EMBRACING CHANGE

The man behind Pyrotec is a self-confessed autocrat who has learnt to change his management style, inspire his team, and steer his company through the rise and fall of the economy, the turn-around of SA’s political landscape, the explosion of technology and shifts in consumer expectations

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Last year marked the 50th anniversary of Pyrotec, a privately-owned and managed business that was established in 1966 and continues to offer industry-leading product identification solutions founded on a dedication to quality, operational reliability and service excellence.

“We have come a long way since trading in the 60s and 70s,” says Rowan Beattie, Pyrotec’s Managing Director. “However, through it all, we have remained steady in our approach to change and have delivered on our promise of quality, trust, and innovation,” he adds.

A glimpse back in time

While Pyrotec is fully focused on the future and moving forward to remain at the forefront of service and product excellence, it’s worth looking back to where it all began.

In 1964, Rowan’s father, Joseph Beattie, purchased Label Processes, a supplier of self-adhesive roll-label material, hot-stamping foil and label printing machinery. While Joseph continued to work as a land-surveyor, Evan, Rowan’s older brother, straight out of school, managed the company’s operations.

Evan began selling self-adhesive roll material and small hot-foil printing and die-cutting machines for making self-adhesive labels. In those days, self-adhesive materials were not made locally and the label technology was largely unknown. Until then, labels were handwritten and used for price marking.

In 1966, recognising that he needed to broaden his customer base, Evan began exploring ways to manufacture labels on the machines he was selling. Noting stationery labels made by a local company, he decided to produce a competitive brand. He designed a box to hold and dispense the labels and the Tower brand was born.

Rowan’s story begins in 1967 when, straight out of school like Evan, he joined Label Processes. During the 1970s, Label Processes and Tower Label were incorporated under the umbrella of Synchron. However, in 1989 after Joseph’s death, the company was divided into two businesses with Evan retaining Synchron (formerly Label Processes—distributing stamping foils and self-adhesive products) and Rowan taking over the production of self-adhesive labels (Tower and custom labels) and labelling equipment, creating Pyrotec.

Today, two of Rowan’s five sons are involved in the business. Timothy is Pyrotec PackMedia’s General Manager and Stephen heads up Tower as the division’s General Manager.

Focus on innovation

Pyrotec’s brands have continually evolved and now include Pyrotec PackMark, the company’s machinery division; Pyrotec PackMedia, which offers innovative on-pack informational and promotional solutions; and Tower, Africa’s leading supplier of self-adhesive products and accessories for the office, hardware, home and kids’ markets.

“Of great importance to us are the relationships we’ve developed with our staff, suppliers and customers over the years,’ Rowan points out. “With sound relationships, based on shared values, you can build a successful business and survive,” he says.

Part of Pyrotec PackMedia’s success is its sole distribution partnerships for Sub-Saharan Africa with Fix-a-Form International, supplying promotional and informational booklet labels; with the Do-It Corporation to supply hang tab options that increase products’ in-store visibility and helps manufacturers to lower their packaging costs; and with US-based Bedford Industries, to supply its products that build and support brand identity.

“For Pyrotec PackMark, success is embedded in our exclusive southern African distribution partnerships to supply world-class coding, marking and labelling equipment from international manufacturers such as Markem-Imaje, ALTech, and Harland Machine Systems, and a selection of other brands,” Rowan notes.

“When we launched, the dream for Tower was to have our products in every home and office in southern Africa. Tower began by supplying basic office stationery and is now one of the most widely-recognised brands in South Africa and Africa,” says Rowan.

In 2016, Pyrotec launched two new divisions—Pyrotec Finance and Pyrotec PackVerifi. Pyrotec Finance offers customers assistance to purchase or replace their coding equipment, including a rental service, a rent-to-own agreement and straightforward trade-in agreements.

Pyrotec PackVerifi is an exciting partnership with Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) as southern Africa’s sole reseller of HPE’s Global Product Authentication Service (GPAS). GPAS is a cloud-based brand protection, ‘track and trace’ and consumer engagement service that helps organisations fight the scourge of product counterfeiting and detect grey market activity while supporting finished goods traceability throughout the supply chain.

Combatting counterfeit products

Consumers not only hold brands accountable, they also expect brands to safeguard their supply chains and retail channels. Nothing knocks consumer confidence in a brand more than when a product does not do what it claims to or if it is counterfeit.

“It’s estimated that 64% of all counterfeit products are sold at legitimate retail outlets and that 700 000 people die each year from counterfeit tuberculosis and malaria drugs. Counterfeiting is one of the fastest growing economic crimes of modern times. Besides devastating health and safety risks, counterfeit products devalue corporate reputations and bottom lines, hinder investment, fund terrorism, and cost hundreds of thousands of people their livelihoods every year,” explains Rowan.

GPAS offers product identification and serialisation, product traceability, supply chain visibility and monitoring and business intelligence and analytics capabilities.

“GPAS is more than just great technology, it is a world-leader selected by numerous companies across a range of market sectors to provide an ease of integration and rollout that is second to none,” he adds.

Reputation and trust

Rowan is committed to life-long learning and is adamant that Pyrotec remains innovative. The company continues to sell much more than just self-adhesive labels by focusing on selling solutions. “We continue to build on our reputation and want to be respected as the best—both locally and internationally—based on our competence,” he insists.

A big part of Pyrotec’s success is its ability to identify niche markets and concentrate its efforts there. Another element of the company’s success is quality, reflected in Pyrotec’s mission—Vision beyond Excellence—and all operational aspects of the business.

“Quality, operational efficiency, innovation and communication are our watch words,” Rowan points out, adding that the company is in the process of achieving its ISO 14001:2015 accreditation.

Successes and challenges

A company in business for more than 50 years certainly knows its share of successes and challenges.

“We’ve been hugely successful in continually investigating trends and not being afraid—either to launch new products or when our products have become commodities,” explains Rowan.

Some examples of this are Tower expanding its product range to encompass its Hardware and Kids ranges; Pyrotec PackMedia’s migration from supplying self-adhesive labels to its now market-leading informational and promotional Fix-a-Form® booklet labels; and Pyrotec PackMark recognising the efficiency of networking coding and labelling equipment in packaging production environments. And, bringing Pyrotec firmly in line with the times, PackVerifi is a bold move into cloud computing and in keeping with the global shift to Industry 4.0.

When it comes to overcoming challenges, Rowan recalls tough economies—today’s is no exception—and the years when Pyrotec’s overdraft was high and the interest rate was 24%.

“We learnt to overcome these difficulties by practising prudence and ‘hording’ cash so that we’d never be in that situation again,” Rowan insists. “When it came to South Africa’s political shift of power and the changes in labour legislation, we embraced the good and continue to build on it,” Rowan adds. Pyrotec is a Level 3 BBBEE contributor.

Inspiring change

With three business brands all continuing to grow, Rowan focuses on his leadership role and supporting his highly-experienced managers. With his team efficiently running Pyrotec’s day-to-day operations, Rowan has immersed himself in the company’s Skills Development Fund.

“We sponsor some 200 individuals (apprentices, interns and students studying degrees and diplomas) to continue their education and skills development. The majority are not employed at Pyrotec but my reward is seeing so many young people, connected to Pyrotec in different ways, growing in their knowledge and experience and moving up the business ladder,” Rowan enthuses.

“Pyrotec believes that education is vital to placing Africa on a path of sustainable growth and development. Education is central to accelerating empowerment, eradicating poverty and ensuring Africa’s full integration into the global economy,” he explains.

Away from the hustle and bustle

When Rowan’s not overseeing operations at Pyrotec, you’ll find him at his farm, a 17-hectare jewel nestled beside the Breede River in the Robertson Wine Valley. Esona is a boutique winery that produces limited-release wine from single vineyards.

Together with his wife, Caryl, they developed this once vegetable farm into a place of relaxation and planted nine hectares of vines. They bottled and released the first Esona wine in 2010.

Since then, the old cellar has been reconstructed into a tasting venue with an underground cellar and a deli that supports local products and food and wine pairing.

The reach of Pyrotec’s Skills Development Fund extends to Esona where among his staff, one is doing a management course, two others are attending chef’s courses and another is completing her winemaker’s course. Rowan has recently extended the possibility of the training of staff to neighbouring farms.

“Through the loss of some good people because of my autocratic leadership style in the early days, I’ve learnt to do my best to encourage employees and students to ‘grab the moment’, grow, and become good team players—the things I learnt, myself, over the years. Many have the ability to become leaders and I value my ability to mentor and assist them,’ he concludes. 

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