Sparks Electrical News

Howard Earley, the new CEO of Major Tech, is a proactive professional executive with in excess of 20 years’ experience in all aspects of financial, general and operational management in multiple sectors. He is now using his vast experience in the corporate world to continue to shape Major Tech into a major player in the segments in which it operates. Sparks Electrical News spoke to him to find out more about his role at Major Tech, and his thoughts on the electrical industry.

Bringing a taste of the corporate world to the electrical industrySparks: Where were you educated?

HE: I was born in Germiston and went to Dawnview High School. After 18 months in the army, I studied a BCom and then a BAcc at WITS University, where I qualified as Chartered Accountant in 1984 before doing my articles at Deloitte.


Sparks: And your working life?

HE: After Deloitte and a stint at Metallurg as Financial Director, I joined Plessey in 1996, originally as Group Financial Manager for the Telecomms Busines Unit. I then became Group Financial Officer for the whole Plessey group, before taking over as CEO. One of my biggest accomplishments was taking that very small team at Plessey – there were only three or four of us – and growing the business from R300 million a year based in South Africa, to R2 billion a year operating in 14 countries throughout Africa. After Plessey I was the CEO of Inala Technologies, a company with many parallels to Major Tech, before becoming part of the acquisition by Jabil, a very large American company, ranked in the top 160 in the world in terms of turnover, who wanted to enter the African market. I spent the next 14 months commuting between South Africa and Mauritius – which wasn’t as glamourous as it sounds!


Sparks: How did the Major Tech opportunity come about?

HE: Pat Shaw (the founder of Major Tech) and I have known each other for years. We share the same general ethics and business principles despite coming from different business backgrounds; myself more corporate, and Pat an entrepreneur. He phoned me because his financial director of many years was close to retiring, and he wanted some advice. Over our chat I jokingly offered my thoughts; “Your options are a newly graduated CA, a middle aged person with some experience, or an old fart like me who would add value to your business.”

He said, “So when can you start?” We started talking about it and I joined the company initially as a Director in July 2017 to assist on the financial side and improve the processes. Three months later I received a phone call from Pat one Saturday morning asking me to meet him for a chat, and he told me that he wanted me to take over the business. Fundamentally there was nothing wrong with it, it had been well run to a fixed set of parameters and had done very, very well. It may have lost a bit of focus, hence, from a sales point of view, we decided to split the business into two business units namely Major Tech and Veti. In the process we have recruited staff to give us more substance in the market.

These changes were formalised from June 1, 2018, and I am responsible for the overall running of the Major Tech operation. I’ve added value by coming in with a different way of looking at things. I want to ’corporatise’ the company in a sense, but without losing what a family-company brings to the mix. We have put the guys who are very good at selling back on the road and out of the office, and the company is already starting to benefit from these changes. All of the team members are fully committed and getting out there to claim our rightful space in the market.


Sparks: What are your thoughts on the current market?

HE: The market is tough at the moment, there’s no question about it. We’ve talked to some of our main customers and they are feeling it too. Fortunately Major Tech has been profitable throughout. We have managed to increase our turnover in the past year, and are still increasing it, albeit maybe not at the rate we would have liked. We have set ourselves the target that we want to be number one in our all our chosen market segments. In the plugs and sockets market we are up against the big players, both local and international, but we believe we can achieve our goals. Although the market is a tough one, we have the teams, we have the product, we have the pricing and we know we can succeed. Our products are South African designed and developed, and while many of our competitors have great products, they are designed for overseas markets.


Sparks: What are Major Tech’s strengths?

HE: We have a nimbleness – we can make decisions very quickly – so there is never a drawn out process. I’m happy to make the hard calls when I have to, but I also want the team to take ownership and responsibility.


Sparks: How do you motivate the staff?

HE: If I ever had a problem, I’d go to my boss and say, “This is the problem, this is what’s happened, and this is how I am going to rectify it.” And that’s what I am looking for from my team. I’ve made it very clear, people will make mistakes – we all do – the critical thing is to learn from that mistake and move forward.


Sparks: What are your plans for the near future?

HE: We have quite a bit on the go at the moment, but one of the things we are doing is relooking at our marketing, realising we need to move a bit more into the online space. Building the brand is also a focus – the team is very proud of Major Tech and Veti, and rightfully so. We also have aspirations to work more in sub-Saharan Africa, but are first consolidating the South African base.


Sparks: Having come from a telecommunications background, what are your thoughts on the electrical industry?

HE: Like anything, I believe the industry is going to change. What we are seeing unfortunately is a lot of the smaller independents closing shop, so I think we will see some consolidation continuing in those ranks. I see the wholesaler business changing and I think the wholesalers, like everybody else, are going to be have to become more aggressive by selling online. I think the ECA is doing a pretty good job. It’s good to see the training of a lot more women into the industry. We brought someone up through a learnership; he has his wireman’s licence, is an excellent guy and he’s staying with the company. Now we are investing in another student, so we are playing our own small part.

There are issues around regulation in the industry in terms of time to approve products by the relevant bodies and the general access to them. In South Africa, and Africa, there’s still a tremendous need to get power and proper housing into a lot of areas, and with that you will need instrumentation, tools and security product and, as people develop, they will need plugs and sockets and lights and lamps, and that’s where we see ourselves playing a significant role in the market.

We will undoubtedly see changes in the industry. LED has been the ‘Uber of lighting’ because it was such a disruptor. I don’t think there will be such a disruptor in the switches and sockets market, but there will be constant development.


Sparks: What is the best advice you have received?

HE: Andile Ngcaba, Chairman of Convergence Partners and ex Director General of the Department of Telecommunications, always said to me, “You have to, in this kind of role, take a step back and look at the bigger picture.” Yes, you have to make the decisions in the shorter term, but I have always believed that the best decision is a decision and that the worst decision is no decision.


Sparks: What’s on your ‘bucket list’ of things to do?

HE: Despite my wife and I both being tennis players, we haven’t been to a major tennis tournament yet. Our daughter has just moved to London so the ATP finals in London in November may be on the radar.

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