Sicelo Myeni is the Operations Director at Bruno Engineering, a steel fabrication and turnkey engineering projects business based in Wadeville Germiston was founded in 1972.
Tell us about the early days of your business?
We took over the business as new shareholders in July 2018 and the early days were typical of a new business, which was the typical struggle to secure capital, fine tuning the business model, fighting for market share and getting the balance between sales and cost of sales at the start.
What were the challenges you experienced in starting your business?
Any start up business faces quite similar challenges, but the main issue was capital funding and fortunately EXXARO Resources came through with their Enterprise and Supplier Development Funding and enabled the business to start. The other challenge was sales which have to come from somewhere and that usually means from your competitors so you need to put your best foot forward and try to get your customers to take a risk on you and then you need to make sure that the risk was worth their while.
What was your inspiration for starting your business?
There was a great opportunity to transform a highly skilled engineering company to take advantage of new business. There was a great opportunity to enter the mainstream at lower capital cost through an acquisition process. There was a great skill set that existed in the potential takeover business. There is a satisfaction in creating physical things, and in a steel fabrication and turnkey engineering projects, we get approached with a wide variety of projects, this means there is always something new on the go or being considered, so we get to create, and to enjoy diversity.
What has been the key to the success of your business?
To be honest, I don’t think we could point to one key that has unlocked the business there have been a bunch that have combined to unlock our future, funding from Exxaro, an opportunity to capitalise on a previously struggling business, and the diverse experience and background of the shareholders.
What are your competitive advantages?
Competitive advantages – we have staff that are skilled and have years of experience, their historic skill lies in water-cooled components and sometimes pressure vessels, so we have a high skill set. We have unlocked the path toward diversifying the income stream of the business by adding onsite engineering maintenance services and turnkey engineering projects work as new services in the business. The tough economic times have resulted in us being one of the few players remaining.
What’s the best business advice you’ve received?
A business cannot function without proper business model, competent personnel together with sound financial practices and discipline – those are key elements for a business to succeed.
What have been the keys to creating a sustainable business?
The basic fundamentals are adequate sales, once that is achieved then you have the cash to see out the trials and tribulations that come with business, but that needs to be built on top of an efficient business process, quality output and financial discipline.
What have been the big trends you have noticed in the steel industry?
The steel industry has been propelled by four main drivers of steel consuming industries: urbanization, globalization, motorization, and industrialization. The global climate action and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) are the emerging trends that will affect the future of the steel industry.
How have you managed each new step of your company’s growth?
We are on the path to further growth, it takes planning, because you don’t want the growth to have unintended consequences that sink the ship. Therefore, one must plan as best as you can and then be prepared to be flexible, because life doesn’t bend to our plans.
How much of your client base is repeat business?
A substantial portion of our client base is repeat business, currently at about 90%, it doesn’t mean they buy from us every month, but they are life-long engagements.
What has been the best business advice anyone has shared with you?
Being an owner managed business you need to wear the right cap at the right time, force yourself to think purely as a director when it is required as a shareholder, or employee, if you wear all the caps at the same time your objectivity is blurred and you may not make the correct decisions. All those positions have a valuable perspective. Consider including in your Board an independent Chairperson and independent Director/s to provide oversight role on how you manage your business. Ensure that you have financial systems and an experienced Financial Manager to control financial discipline in the business.
Why is it important for clients to pay a fair price?
This an interesting and important question, to be sustainable one needs to look at the bigger / long term picture, squeezing your supplier for the absolute cheapest price means he may not be able to survive and he won’t be around tomorrow. We want to deliver on time, and at the quality that our clients need, but if we don’t get a price that realistically allows us to do that – we all take damage.
What motto inspires you in your life and your work?
Go all the way to achieve your goal in life – meaning don’t stop before you actually know if you have achieved success or failure, because both are often not evident until the actually happen, so go all the way and actually find out because that is how you learn in life.
What are the challenges facing the future expansion of your business?
Our South African economy is currently very suppressed so finding sales continues to be important, unfortunately while some of our customers are generally loyal we can’t rest on our laurels and trust they will be there tomorrow, we need to actively work hard to grow to ensure we survive.
What is the best advice you’ve been given?
Sometimes things can look possible to achieve – it’s like walking a long journey, just keep putting one foot in front of the other, and eventually you’ll be there.
What are your goals for the future?
To continue to grow Bruno to a business that is known and respected Brand, one that represents progression, on time delivery, quality and integrity. Most importantly a business that remains relevant for the future and continues to create jobs for the youth of our country South Africa that we all love.
(Interview courtesy SMME Handbook)