that comes in versus the value executed. If 100 orders come in, we must execute 99% of them exstore immediately,” says Kim.

“This requires a large amount of inventory on hand, so we need to pay attention to which stock moves and how quickly, but ultimately we understand the frustrations and costs of downtime, and we aim to minimise both for our customers.”

From a cost perspective, the father and sons team understand that they need to be aware of the market and competition in order for their manufacturing methods and pricing to be internationally competitive, and the way to achieve that is through the right machinery, controls and management.

“We have a very flat management structure,” says Kim. “We aren’t top heavy. We have directors who are in charge of specific departments, middle managers and foremen. Each department is run as clean and lean as possible. The numbers are monitored by each foreman and reviewed at board level. Nothing slips through the cracks, and each number is scrutinised.”

4. The power of (the right) people

pratley-logo

One of the biggest hinderances to growth that Pratley has faced is human resource issues. Based on the West Rand of Johannesburg, the business doesn’t have access to as large a labour pool as it would if it was based on the East Rand or closer to the city centre.

That said, Kim, Andrew and Charles love the lifestyle on the West Rand, and they operate from a large property developed specifically for their needs. 185 employees work from that site, with satellite offices in Durban, Port Elizabeth, Cape Town and Bloemfontein.

“We employ multi-disciplined people who have skills in their primary activities, but who can also play a secondary role,” says Andrew.

“If you employ a person for their underlying work ethic, willingness and general attributes, you’ll employ a good person who can do anything,” agrees Kim. “Attitude and a willingness to learn means you can upskill someone and they will be eager to take on more responsibility and perform their defined roles. This is true across the organisation and not just in middle management positions.”

Related: Inspiring Entrepreneur Siyanda Dlamini Believes You Need To Back Yourself To Build Your Dreams

As a result of this people-focused strategy, Kim, Andrew and Charles remain involved in the business’s hiring process.  “It’s not something you can delegate,” says Kim.

5. Cash is king

pratley-company-founder

Pratley is in the enviable position of never having financed the business. As a result, the company has grown more slowly than it could have, with each new acquisition or investment into machinery or R&D funded internally through cash flow, but it has never had to service debt.

“We’ve been comfortable delaying growth, where necessary, to be able to make investments from our own cash reserves,” says Kim.

“We have very strict but fair payment policies in place. Credit control is a non-negotiable. Our rules are set in stone and there’s never an exception; it doesn’t matter who the client is.”

The terms are straightforward: Payment is in the month after the date of invoice. If you place your order on the first of the month (and it’s dispatched immediately, thanks to the company’s 99% exstore service levels), you can essentially have 60 days to pay, as the payment is only due at the end of the following month. Pratley also offers good settlement discounts.

But there are never, ever any exceptions to the rules. When their biggest adhesives client took a R2 000 settlement discount that they weren’t entitled to, supply was immediately stopped.

“The Adhesives sales manager resigned over that decision,” says Kim. “He handed over his letter of resignation and said we were mad. It was a small amount and they were a big customer, but I knew that we’re not in business despite that decision; we’re in business because of that decision.

“If we had buckled, it would have set a precedent. Instead, I called them up and said, ‘You know the rules, I know the rules, I know what you’re doing, you know what I’m doing, let’s carry on.’ They’re still a very good customer today — but it was important to stick to our guns. It’s important to have people in the business who understand this, which is why I accepted that sales manager’s resignation. More companies flounder on the rocks of cash flow than anything else.

“Our growth strategy has been to build up cash reserves. That takes rules that you stick to above all else. One of my favourite business mantras is that profit is the very small difference between two very large numbers. All you need is one small percentage change on one of those numbers and your profit disappears. If you’re not taking risk with one of those numbers, well, I see that as security and survival.

“That doesn’t mean we don’t spend money — we’ve just invested in some very expensive machinery that will increase our output, productivity and efficiency down the line. It’s a large upfront expense for future growth and sustainability. But it’s a mitigated risk because we’ve built up the reserves to take that next step.”


KEY INSIGHTS

Cash is King               

Profit is the very small difference between two very large numbers. One small percentage change on one of those numbers and your profit disappears. How are you mitigating that risk?

Skills differentiate                 

In a competitive business landscape where skills are in high demand, employing multi-disciplined people who have skills in their primary activities but can play strong secondary roles is crucial.

The cost of quality                 

When you’re competing against commoditised products that differentiate in price, it’s not enough to know you offer quality. You have to prove the value of that quality by educating your market.

Read next: This Is What Bevan Ducasse Did When He Realised wiGroup’s Revenue Model Wasn’t Working

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Lessons Learnt

The Law Of Attracting Your Success

Once you discover your who, you automatically discover your why, which in turn allows you to lead with your heart rather than your head. Discover that energy source, and the world is your oyster.

John Sanei

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magnet

From the teachings of Buddha to the concept of karma, the Law of Attraction has been expressed in many ways by both ancient and contemporary thinkers. In its most simplistic interpretation, the Law of Attraction states that ‘like attracts like’.

Your ability to Magnetiize exists whether you are aware of it or not, whether you are positive or negative. You make daily decisions to choose whether you want to attract success or failure (however you define them), whether you want to live a more conscious, elegant and curious life or whether you want to keep your head down and stick to the old rules.

We are constantly Magnetiizing in every aspect of our lives, whether we’re running a business, interacting with friends or simply walking into a room. Changing how you do it can be a scary prospect, but it will move you from a stagnant space to one in which you can develop with meaning.

When you are in a space of positive magnetism, the momentum builds and your access to energy is incredible — it feels like electricity running through your body, with your ideas in focus and creativity flowing.

Magnetiize in 3 Steps

To Magnetiize is to take control of your own future and, in so doing, transform from a state of panic to a state of calm; from chasing ambition to seeking meaning.

  • The first step is a process I call Micro Inspection: How to confront the obstacles in your mind and start making decisions that are led by your heart.
  • Then comes Mega Exploration: Examining the qualities of future-forward and conscious businesses.
  • Finally, you need to bring it all together into your own reality, with the Macro Perspective: Understanding new technology and trends, and embracing the future.

Related: Global Speaker John Sanei On ‘What’s Your Moonshot?’

This holistic approach allows you to Magnetiize into your life the right type of people, appropriate access to opportunities, and the money and power you need for sustainable success. To truly achieve, you must combine Micro Inspection, Mega Exploration and Macro Perspective.

When you learn how to Magnetiize, you attract a tribe of people who you can work (and socialise) with in harmony. Your tribe should consist of elders, advisers and friends who complement your skills and personality and bring out the best version of you — the best ‘I’ behind your ‘I’. You’ll find that the tribe changes, for the better, the type of decisions you make and the discussions you have.

And as a result, your ability to Magnetiize will rub off on those around you, encouraging them also to step out of their comfort zone and to participate in shaping the future.

GET IT

Magnetize is circulated through all good book sellers and at www.johnsanei.com

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Lessons Learnt

Lessons From The Rich And Famous: Manage Your Money Like Oprah To Avoid Going Into Debt Like Nicholas Cage

Have a plan in place for your money, no matter how much you earn.

Christopher Tracy

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nicholas-cage

Seven-figure pay cheques are enough to buy a lifetime of financial security, right? Well, not exactly. Despite making millions, seemingly wealthy celebrities often have a tough time keeping their heads above the financial waters.

Johnny Depp spending $3 million to fire Hunter S. Thompson’s ashes out of a cannon, or Nicholas Cage shelling out $150,000 for a pet octopus, are both prime examples of how lavish lifestyles can quickly lead to debt. The two A-listers are part of a long list of actors, musicians, athletes, etc. – including Floyd Mayweather, 50 Cent and Curt Schilling – who have all experienced financial troubles.

While there’s nothing wrong with celebrities enjoying their earnings, a little budgeting can go a long way. Just take a look at Tori Spelling. After failing to pay a balance of more than $35,000, the actress was taken to court by American Express. Another example is 80s movie star Corey Haim. He became so desperate for cash after filing for bankruptcy he tried to sell his own tooth on eBay for $150, which didn’t get any buyers.

Avoid falling into any of these situations by keeping a close eye on your spending. Regardless of how much you make, the following few budgeting tips promise to help you practice safe and responsible money management.

Put a plan in place

mike-tyson-tigers

Nearly everyone lose sleep over their finances. Get a good night’s rest by figuring out where your money should be going long before it’s in your bank account. Spending without a plan, even if it’s only splurging on a one-time event, can have unintended consequences.

Related: 6 Money Management Tips For First-Time Entrepreneurs

One example of this is former NFL star Vince Young – after dropping $300,000 on his own birthday party he was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Another example is Mike Tyson, who went into debt after overspending on Bengal tigers, 110 cars and a $2-million bathtub.

That doesn’t mean you can never treat yourself, but make sure you’re not spending money faster than you can earn it. Set up a series of “fun funds” each month to splurge on nonessentials. Depending on what else you have going on that month, each fund should be adjusted accordingly.

If, for example, you’re heading out to a friend’s wedding, there may be a little less left over for eating out. Stay up to date on your spending by downloading a budgeting app. The easier it is to see where you are for that month, the better chance you have of staying under budget.

Carry around some cash

Credit cards are becoming the most common payment method among consumers. The average American currently carries around three credit cards at any given time. While they may be more convenient, credit cards can easily lure consumers into a false sense of security.

After all, a simple swipe or tap is often all it takes to complete a purchase. However, it’s important to take time to research any costly items thoroughly and ensure you won’t regret them like Nicholas Cage. He learned this lesson the hard way when he blew $276,000 on a dinosaur skull that he was forced to return after it was discovered to be an illegal import.

Curb some of your impulse spending during a night out by bringing enough cash for the occasion. In addition to avoiding spending money you don’t have, you’ll also sidestep costly ATM fees at establishments that only accept cash.

Whether it means stopping by your bank on the first of every month or getting cash back at the grocery store, do whatever it takes to have a little bit of cash on hand. As you cut back on credit card purchases, your chances of falling into debt should begin to dwindle.

Lean on an expert

hugh-jackman

When it comes to your finances, take a lesson from the likes of OprahTyga and Hugh Jackman, who invest in financial and life coaches. Many celebrities, including Oprah, attribute their success to their coaches helping put them on the right path. Even celebrities are human and can find it difficult to stick to budgeting goals.

Personalised features of a comprehensive coaching programme, such as daily check-in texts and bi-weekly budget reviews, promise to provide you with the encouragement needed to remain accountable even as the going gets tough.

Better yet, a financial coach can take your individual goals into account. Say you decide to start a family or need to make a cross-country move. Instead of wondering what that might mean for your budget, you can work with a financial coach to modify your spending habits and investments long before a change comes to fruition.

Related: 15 Wise Money Quotes From Millionaires And Billionaires

Budgeting goes beyond class. No matter how much you make, responsible money management has shown itself to be a necessity. Avoid following in the footsteps of celebrities who face serious financial trouble by keeping a close eye on where your money is going.

As we’ve seen all too often, failing to do so can mean losing millions. Simple steps – including creating a spending plan, occasionally relying on cash and reaching out to an expert – can help you achieve financial security sooner rather than later.

And if you plan carefully enough, you might just end up with the funds you need for that pet octopus.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

Related: 6 Habits Long-Time Millionaires Rely On To Stay Rich

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