Swartland Group: from small family-run business to powerful enterprise

Hans Hanekom (Supplied)
Hans Hanekom (Supplied)

It's been said that the only real mistakes are the ones you don't learn from, but in business, learning-curves can be steep and unforgiving, says Hans Hanekom is CEO of the Swartland Group.

The Swartland Group started as a small family business in 1951 and now has operations in four provinces and Namibia and exports to the UK and US.

"We're also a key employer in areas otherwise blighted by joblessness. Our 69-year trajectory from humble origins in Moorreesburg has brought some valuable lessons worth mulling," says Hanekom.

"'We're not naïve about the challenges facing business and society in South Africa, but we know that responsible and ambitious entrepreneurship has a powerful role to play in the country realising its potential, and we’re determined to play our role in 2020 and beyond."

He offers a few tips:
Target business growth, not job creation

Focusing on equitable, profitable operations brings sustainable employment. That in turn propels business and social development.

"We focus on small-scale, incremental mechanisation of our operations which, rather than triggering job-losses, leads to expansion and to upskilling of personnel," says Hanekom.

A team that managed one production-line can now manage two, with resulting benefits to economies of scale. A knock-on socioeconomic benefit is sustainable employment.

Let your people realise their potential

When an employee engages with a job and shows aspiration to have a career rather than simply doing a day’s work, let them work at it.

Spell out your commitment and stick to it

"We've found that a strong brand promise helps solidify our relationship with our customers. It gives us something to which we can both aspire and be held to account and it reminds each employee that they're part of the collective process of continuous improvement," says Hanekom.

Innovation never sleeps

"We're always looking for ways to improve our production-lines and continuously looking for new mechanisation targets. As we reach each target it becomes the new normal and we find another target," he adds.

Old wood, new shoots

"Many of our personnel have been with us for 15 years or more. This gives us a depth of institutional knowledge that, paired with new technology, gives us a competitive advantage," says Hanekom.

"Some personnel are too valuable to lose to retirement and it's worth finding equitable, mutually beneficial ways to retain them."
Invest in your communities

"We heed Theodore Roosevelt's admonishment to 'do what you can, with what you have, where you are' and support social development in the communities where the bulk of our employees live."

No legitimate revenue-stream is off-limits

Initially the business was wooden windows and doors. It now has strong revenue-streams from garage-doors and aluminium windows and doors as well as wooden pellets for pellet-stoves and importing steel doors.

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