In this month’s focus on prominent women in the print and packaging sectors, Susan Unsworth catches up with Synchron MD, Sarah Sonnenberg.
SARAH SONNENBERG has been labelled hyperactive – the deal-in-one-hand, strategy-inthe- other, three-plans-in-the-head, lunch-on-therun kind of hyperactive. It may have been clever genetic engineering given that she is now the buck where things stop at Synchron, but it may just be dealing with the demands of motherhood while scaling the hurdles of doing business in South Africa.
The pressures don’t faze Sarah. She has her righthand woman and partner in sister Mandy Collins, resident sales and marketing guru. Synchron has been around long enough to have become a pillar of the country’s corporate citizenship and it continues to grow and set trends. Founded almost five decades ago, the company has spent the last 17 years with the Gillett family. Sarah’s father, Alan Gillett, passed the ball to his daughter in the year of the World Cup, settling himself happily in the chairman’s chair.
Courtesy of principals such as Kurz and Chiyoda, an extensive range of products bearing the Synchron stamp finds its way daily into the graphics, coding, security, plastics, furniture, electronic, and textile industries. Sarah has ensured that the company has partnered the market through change and evolving demands. It’s a different animal from nine years ago, but powered by the same DNA.
Innovation remains the ultimate gamechanger. ‘Digital has exploded in recent years and customers constantly demand more options,’ says Sarah. ‘Kurz has a digital foil that allows personalisation of each page. For specialists in stationery and large companies doing mock-ups, this is an exciting breakthrough.’
Kurz has also invested in security solutions that render counterfeiting almost impossible, she adds. This pairs with a track-and-trace system that’s fully secure and combines with optically variable device security capabilities.
The South African economy, as local companies all know, constantly finds ways to breathe new meaning into the euphemism ‘challenge’. Much is spoken about reigniting the economy, particularly now that a new guard has marched into parliament, but words are hollow. ‘Until the government gets the economic fundamentals right and devises clear policies to give business guidance and incentives to invest, we remain at the mercy of a floundering economy, as constrained as our clients, yet clinging to the hope of better to come,’ Sarah stresses.
Synchron, however, hasn’t shied away from pumping its rands into preparations for the upturn.
‘Over the last five years, we’ve invested in equipment, infrastructure and the development of our people because we believe this will be imperative when growth materialises. We have new machinery countrywide to ensure quicker delivery times, have improved our information technology infrastructure and enterprise resource planning system, and have upgraded skills and capabilities.’
The values on which the company was founded persist, she continues. ‘We partner customers so that we have the right product at the right time. We believe we can always do better and ensure that we remain approachable and ready to listen and adapt to needs. ‘
Our core values reflect those of our suppliers and key customers and we supply only products that we can fully back and support.’ While Sarah isn’t planning to go anywhere soon, she knows that the managers of Synchron are only temporary, albeit very privileged, custodians of the business. ‘We need to leave Synchron in a better place than we received it,’ she insists. ‘
As opportunities open up and my position is challenged by younger, more dynamic individuals, I will hopefully make the right decision. In the meantime, the world is looking at our continent with development in mind and we should embrace this, remaining focused, engaged, brave and energetic.’ More than a hint of hyperactivity there.
It’s a Sonnenberg tradition, apparently, that has also infiltrated the psyches of her two children, Megan, 13, and Michael, 11, and has the trio mountain biking, running, surfing, camping, river rafting, exploring the country they love so dearly, and, more recently, looking to foreign lands for adventure.
‘If I can instil in my children the love of travel, an interest in understanding other cultures and a respect for people’s differences, then I will have done well,’ says Sarah.
For this Synchron self-starter, that can only be a cinch.