Kruben Bennie, Head of Business Unit – Low Voltage Control Products at Siemens, is passionate about many things, including empowering South Africa’s youth and the possibilities digitalization can offer the industry.
Sparks: Where were you educated?
KB: I grew up in Durban and studied at the ML Sultan Technikon where I did my diploma in electronic engineering. After that I went on to ﬁnish my B.Com Marketing and then a B.Compt Accounting Science degree, and ﬁnally my Honours in Marketing. My work history has been mainly in Automation, Instrumentation, Electricity and Control.
Sparks: How long have you been with the company?
KB: I have been with Siemens for just over ﬁve years. Before that I worked in Saudi Arabia for two years as a Process Control Systems Commissioning Engineer on a Distributed Control System at a crude oil reﬁnery. It was a good experience, but family comes ﬁrst and I came back to South Africa.
Sparks: Did that give you a good background when entering the electrical ﬁeld?
KB: Yes, deﬁnitely. It’s ECI (electrical, control and instrumentation) which is all intertwined, and if you have a good understanding of engineering practices in general, then the electrical industry and IEC standards all make a lot of sense. The foundation of my electrical experience was three and a half years, which I spent at another company in the industry.
Sparks: What are the greatest changes you have seen in the industry over the years?
KB: I would say probably the biggest would be the way we work, i.e., digitalization. The fact that you don’t really need an office, can meet with clients virtually in real time, switch on your lights at home while across the world, makes life very exciting and offers huge opportunities to do business differently. The other change would be the levels of automation. Automation is rife in the manufacturing and mining sectors as it improves productivity and efficiency levels, but our population has to be equally skilled to adapt and ﬁt into an automated manufacturing world. Those who are unskilled are disadvantaged, hence education is key to unlocking South Africa’s manufacturing potential. It is the responsibility of every organisation in South Africa to get involved in training and skilling our youth and workforce. Siemens realised this a long while ago and is the reason the company invests heavily in education, training and offering opportunities to people. By serving society, Siemens creates value for all its stakeholders. We have trainees coming through the system and you’d be amazed at how good these people are. If every company did this, we wouldn’t have the unemployment rate we do.
Sparks: What would you class as your greatest achievement so far?
KB: One of my biggest achievements would be the amount of work and effort we have put into our low voltage switchgear division. We have managed to gain market share during a challenging business climate and make the business more proﬁtable and sustainable. The trick is to listen to your customers. You need to make sure the product is correctly positioned in the market, ensure that you have the right channels in place and ensure proper stock and pricing levels. These are the basics, but a lot of business leaders don’t realise that; ﬁx the basics, the rest of the business in time will take care of itself.
Sparks: Have you had any mentors in your business career?
KB: There have been many mentors in my life, and there are a few people I turn to when I need support or advice. One of them would be Ralf Leinen, Vice President for Digital Factory & Process Industries and Drives for Siemens Southern and & Eastern Africa. Ralf supports the organisation and helps us drive the strategic direction of the business. We understand the company’s expectations and he provides the necessary guidance in order for us to instill a high performance culture to create value for our customers.
Sparks: Have you found yourself being a mentor at Siemens?
KB: Yes, I have quite a few people who are not my official mentees, but I help them mature, with regards to training them, providing them the opportunity to grow, and giving them conﬁdence. We have found that, in general, people remain stagnant in certain roles and if you don’t support them and provide them with opportunities they will remain there. When I joined the business unit that was the case – there were people who had been in their positions for years. They were skilled, but instead ﬁelded e-mails and telephone calls. We have afforded them the opportunity to grow and they are ﬂourishing.
Sparks: How do you motivate your staff?
KB: A complicated question which seems simple. We have found at Siemens that when you choose the right people – employees who are motivated and want to be part of something special – that motivation is a given. However, in instances where motivation to exceed the norm and perform well above the desired levels is needed, we ﬁnd that leading by example is key. At Siemens, being respectful, acting with integrity and treating others the way you would like to be treated is paramount. Effectively one should lead by example.
Sparks: What would you say is one of the biggest challenges currently facing the industry?
KB: I would say that one of the biggest challenges would be standardisation and safety standards. In general, we know that our South African consumers are fairly well versed with the different technologies on offer; our customers know what they want and know the difference between quality and sub-standard quality equipment, hence on our side we do not sacriﬁce on quality. There are markets out there for differing standards and levels of quality, but we do not compete in those. Safety ﬁrst is Siemens stance on technology.
Sparks: What would your advice be to an electrical contractor/engineer?
KB: Follow the standards, and always put people’s safety ﬁrst. Never try to substitute safety and health to spare costs. We often hear stories of people getting injured or losing their lives on site, and no amounts of savings can equal loss of life or injury.
Sparks: Would you advise a school leaver to consider the electrical industry?
KB: If you seek excitement, diversity, challenges and enjoy engineering then the Electrical, Automation and Control sector is deﬁnitely one to consider joining. This industry builds our economy and moves the country forward.
Sparks: Do you have a favourite quote?
KB: “When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.”
Sparks: If you could do it all over again, would you?
KB: No, I wouldn’t change anything. I believe that everything in life happens for a reason, I’m one of those people who believes in fate.
Sparks: What is on the agenda for Siemens in 2019?
KB: Siemens is ramping up its organisation to become more ﬂexible, agile and to sharpen its focus to remain competitive, for this reason, Siemens is focusing on our Digitalization offering, including the Internet of Things and cloud computing. MindSphere is our cloud-based, open operating system for the Internet of Things. With it we’ve established the foundation for data-based industrial services With Mind Sphere; our customers can gather data very efficiently and quickly – about a production facility, for example. The idea is to make it the industrial cloud platform of choice. We will continue to drive our key verticals with our new and potential customers further enhanced by our Digital Enterprise offering.
Sparks: What’s on your bucket list?
KB: Lots! There’s so much I want to do. I’d love to move out to a plot somewhere and just live on a farm. I’d also like to go on a month long tour of a number of countries around the world. I’d love to visit South America, the Middle East and the United States. And maybe sky diving, because I’m scared of jumping out of a plane – it’s something I need to overcome.
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