Johan van Niekerk is the chief commercial officer at Shaw Controls, part of the Zest WEG Group. He’s been at Shaw Controls for 14 years and is one of those rare people who loves what he does and has fun doing it.
A deep thinker with an analytic mind, Johan pays close attention to each minute detail and carefully considers every possible potential outcome before making a final decision – in other words, a born engineer. He’s cool, calm and collected – a mainstay in a crisis and the go-to person when a problem needs to be solved. Integrity is everything to Johan – there are definitely no short cuts and no compromises on quality. Not ever.
Sparks: Where were you educated?
JvN: I went to St Benedict’s Preparatory School and Dawnview High School. I studied electrical engineering at Germiston Technical College.
Sparks: How long have you been involved in the electrical industry?
JvN: I’ve been in the electrical industry for 32 years.
Sparks: When and where did you start your career?
JvN: I began my working career at AECI Modderfontein, initially as an apprentice and thereafter as a technician.
Sparks: What are the greatest changes you have seen over the years?
JvN: I would say that, for me, the greatest change has been South Africa’s move from being an isolated nation to its integration into the international community. I say this with reference to the resultant changes in thinking, the benefits of technology flow and also the challenges presented by international competition.
Sparks: What major projects have you worked on and what is your greatest accomplishment?
JvN: I have worked on many diverse projects. Some particular highlights for me were the upgrade of drum reclaimers at Sishen in the Northern Cape; the spent fuel handling crane at Koeberg Nuclear Power Station; implementing the drives solution on the longest overland conveyor in South Africa at Zibulo Colliery; one of the first MV variable speed drives (VSDs) with frozen charge protection at the Burnstone Gold Mine; a man-riding conveyor; a hot metal crane with a dual hoist drive; and a ship-to-shore bucket crane system.
Sparks: Have you won any awards?
JvN: I achieved the highest marks in the Republic for electrical technology when I was an electrical engineering student.
Sparks: Who has been your inspiration or have you had a mentor who has influenced your career?
JvN: I haven’t had a specific mentor and there hasn’t been one individual who has been an inspiration, although I do admire the leadership of Abraham Lincoln. He put together a diverse team during an extremely difficult time in the US’s history. Throughout, he was forgiving – and accepting – of those who opposed him: his enemies and those who were on his team but who failed him. In many ways, one can see similarities between Lincoln and our own Madiba.
Sparks: What, to your mind, is one of the biggest challenges facing the industry at this time?
JvN: The biggest challenge for this industry is the general decline in standards locally – especially when seen in conjunction with the opening up of international markets and the aggressive expansion by China into Africa. This is placing additional unnecessary pressure on the industry.
Sparks: What do you enjoy most about your job?
JvN: I enjoy beating major international competitors, seeing opportunities opened up for people, and bringing innovative solutions into industry.
Sparks: How do you motivate your staff?
JvN: I try to allow as much liberty and room for individual initiative as possible within a framework of trust and responsibility
Sparks: If you could ‘do it all again’, would you change anything? If so, what would that be?
JvN: No, because I don’t like to think along those lines.
Sparks: Would you advise a person leaving school to enter the electrical industry? And why?
JvN: Yes, I would because this is an industry that is essential and indispensable; and it provides an exciting, stimulating environment in which to work.
Sparks: What is your advice to electrical contractors and/or electrical engineers?
JvN: My advice would be to continually strive to maintain and improve a professional standard. It is essential that we do not compromise simply because it seems as if that is what the entire country is doing.
Sparks: What is your favourite quote?
JvN: I don’t have an all-time favourite quote although periodically, I will find a quote that addresses the ‘season’ such as: “Success is the sum of small efforts repeated consistently,” and “People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing”.
Sparks: Name three things on your ‘bucket list’ (things you want to do before you ‘kick the bucket’).
JvN: I would like to do complete the Comrades Marathon; ride a five-day mountain bike stage race; and do an overland trip that will include Etosha, Moremi, Chobe, Savuti, Victoria Falls, Luangwa, Ngorongoro, Kilimanjaro, Serengeti and the Masai Mara.