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Simplifying and future-proofing Nampak

PPM’s Nici Solomon and Susi Moore learn more about Nampak CEO, Erik Smuts’ approach to leadership, training and overcoming industry challenges. 

Ed: What are the greatest challenges you and Nampak face in the year ahead?

Because the packaging environment is changing, we need to adapt to it, and overcome three primary challenges. These encompass rebuilding stakeholders’ trust, navigating a severely-pressured economic landscape, and simplifying the business for optimisation and growth. Legislative changes, such as a levy on single-use plastics, are also a distinct possibility. Fortunately, I thrive on challenges!

Ed: How would you describe your business philosophy?

Simplify to satisfy. To make sense of all aspects of your business and the environment that you operate in, you need to uncomplicate things to ensure greater success. 

Ed: And your leadership style?

Trust is vital in any relationship and is built up over time. I prefer to give my staff room to prove themselves and to take accountability for their roles rather than to micromanage tasks. I also like to keep formal meetings as short as possible. I encourage informal discussions as they tend to produce the best problem-solving results, and enjoy people who question one another in a constructive way, as critical thinking and curiosity generate new perspectives and ideas.

Ed: What are the biggest lessons learnt from working in other African markets that can be applied locally?

People in developing markets are beacons of resourcefulness. They have to come up with creative ways of overcoming unique sets of challenges; they achieve great things through a positive attitude and a hunger to improve systems and processes so that operations run more efficiently. Unions also have a critical role to play in the success of South Africa’s manufacturing sector. By becoming invested in the a company’s success (improvements in volumes and efficiencies), they help secure the long-term viability of members’ jobs.

Ed: What challenges and opportunities does the fourth industrial revolution present from a skills development perspective?

I don’t believe the artificial intelligence component will affect people at the top and bottom of organisations – it will affect those in the middle tier performing repetitive tasks. The affected employees will need to be upskilled to enable them to add more value through creativity as new technologies are introduced and the market changes. Machine learning will also assist staff in becoming more efficient by complementing their duties and providing task support. The country’s education system needs to adapt to ensure improved mathematical and technical skills, to produce youngsters who can become data scientists/actuaries, or have the skills to operate robots or create the algorithms driving efficiency improvements. 

Ed: How is Nampak future-proofing skills development?

It is vital to employ the right kind of people and help them grow through dedicated training and mentoring programmes. Operators are offered training in technical skills, while a graduate programme prepares those identified for management roles to make the transition and to implement Nampak’s succession plans. 

Additionally, we are encouraging top-level managers to complete at least one training course annually, at their own pace and convenience. Consistently acquiring new skills helps them to keep pace with change.

Ed: What advice would you give to someone starting in the industry?

Any newcomer in a business needs to make their mark early on. Thinking beyond the job description and showing initiative brings their contributions to the notice of management. Moulding jobs around incumbents’ particular strengths helps deliver the best outcomes.