‘We’re very proud of our track record,’ states commercial director, Bernhard Mahl. ‘The Best Employer Award is a clear indication that we’re creating an environment for employee progression. We’ve reached an important milestone in our history and it’s important to keep our minds focused on future growth by investing in our valuable skills base, as well as our technology and R&D efforts.’
During its lifetime, Safripol has weathered several ownership changes and in a less-than-favourable global climate emerged as a leading player in the South African polymer industry.
Established in 1972 as a joint venture between Hoechst and Sentrachem, Safripol commenced production of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and subsequently polypropylene (PP) at its Sasolburg plant. With a combined production average of 80 000 tons/annum it soon became a vital part of the South African and sub-Saharan African plastics conversion industry.
In 1996, the Sasolburg HDPE plant was revamped and modernised and a new PP plant was constructed. The old PP plant was refurbished and refitted as an HDPE plant.
With a strategy to expand its emerging market presence, Dow Chemical Company made a bid for Sentrachem’s shares in Safripol and, by 1997, had acquired a 50% stake in the business.
With renewed investments in skilled staff and the latest technologies, capacity was significantly increased. Two years later, Hoechst sold its 50% share to Dow and the company was renamed Dow Plastics SA.
Although the Safripol name disappeared, many original employees maintained the original vision that spurred Safripol’s entry into the market and, in 2006, when Dow announced it was reviewing its emerging market strategy, a consortium led by ABSA Capital and management members Joaquin Schoch, Geoff Gaywood and Bernhard Mahl made a bid to regain ownership of the local business.
The deal was struck for a massive R1,3-billion and the MBO was completed towards the end of that year. A revived and revitalised Safripol was presented to the South African polymer industry in January 2007.
Regaining the wings to fly
As an independent South African company, Safripol was released from its corporate chains and regained the wings to fly.
The alliance with Dow was maintained and a fresh one forged with LyondellBasell, one of the world’s largest plastics companies, and more recently with its member company, Qenos, Australia.
‘Since Safripol’s inception in 1972, the focus has been on superior quality products and service excellence,’ states Bernard. ‘This ethos hasn’t altered and we’ve continued to evolve and reinvest over the years to address market trends and customer requirements.’
The company now produces two thirds of South Africa’s annual requirement for HDPE and approximately half of PP stocks, using LyondellBasell’s Spheripol technology.
PP is used in the manufacture of injection-moulded articles, blow-moulded containers, pipe, sheet and textile fibres. It has a good resistance to fatigue and is ideal for hinge applications, such as closures.
Safripol’s HDPE production facility incorporates three PE lines, polymerisation reactors and an extruder plant. It utilises Hoechst slurry polymerisation technology to manufacture top-grade carbon-black-filled grades of HDPE for the pipe industry and natural grades for other applications such as blow moulding, injection moulding and extrusion. The aim is to make HDPE Sasolburg the global benchmark facility by providing top-quality products, reliability and customer satisfaction.
‘Since 2007,’ Bernard continues, ‘we’ve developed strong partnerships with other leading technology specialists, particularly LyondellBasell and Grace Davison. Incorporating their expertise and that of other global producers, Safripol’s expert R&D team has been producing advanced products to improve converters’ economic performance. We’re constantly evolving and responding to market demands for more efficient, lighter and greener products. Our customers rely on us to assist in their growth.’
In terms of product supply, Safripol sells directly to larger converters around South Africa and sub-Saharan Africa and has a long-standing agreement with Plastomark, a supplier of branded polymers, as national ex-stock distributor.
Excelling in Safety, Health, Environmental & Quality (SHEQ) is another priority at Safripol.
‘Our SHEQ procedures are never compromised,’ explains Bernhard. ‘We treat accidents seriously; and I’m proud to say we we’re one of the few South African companies that has managed with no serious reportable SHEQ events in several years. Our ratings are well below the industry average.’
Best practice policies have been established for virtually every aspect of Safripol’s business and its management team has gone to great lengths to nurture personal accountability and drive individual empowerment among its 300 staff.
Processes are clearly defined, yet employees are encouraged to use their initiative and take responsibility for their decisions.
In the CRF Institute’s Best Employers Review, Safipol CEO, Joaquin Schoch, is quoted as saying: ‘Our people don’t regard Safripol as a separate entity from themselves. It’s a collective embodiment of skills, interests and concerns, culture and values and day-to-day activities. It’s this ownership that explains the high level of engagement and accountability.’
There are several well-entrenched staff initiatives, including the Opportunity Tracking System and Six Sigma, and a multitude of structured support systems to ensure on-going participation in improving employee skills and production efficiencies.
Being recognised as the Best Employer in the chemicals industry is regarded as an important feather in Safripol’s cap.
‘We participate annually in the survey and it’s an honour to be recognised by the CRF Institute and our employees as a great company to work for!’ adds Joaquin. ‘CRF’s comprehensive research into our HR policy framework and further employee interviews provide us with valuable information on our overall proposition as an attractive and progressive employer.’
Safripol’s growth is based on economic growth and there are always challenges and hurdles to overcome. However, Bernhard paints a positive picture for the company, especially in PP production. ‘There are certain ethylene constraints in South Africa that limit market penetration but I foresee a healthy increase in PP supply in the immediate future,’ he remarks. ‘We’re a forward-thinking company with a vested interest in economic progress. We always strive to find solutions to daily challenges to leverage our customers’ competitiveness in the market place.’
Safripol’s management team includes Joaquin Schoch (CEO), Geoff Gaywood (COO), Frans van Dyk (financial director), Bernhard Mahl (commercial director), Nico van Niekerk (production director), Charles van der Walt (site director), Ian Kennon (public affairs director), Sakkie du Plessis (HR director) and Mike Gradwell (R&D director). Safripol’s South African black empowerment partner, holding a 21% share, is Thebe Investment Corporation.