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Alpla: shaping its South African growth path

Javier Delgado, MD of Alpla South Africa, is taking on a new role as the architect of Alpla’s sub-region in the Middle East. Nici Solomon tells the story.

HAVING established an extrusion blow moulding venture, Alpla South Africa, in 2014, MD Javier Delgado is now handing over the reins in this country and taking responsibility for Alpla’s rigid plastics business in the Middle East.

‘Although I anticipated staying in South Africa for longer to develop our Kempton Park factory and to oversee the creation of new greenfield sites, we understood it’s easier to find a replacement for one plant in South Africa than someone who understands the Alpla culture in the Middle East,’ Javier explains.

‘My successor Grant Matthews started at the beginning of the month. With more than 25 years’ experience in rigid plastics, he’s very passionate and a good fit with our company culture. Grant also has a deep understanding of injection moulding and closures. This is important for our future injection moulding and PET projects.’

But a new general manager isn’t the only introduction planned for the local market in 2017. Alpla is launching its own dairy range for fresh milk and juice. ‘We have been working on this development for the past year and are in the final stages before launching these new bottles into the market,’ Javier states.

How Alpla entered the local market

Reflecting on Alpla’s entry into the local market, Javier emphasises his company’s modus operandi. ‘Normally, in a new country, we’d establish our own greenfield site, but we had limited time and had to find an existing facility,’ he says. ‘The old building was partly refurbished to meet our minimum standards; and we officially started operating in May 2014, when our infrastructure and equipment was commissioned. During June, we trialled machinery and moulds so that blow moulding production could begin in July. One month later, we were in full production.’

The Alpla group is understandably proud of this well executed three-month start-up process in a new country and received positive feedback from its initial multinational homecare and pharmaceutical customer.

During the next 18 months, Alpla gained additional multinational personal and homecare customers, enabling it to install additional equipment and increase its manufacturing operations to 340 days annually.

‘Our staff complement increased to 55 during 2016, including some outsourced employees, who we manage ourselves to ensure they implement Alpla’s policies,’ Javier continues. According to Javier, this leaner operation is possible because Alpla’s state-of-the-art technology allows high production output. In addition, the company follows a preventative maintenance programme and implements comprehensive analysis of reasons behind any downtime. This in turn allows the facility to tend to just-in-time deliveries.

Challenges and lessons learnt

Apart from the mountain of documentation needed to register a company in South Africa, Alpla was surprised by a general lack of trust.‘Overcoming this distrust has been challenging because we pride ourselves on being an honest company with an open door policy, engaging with people and addressing each problem that arises,’ he explains.

‘We were warned about labour issues and have improved standards through training. Some technical skills shortages were also evident initially but we overcame these by sending key production personnel for extensive training at European facilities.’

In addition to this overseas training, Alpla global experts along with Javier undertook broad-based training at the Kempton Park facility. ‘Very few of our senior managers had managerial experience, they were promoted from unrelated previous positions.

Although this provides a short-term challenge, the investment has resulted in long-term commitments from these managers,’ Javier comments. ‘One of the most important lessons we’ve learnt is projects take longer in South Africa, so as a company we have needed to adapt and redefine our planning strategy,’ he explains.

Javier confirms that more customers in South Africa are placing greater stress on quality management systems such as ISO 9001 and British Retail Consortium. ‘We also encourage our customers’ personnel to collaborate with us in terms of onsite training to improve various aspects of their knowledge. We believe it’s a win-win situation for both sides,’ he concludes.

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