Sparks Electrical News

It is not very often that you come across someone who has been in the electrical industry for longer than most of us have been alive. Brian Lavery, founder of Midrand-based Swan Electrical Distributors, an equal opportunity electrical distributor which supplies quality electrical products and services to the electrical wholesale industry, has lived and breathed electricity for 72 years. In the process he has started numerous companies, supplied products across Africa, become the first person to source and import miniature circuit breakers from China, and had a hand in writing the regulations for the industry.

Personality of the Month Brian LaverySparks: Where were you educated?

BL: I matriculated from Glenwood High School in Durban in 1946 and at that time our schooling comprised a number of technical subjects. After matriculating I went straight into my apprenticeship with the South African Railways in Johannesburg for five years.

Sparks: How long have you been involved in the electrical industry?

BL: I have been a member of the South African Institute of Electrical Engineers since 1947.

Sparks: When and where did you start your career?

BL: I left South African Railways after completing my apprenticeship and joined an electrical contracting company called Penman and Jachelson, where I worked for three years. When I left them I was manager of their workshop. I then joined a manufacturing company called Switchcraft who manufactured electrical switchboards. They sent me to Bulawayo where I opened a factory for them, and managed the region for five years before I was transferred back to Johannesburg as assistant manager. Seven years later I branched out on my own, founding a company called Industrialised Wiring Harnesses which I ran until 2011, at which time it merged with Swan Electrical Distributors.

I got involved with other electrical companies as well – I had a contracting company called Kewberg Electrical Contractors, was in partnership with my brother Terence in manufacturing the Texel range of switches, switch sockets and isolators and started Swan Electrical Distributors in 2001. I was the first person to import Chinese electrical circuit breakers and get approval from the SABS in 1998.

Sparks: What have been the main changes in the industry since you started?

BL: Technology has advanced so much that it is quite unbelievable. Electronic diodes weren’t even on the market then! The sophistication of the controls and the monitoring of electricity has also seen a radical change.

Sparks: What about the education and training perspective?

BL: I don’t think that the training people are getting today is as intensive from a practical point-of-view as it was previously. I’m not sure how the technical colleges work today, but my impression is that the emphasis on practical experience to complement study is no longer as strong as it should be. A lot of the people who qualified with me ended up as electrical engineers with municipalities, purely because of their practical experience and their technical knowledge. I completed my Advanced Technical Certificate II (the highest technical certificate in those early days) in my fourth year of my apprenticeship, by which time I had gained significant experience in the workplace, including drawing office and electrical test laboratory experience.

Sparks: What would you say has been your greatest accomplishment?

BL: I’d like to think that my success as an entrepreneur in the electrical industry over the past five decades or so has been due to an ability to understand changes in technology and trends in the industry, and adapt my product offerings to meet changing market needs. I’m also fortunate to have enjoyed my life outside of business, in particular my career as an International Equestrian Show Jumping Course Designer, in which I have enjoyed the challenge of officiating at numerous international show jumping events in South Africa, Australia, Kenya and other countries.

Sparks: Have you worked on any noteworthy projects over the years?

BL: My company supplied all the wiring harnesses for housing at the Orange River hydro electrical scheme in the 1960s and in the years that followed has supplied thousands of wiring harnesses with accessories throughout the whole of South Africa and Africa. I was instrumental in getting the wiring harness details specified in the regulations and I wrote the specifications for copper braided cables used in the wiring harnesses for the SABS cable regulations.

Sparks: Who has been your inspiration or have you had a mentor who has influenced your career?

BL: I never had any mentors as such, but certainly can give credit to several smart people in my companies over the years who have contributed so much to the success of our business in circumstances which have required us to practically work out designs and techniques ourselves, particularly when there was no one else actually doing copper braiding of cables to required standards. People such as these assisted me in getting the SABS specifications revised when our company was the only company awarded the SABS mark for manufacturing copper braided cables in South Africa.

Sparks: What, to your mind, is one of the biggest challenges facing the industry at this time?

BL: A key challenge is to maintain and enhance the standards of electricians in South Africa. We often encounter electricians with technical qualifications who lack technical experience and cannot deliver high standards of work or identify poor workmanship by others. Maybe it’s time to consider grading our electricians – say an A Grade Electrician down to an E grade Electrician based on technical education and practical experience.

Sparks: What do you enjoy most about your job?

BL: Mainly the interaction with customers, trying to understand what they require, and how we can assist solving problems and supplying them with suitable equipment of high quality that they can install quickly.

Sparks: If you could “do it all again”, would you change anything?

BL: I have never thought of it but can say that I was never interested in any other trade at all. I must say that I did battle a little on the business side of things when I moved into commercial management. I didn’t know the difference between an invoice and a statement! It was a big learning curve for me to understand the business side of it and integrate the electrical manufacturing and supply of components with business imperatives. I would most certainly have benefited from some business studies.

Sparks: Is there anything left on your ‘bucket list’?

BL: Basically just having a happy family life more than anything else, that’s what I look forward to now. My wife is still with me after 64 years and we are both exceptionally fit, well and strong – I still play golf twice a week. I have a son and a daughter and four grandchildren and two great grandchildren overseas. However, I still have a passion for South Africa and for the ongoing success of my company.



Contact Sparks Electrical News

Title: Editor
Name: Gregg Cocking
Phone: +27 11 622-4770
Fax: +27 11 615-6108

Title: Advertising Manager
Name: Carin Hannay
Phone: +27 11 622-4770
Fax: +27 11 615-6108

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