Creating and Adding Value in the Aerospace Sector
In a fast-moving and rapidly changing technological age, it is vital that South Africa stay ahead of the competition in so far as technology and innovation are concerned. Denel Dynamics, which deals in high-end products, is a vital cog in South Africa’s mission to ‘stay ahead of the game’ in this regard. Tsepo Monaheng, chief executive officer (CEO) of Denel Dynamics, intends to position his organisation and South Africa among, and with, the best in the world. The point of departure, according to Monaheng, is to build capability at home and ensure that skills development commences early on to create a safe technological future.
Key to achieving competitiveness in the highly specialised sphere that Denel Dynamics operates in means that technologies have to be available to give Denel Dynamics the edge over its competition. This will allow the company to have information that enables it to take appropriate decisions concerning
the country’s defence or economic activities. “In that respect, we have the main systems that provide us with information, as well as satellite capability. But, beyond these technologies, we have those that help us maintain and protect the country’s sovereignty. In this cluster, we would include missiles and air defence capability. In short, we have the innovation within Denel Dynamics to give us the edge over the competition, thereby remaining the best in Africa,” indicates Monaheng.
To be the best in Africa, he continues, depends on a combination of factors. To a certain extent, it is about delivering the best products to market, but, he stresses, it is more about the establishment of the capability that will allow Denel Dynamics to deliver on its mission. “That is why more than 60% of the personnel working in the organisation are high-end engineers,” Monaheng points out. He elaborates that, in order to have these high-end engineers, it is incumbent on Denel Dynamics to train the best engineers in the country. Over and above that, it has to ensure that there is constant skills development and improvement on the part of older engineers. “The ability to produce the high-quality products we do is just a by-product of what Denel Dynamics is all about. In essence, at the centre of Denel Dynamics lies the creation of capability for itself, the industry and South Africa, thereby attracting foreign exchange and contributing to income generation,” he elaborates.
Training the Best to Be the Best
Drilling down to how Denel Dynamics – or simply ‘Dynamics’ as it is referred to in its corridors – operates, Monaheng pronounces that, for many years, it has been successful in training engineers right from the point when they are at university. “We do this by supporting their training and giving them vacation work so that they can get hands-on experience from the get-go. On completion of their studies, we take them for 12 months of intensive training on the job in Dynamics and immediately allow them to be the best that they can be. In turn, this allows Dynamics to be the best it can be as well,” he reveals. Upon completion of the training period, the graduates are then posted to different areas in the company where they excel. “From there, we know that we have the best people that we can ever want to have. That positions us well to deliver on the mandate that rests on our shoulders.” Monaheng strongly believes that the limited resources at Denel Dynamics’ disposal have to be invested in capability building in order to achieve competiveness. “We should be able to share the limited resources that we have as an industry. There should also be collaboration between industry and institutions of higher learning to achieve the set objectives,” he emphasises.
People at the Centre of Success and Project Growth
Denel Dynamics’ main mandate is to be a technology partner to the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), but, beyond that, “we help where we can when expected to provide technological solutions for the defence or protection and security of friendly countries.” Monaheng is quick to add that the crucial ingredient at the centre of any of Denel Dynamics’ successes is its people, as already alluded to. He elaborates: “We have noticed that, across the globe, most people working on programmes are on the other side of 35 years of age. Thus there is a developing concern that there won’t be any creative skills available to eventually produce the products we want in this field.” With such a bleak future looming, what’s to be done? Well, in Denel Dynamics’ case, the issue is not what will or is to be done but what is already being done.
“We have taken it upon ourselves to build the next generation of engineers that will be a representation of what we want to achieve – being the best in Africa and a globally competitive company. Therefore, we [at Denel Dynamics] have bursaries for students at universities to study engineering fields relevant to our environment. But that alone is not enough,” shares Monaheng. “We often train people and equip them with the best skills for them to be the best that they can be, only for them to be attracted by other things outside of Dynamics a few years later. This means that there is often a skills gap that is created, as it takes a long time from being a mere engineer to being a specialist in engineering. Here, then, Project Growth comes into play.” Over the last few years, Denel Dynamics has been experiencing an annual growth rate that is higher than 10%. This growth, according to Monaheng, means that the current crop of employees at Denel Dynamics is not going to be able to take the business forward. “If you don’t have specialists in the different areas, you won’t be able to do the work and thus deliver on promises. You need both generalists and specialists. In order to achieve this vision, we have a development programme under Project Growth.”
The development programme is a joint venture between Denel Dynamics and various institutions of higher learning. “We have identified engineering areas that we are going to focus on in a given five-year period. It is envisaged that, within the five-year period, South Africa will have specialists in different areas of engineering. These specialists will probably be younger than 35,” says Monaheng. With such a grand scheme in the offing, it means that, within a mere two decades, South Africa will have specialists in different areas. This is an exciting project for a number of reasons, he indicates. Not only does Monaheng and his team look forward to every working day, but their activities today also ensure that, tomorrow, Denel Dynamics and South Africa will also have the skills to position themselves to be competitive. “Unless we are competitive, we will never be able to contribute to the country’s economic objectives. If we fail to participate in that regard, it means we will not be able to invest in the technology and the people who are our passion. Investment in people and technology is only possible if the business generates profits,” he states.
The Heart of Innovation and Creativity
“I must point out that, thus far, we have been very successful in our endeavours in this project. Tens of millions of rand are invested, year on year, out of our own funding. To me, this is the most critical aspect of our work, because, without it, we don’t have the end products which are, in effect, the results of our hard work. Technology and people are what I refer to as the heart of innovation and creativity and which will drive the competitiveness that will enable us to really contribute to the economy,” declares Monaheng. Moreover, he observes, there is a big part of the South African population that hasn’t been participating technically in most of the products that Denel Dynamics is known for. “Therefore, it is important to me to have diversity in all its forms, be it in the form of gender, race or age, in all the major projects we execute in order that South Africans can start taking ownership of Dynamics. Presently, people don’t perceive Dynamics to belong to them because there is a lack of diversity that enables the participation of all.”
According to Monaheng, the journey that lies ahead means that there will have to be a culture change, and navigating that space won’t be easy. “However, I am very confident that, in a few short years, I will look back and say that ‘indeed our work is representative of the South African community’. Only then will I be happy, but that will only be the point of departure, as there is more that still needs to be done. Chief among these is to ensure that we continue to sustain the business growth that we have embarked on.” He adds that Denel Dynamics will continue, with the limited resources at its disposal, “To be at the cutting edge of technology and to train the best engineers that we can to match the best of this world. That is my task at hand and I believe that, with the team of executive managers at Dynamics, we are going to win this one,” he confidently states.
A Dream to Contribute Positively
Such words augur well for Denel Dynamics and one should not have a shred of doubt that what Monaheng says will come to pass, for these words come from a man who is the epitome of having a dream and seeing that dream to fruition across all levels. Monaheng’s career path makes for compelling reading, as he started out as a mathematics and physics teacher. “From a very tender age, I always had a dream of contributing positively to society. As a maths and science teacher, I realised that there were certain limitations in terms of my contribution as a teacher. Hence I furthered my studies in order to have a bigger contribution scope and thus a bigger impact,” he shares.
His studies saw him enter the telecommunications sector as an electronics engineer, which, he says, “I enjoyed very much”. From then on it was a roller-coaster ride for the young Monaheng, who worked on interesting projects as he perfected his craft. “Looking back to all those years ago, I think South Africa and the industry needed the calibre of engineers with the zeal I possessed. Along the way, I was busy furthering my education and obtained an MBA which allowed me to move to more managerial roles.” Monaheng eventually joined Denel Dynamics as a programme manager before moving on to an executive-marketing role. He then moved into general management and was ultimately appointed CEO in April 2013. “Being in the role for more than a year has been an exhilarating journey to say the least. The scope is huge and there are lots of challenges. It’s exciting work that requires providing true leadership to people at all levels of Denel Dynamics. In striving towards achieving that, we need to ensure that we provide the company with a vision that it will be successful and will be going into a place that we will all be proud of.”
On that note, he concludes that Denel Dynamics cannot afford to fail, because, if it does so, then it will have failed South Africa. “Whatever we do is a reflection on the country, and so we cannot fail. However, Denel Dynamics or the government cannot achieve this alone, as our success is premised on having a strong supply chain and strategic relationships with South African industry, because it is this integration that make us competitive. Competitiveness comes not from outside but from within, because, at any point, international suppliers can sabotage us solely to gain an edge over us in the marketplace. What should be on everyone’s mind in relation to this is that, for every contract that Dynamics gets, at least 50% is, in turn, contracted to local companies. That is important, because, if we succeed, industry also succeeds, and so does South Africa.”
STATE YOUR CASE | Denel Dynamics
by Andrew Ngozo